/ Tools for Musicians: Top Five DAWS That Won't Break Your Wallet

Tools for Musicians: Top Five DAWS That Won't Break Your Wallet

If you’re just starting out in music recording or production, it can be a great idea to start with a free or cheap DAW. It’s also a great idea to get a feeling for where you might like to go as you progress so you can start learning on a DAW that is the same or is compatible in style with the more advanced DAW you’ll be moving onto, so you don’t have to relearn everything from scratch. Either way, if you’re ready to start working with a DAW, but aren’t ready to shell out the cash, here are 5 great cheap or free DAWs to start off with.

Traction Waveform

OS: Mac, PC

At only $90, Tracktion is a fully-fledged DAW that you could use for a long time without the need for an upgrade. Tracktion is well known for its creative workflow, which has recently been streamlined in the new version. It is a very affordable workspace that rivals programs costing much more. The interface is single screen, similar to competitor Studio One, and utilizes its unique mixer-less in-line signal flow, with the addition of a dedicated mixer and a MIDI Editor panel, which can be used on the single screen interface or given their own windows. The MIDI Pattern Generator can create musical note sequences from scratch, and the newly revised software comes with drum loop construction kits, a multi-sampler, and a Modular Mixing Tool.

Studio One 3 Prime

OS: Mac, PC

Studio One 3 Prime is the free intro version of Studio One 3, a fairly new DAW that is already a major player on the scene for its fresh and innovative take on styling and features, paired with a solidity that rivals DAWs that have been refining themselves for years. With Prime you’ll get the same single-window workspace as with the full product, with it’s drag and drop interface, unlimited audio tracks, midi tracks, bus tracks, effects channels, the Presence XT expandable sampler with sound library, and nine audio effects which includes Ampire, Beat Delay, chorus, and reverb.


OS: Mac, PC, Linux

LMMS started out as a Linux program but ultimately grew into a cross-platform software. It’s a favorite of electronic musicians and has an excellent synthesizer and a good library of preset sounds that is constantly expanding. The interface is simple and the program is great at manipulating electronic sounds. It doesn’t do everything, but for a free program, it is excellent at what it does do.


OS: Mac, PC

Reaper has been around since 2004, and offers a unique business model that is different from any other DAW. You can use the product for free for 60 days, after which they “request” that you pay $60 for private use or $225 for commercial use. They don’t actually enforce this and the payment is based on an honor system. Pretty Bohemian. Reaper releases updates frequently, which is a major draw for many customers, who value having their input heard and implemented frequently.


OS: Mac

Ardour is a competitive free DAW that challenges many paid programs. The user is allowed unlimited channels, including overlapping layered regions, non-overlapping regions, and single file regions. Your tracks can be multi-channel, stereo, or mono. The program boasts flexible plugin architecture, exceptional video support, audio extraction, and modular support for multiple machines, as well as plugin support, batch track export, quality-preserving editing, and well-featured mixing and routing.

Guest Post by Allie Mazon

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Darro Chea: Standing The Test Of Time

I started playing guitar when I was 14 years old. Back then I had this weird chip on my shoulder where I didn’t allow myself to have certain pieces of gear until I had reached a certain level of playing. It sounds ridiculous looking back on it - I was my own gatekeeper. But there were some benefits to my self-inflicted discipline. I got pretty good at guitar.

During my first year of college, I was completely lost with what career to choose. The logical decision would have been to enter into a field where the job market was booming; computer science, medicine, etc. But of course, I was obsessed with the guitar. I actually failed my pre-calculus class twice during freshman year. Why? Because I was skipping class to stay in my dorm room to practice.

So, in 2012, I decided to audition for music school. I figured the ultimate test to see whether or not I was good enough to keep playing music at school, was to become a music student. Because of this, I started snooping around the music college of my university, and there I saw it. Every guitar major was carrying around these hip, dark black guitar soft cases! Up until this point I was carrying a hard case by its handle everywhere I went. It was tiresome.

