Add some polish to your podcasting and start using a DAW in your post-production process.
Using a DAW for podcasters
A Digital Audio Workspace, or DAW, might feel like an alien program to a podcaster who’s just used to plugging in and recording. But the benefits it offers are well worth getting familiar with the uncharted territory. A DAW allows you unparalleled control over the post-production world. It allows you to edit all the “ums” and “ahs” out of your podcast, trimming it to perfection, and add a slight reverb and compressor to give it a nice professional shine.
In this two-part series, I’m going to go over how to choose a DAW for podcasting. In this other blog, I explain how to set up your own template on Reaper.
How to choose a DAW for podcasting
There are a number of multi-track DAWs out there available for free. And I’m going to give you some good news straight up: they’re all pretty much the same, and jumping from one DAW to the next doesn’t take a huge learning curve. That said, there are some slight differences that we’ll run you through right here.
The main differences, of course, are in the workflow, and this all comes down to what you prefer. I can’t tell you which DAW is necessarily better or worse, but I can tell you that they have some key differences which we’ll review. They each have their pros and cons, and in the end it all comes down to you. The workflow from person to person and use to use can vary vastly, but for the basics they’re all easy enough to set up and get moving.
Before using a DAW, make sure that you’re able to get the podcast to the computer. You can record it directly onto the computer using an interface (where you’d plug in the microphones), or transfer it from another recorded location, like a Zoom, Tascam, or other recorder via USB, Bluetooth, or SD card. With all the DAWs, it will be necessary to find the Settings menu and be sure that your microphones are set correctly (if you’re recording straight to your PC or laptop).
Top 7 DAWs for podcasting
GarageBand (OS X)
GarageBand has been around since 2004, which makes it old enough to have become a mainstay in the world of recording instruments and voices. It’s always been free, and a part of the standard Apple suite of software programs you get at install. Windows users are out of luck here, though. With GarageBand, you get standard multi-track recording, virtual instruments, and the ability to add virtual effects (VST), and they have a range of dedicated hardware controllers and interfaces as well. Though it lacks a lot of the features of the more headlining DAWs, it remains free and is a solid arrangement program to use for any Apple users. If you like the workflow, you can upgrade to Logic Pro X (200 USD), though just for podcasting it’s probably not necessary.
GarageBand has a simplified setup for podcasters. When opening a new project, it gives you the option of selecting a “Podcast” preset. Next, you’ll choose between the “Male Voice” and “Female Voice” and everything will be ready for you to go.
Produced by BandLab, Cakewalk is the Windows answer to GarageBand, as it can only be used on Microsoft’s operating system. It’s a professional-grade but free DAW, and used to cost a pretty penny. Not long ago, however, BandLab bought it and spun it out as an absolutely free product, retaining all of the professional grade effects and workflows.
In addition to their Windows software, they have a multi-platform version entirely hosted online, but that means you must have an Internet connection to use it. That said, it offers some interesting abilities to integrate mobile apps into the workflow, and for those podcasters who are often on the move, might serve as the best choice.
Cakewalk also comes with a large line of low-priced audio interfaces that play along perfectly with the online DAW.
Audacity (Windows, OS X, Linux)
Audacity has long been one of the free mainstay programs for many podcasters and musicians. In its early years, it was a fairly restrictive recording format, but has since expanded to become a full-fledged, albeit limited, DAW. It’s a pretty barebones DAW and doesn’t include any of the native plugins that others include, but it can host third party plugins. The main drawback though is it doesn’t have real time processing of the effects, so that you can’t hear the effect as you record. If that’s something you need, then this isn’t the tool for you.
Setting up for an Audacity podcasting session is a little bit more complicated than with other DAWs, as there are no presets that you can benefit from. However, it’s so barebones that you can get a session up and going quickly enough once you’re used to the software.
Waveform Free (Windows, OS X)
Waveform Free used to be known as Traktion. Traktion had a hobby of releasing its older editions in a freeware form. Now they’ve rebranded to Waveform, but they’re still keeping true to their freeware traditions and have released Waveform Free. The free version is limited in its editing capacities, but they do offer an upgrade to the full version for 69 USD (definitely one of the cheaper DAWs). Waveform (both the free and the purchased edition). It is a very user-friendly software package and though it doesn’t have the meat behind it that the more expensive DAWs have, for podcasting it’s perfect, and for beginner into the recording world, might be the best option. It allows you to easily record two channels, add some effects like audio ducking, some music (which you can purchase royalty free from Create Music) and voila, a professional sounding podcast.
Like with GarageBand, Waveform offers a podcast template preset when you open a new project. Under the new project window, simply click on “Podcast” under the “Template” option and then “Create Project”.
StudioOne Prime (Windows, OS X)
In a short time, Presonus’s StudioOne went from a novel, sad little entry into the DAW game to being one of the big hitters. All along the way, they’ve kept a slimmed down freebie version that offers more than a few benefits to podcasters. The native effects plugins are the same as in their professional line, so your voice comes through as crisp and clear as though you spent a lot more money. If you want to move into the world of a more professional production environment, this and ProTools are your clear choices. Unlike with ProTools though, the learning curve is much lower and it’s easier to get your podcast started in StudioOne.
Presonus offers three different levels of StudioOne (Free, Artist for 99 USD, and Professional for 250 USD). There are some large differences in functionality between the three editions. Namely, that you can’t add third party effects until the Artist version, for which you have to buy a special upgrade to do so. Given their onboard effects are all professional-grade and outstanding, this is hardly necessary though for podcasting. Even more though, is that their hardware – interfaces, microphones, and so on – is state-of-the-art and is one of the go-to brands for many professionals. Buying an interface or microphone from Presonus automatically gives you a free copy of Artist, a pretty sweet deal if you ask me.
Just like with GarageBand and Waveform, there’s a podcasting preset template in StudioOne. Just open a new project, go to “Styles”, scroll down to “podcast” and you’re good to go.
ProTools – First (Windows, OS X)
ProTools by Avid is considered by professionals to be the industry standard DAW. No wonder, because it’s the oldest on the scene, starting way back in 1984 on E-MU’s Drumulator, kind of like a spliced keyboard and drum machine. It’s now one of the most extensive and powerful platforms out there and the free version is more than enough for podcasters. That doesn’t mean that it’s easy to use – and it certainly needs a more modern facelift – but once you get the hang of things, the workflow becomes second nature. You can upgrade to even more powerful paid versions; ProTools uses a subscription model: For their basic edition, it costs 30 USD a month and for the professional version it costs 80 USD a month. For podcasting, the free version is more than enough though.
It comes with a pretty hefty learning curve, even with the “easy” free version. However, it does have a preset specifically for podcasts. When you create a new project, it gives you the option of creating from a template. Just check that, scroll down to Podcasting, and it will automatically set you up with three tracks for vocals and two for music and FX.
Reaper (Windows, OS X)
Reaper is easily the deepest “free” DAW that exists today. The most powerful piece of software you can get for the price, it, like ProTools, comes with a steep learning curve. And though you can download it for free (technically for a 60-day trial, but you can still use it after the trial), they run on the honor system. If you start making money with it, then