But these gig bags, they looked serious. The insides were soft and lined with this blue fabric cushion, and the outside was sleek, stealthy and fit perfectly on your back. I actually saw one of these get thrown off a building! I had no idea that softcases like this ever existed. I wanted one so bad. But again, these were for the guitar majors right? I wasn’t a guitar major, at least not yet. But that was the motivation I needed to help push my practicing further. Silly as it sounds, I wanted to be considered good enough to carry one of those guitar cases around. It felt like a rite of passage to me.

I practiced until I bled, 7-8 hours a day for almost a whole year. I auditioned for two music schools, and ended up enrolling at Berklee College of Music in 2013. The day I got my acceptance letter was the day I purchased my first Reunion Blues Continental Guitar Soft Case.

I took it everywhere with me. It was my default guitar case for every reason. Since 2013, this gig bag has been to every rehearsal, every gig, every tour I’ve ever been to. With me, it has flown across the United States, to England, Spain, Italy, Romania, and even Greece. I still have it and use it to this day, and it has absolutely standed the test of time. I imagine I can get another decade out of it if not two.

Also, here’s another pro tip: if you’re looking at getting one of these guitar cases, you don’t need to be “good enough” to get one. You already are. Absolutely get one; you will use it for decades.

Double Your Carrying Power With RB Continental Voyager Series Double Guitar & Bass Cases From Reunion Blues

Reunion Blues officially welcomes the arrival of the new RB Continental Voyager series Double Guitar & Bass Cases. When we “launched” the original RB Continental back in 2008 (literally, from the top of a three story building), we had no idea that we’d be the vanguard of a new era in protective cases that would transform the expectations of professional and hobbyist musicians worldwide. With the latest expansion of the RB Continental Voyager series, we’re excited to raise the bar yet again. 

Beyond simply carrying 2 guitars or basses, RB Continental Voyager Double cases deliver the quality, durability and comfort that artists depend on for touring and gigging. Just like the single Voyager guitar models, all Voyager double cases include our shock-absorbing and impact-resistant Flexoskeleton™, now re-vamped with a more efficient internal structure for maximum protection while reducing weight and bulk dramatically. We’ve further articulated our Quadraweave™ exterior with a modern Black Heather texture that looks great and will provide years of durability. We’ve also re-designed the interior bracing system with a better reinforced locking neck block and user-configurable protector pads at the endpin for a perfect fit.

RB Continental Voyager Double cases feature all of the great ergonomic features of the original RB Continental, along with some key improvements. Our Zero G™ handle is still the best in the industry (and often imitated poorly by our competition), but we’ve also added edge seams to improve longevity and durability. And for air travel, or even just getting around town, our adjustable, hideaway backpack is as comfortable as ever. 

Our high standards for quality craftsmanship have been meticulously maintained, a process and a manufacturing ethos that we established back in the 1970s when we created the first professionally accepted gig bag. The use of industrial-grade high-tensile thread, reversed water-resistant zippers, abrasion and scuff resistant corded edges and seams, EVA backed material, and internally reinforced structure in high stress areas are just a few of the "under the hood" advantages that a Reunion Blues case provides. Best of all, we back this up with the peace of mind that comes from our industry leading limited lifetime warranty.

Often imitated, but never equaled, RB Continental Voyager Double Guitar & Bass cases will protect your axes in style for years to come.


Finding a Legitimate Music Lawyer, Pt. 4

Once you have identified a lawyer with whom you’re interested in working, you can arrange for an interview. The interview will most likely take place in the lawyer’s office, or in some cases, an uncrowded public space where you can sort out any questions, doubts or concerns you may have. It is important that it is understood that you are both working for each other, even if you are the one who instigated the meeting. You are equals and both have to treat each other with respect, sorting out everything until you are satisfied with the solutions.

At the beginning of the interview, let the lawyer know that you would like to ask a few questions. This is normal protocol and should not be any cause of concern. Such questions may include:

  1. What is your (the lawyer’s) fee structure? Do you charge at an hourly rate or on a 'flat fee' basis?

Ask about any specific legal fees, which can often estimate between $150-500. You can even ask to be quoted for a specific service. This means the lawyer will provide a specific digit or range of how much something would cost and how it would be divided.

  1. Have you worked in the entertainment business outside of as a lawyer? (It is not totally unusual for lawyers to have been musicians or actors themselves or have expertise in another area of the industry.)

  1. What percentage of your law practice is music law?

  1. How many years have you been practicing music law?

  1. Are there any kinds of music business matters that you do not handle?

Remember the questions we told you to ask yourself here; check in with yourself on how you feel the interview has gone and if you feel satisfied with the replies. If the lawyer has been able to engage you in successful conversation and interact in a professional, personable manner, congratulations—you may have found the person for the job! So, what is next?

Time To Work

Now that you have found yourself a good lawyer that you can trust, it is time to start moving along your business. Arrange for a follow-up meeting to talk business details, career goals, and any outstanding legal issues. The best advice is to inform yourself before you go talk with your lawyer. This will help you keep you in a primary position role in the handling of all your affairs and allow you to assist with eloquent and functional suggestions on your part on how to resolve your issue.

Indeed, having a good lawyer part of the process of establishing yourself as an artist. Not only does it provide legal strength to your material, but also to your name and brand. Follow these suggestions, and we’re sure you can find the right person for the job!

Finding a Legitimate Music Lawyer, Pt. 3

Whether you’re searching for lawyers in person or online, research a few recent cases they have handled or clients with whom they have worked. Check their efficiency by reading reviews, which can help you scratch some names off the “might-be-the-one” list. Remember, you can't be too nice about things when the law is involved! You’ll need someone who is very meticulous and known for getting the job done well.

Here is a small list of general points to consider when looking for a lawyer/attorney:

  1. Do you feel comfortable talking to them?
  2. Are they cost-effectively handling your legal affairs?
  3. Do they give you clear and concise answers to your questions?
  4. How is their attention span? Do they listen to what you are saying and give you proper guidance in base to what you just said?
  5. Is their level of expertise convincing to you?
  6. Do they treat you as an equal?

If you can answer all of these questions with a satisfying “yes” once you’ve completed the whole approach and interview process (which we will explain a little later), then you have yourself an excellent deal! It is a good idea to start considering the answers to these questions from the first point of contact; this will help your insight and judgment a lot.

As for things you should avoid when looking for a lawyer (including “no” answers to any of the previously mentioned suggestions), avoid lawyers that work directly for the record label you’re hoping to sign with. There’s the potential these lawyers may have been speedily hired and their primary responsibility is to the label’s concepts and ideals, which may not match yours at all. Avoid smooth talkers and show-offs. Anyone who brags about other cases they might be handling or blows off your concerns with automated solutions may not be taking what you say very seriously.

Be on the lookout for these attitudes, and if you encounter a lawyer like this, we suggest you move on to someone else. No matter how highly they are recommended, it just won't work—trust me, we are talking about your career here. Don't give in or give up so easily.

Now, the approach to finding a lawyer...

The approach

There are three approaches for you to try, let’s take a look at them:

  1. Music Business Directories: These directories are particularly helpful as they only enlist entertainment lawyers or people with relevant experience. They are also organized geographically, making it easier to locate a legal professional in your area. Music Business Directories are updated annually to include the most proficient, successful lawyers, ensuring that every candidate is up to date with all of the current procedures and legal technicalities you might come across as an artist.

    The downside is that many artists and entertainment professionals hire through this directory, so you might come across a few lawyers that are at capacity or have a long waiting list. But the size of the directory makes it likely that you can find another suitable option.

  1. Referrals: Probably the most straightforward method is to ask your closest friends and family if they know any lawyers with relevant experience. If not, you can reach out to local artists through social media and ask if they would refer you or answer any questions you might have.

    Take advantage of this personal connection. Ask your contact if their experiences with their lawyers have been successful, if they enjoy working together, and if they know how long their lawyer has been working in entertainment law. You can also ask if they knows any other artists that have worked with this lawyer, for how long, etc. Ask until you are satisfied and if you feel convinced, you can to be in contact with the lawyer.

  2. Music Business Conferences: Music Business Conferences are a great way to network for your career and find a lawyer all at the same time! If your primary goal is to gain a lawyer, stick to bigger conferences that involve more entertainment business professionals versus small local deals.

    Hang around at the conference rooms and panels. If any artists or lawyers are being showcased, make a point to hear them chat about their work. If you believe you would work well together, approach them and request an appointment for an interview.

So you made it to the interview, now what? Keep reading for the last installment in our Finding a Legitimate Music Lawyer series!

Finding a Legitimate Music Lawyer, Pt. 2

Deal shopping occurs when a lawyer or attorney approaches a record company and/or and music publisher in attempts to get a record or publishing deal for the artist they represent.

The tricky thing is that it can occasionally be seen as sketchy or odd for a lawyer to promote an unsigned artist directly to a record label. Some labels do not care for this as they assume that, due to their status, they would already be aware of any sensational on-the-rise artists.

So, why might you want to seek out a lawyer who engages in deal shopping? Any legal professional who successfully engages in deal shopping is likely to have a good deal of experience. As the client, you can ask to see proof of past deals and get a sense of the level at which the lawyer is working. What sort of access do they have to various labels, artists, and other industry individuals through their experience and networking? These connections create opportunities for a sort of ‘professional vouching’ as a recommendation to a label from a well-known layer may be taken more seriously, giving you a higher chance of being brought in.

In any case, be sure to clarify compensation with your lawyer as commission only (a percentage of what you would earn from any legal deal) so that you do not have to front the cost. If your lawyer is resistant to commission-based payment, it may be a sign that he or she does not envision their “shopping efforts” being very successful and that you should consider an alternative legal partner.

So now, how can we narrow our search even further? Let's get into actual lawyer acquisition methods.

Firms: Small vs. Big

If you are in need of a law firm (a group of several lawyers that deals with projects that are too big or complex for a single lawyer to handle) we suggest you check both scenarios.

  1. Small Firm: A small firm has a few lawyers and small work force, allowing them to have a more personal relationship with you. They may not have all the answers to your questions at a moment's notice, but they will help you figure out the best outcome according to your need and take care of you as a client. They also operate at lower hourly rates so they will not cost as much as a large firm.

  1. Large Firm: Large firms typically have experience and expertise in spades. They are responsible for handling complex tax issues and any problems you may have with your music or merchandise. Working with a large firm tends to be stricter and more regulated as you are processed like any other client according to their regulations.

It is unlikely that you will require a large law firm at the start of your career unless you are already a viral star with a very large fan base. Even so, both types of firms are equipped to handle artists and it is more a matter of what you feel will suit you and your business needs best.

Finding a Legitimate Music Lawyer, Pt. 1

Any artist who starts putting out more and more material may require a lot of legal processing to protect their work from illegal use, including piracy or any form of altering to which the artist has not consented. You may choose to seek out a legal professional at this stage, but the process of finding someone that is trustworthy and reliable can be a very taxing process. As this professional will play a crucial role in the protection and success of their client, it is worth investing to find just the right person for the job.

For this new relationship to work as well as possible, you want to find someone with legal experience and generous knowledge of proper protocol. Seek out someone with whom you can build a lasting relationship, much like an agent or manager. As your new legal partner gets to know you, working together will become easier and more efficient, particularly as you communicate your specific needs and how you hope to be assisted.

Before beginning the search for a lawyer or attorney, first you need to consider what legal services you require and how this relationship could best support the future growth of your business.

Lawyer or Attorney...

Lawyer is a more general term for a person who gives legal advice and aid and who conducts suits in court. An attorney (or attorney-at-law), on the other hand, is a member of the legal profession who represents a client in court when pleading or defending a case.

The difference between these two legal professionals is minimal in terms, and both should be knowledgeable of the procedures known as entertainment laws, which pertain to clients in the entertainment and music industries. There are lawyers who specialize in this aspect called entertainment lawyers who may be preferential as they have both relevant experience and the appropriate knowledge.

As for when you may require a lawyer, whenever you sign a deal or legal document, your lawyer is there to protect, advise and properly explain the intricacies of the procedure in question. As mentioned before, he or she can also help you with the paperwork for all legal protection of your material (both online and off), merchandise, copywriting and trademarking.

Now, some lawyers enact a tactic called Deal Shopping, which we will discuss more in our next article. The prospect of deal shopping can significantly narrow your search for a layer depending on how crucial this tactic is to your business.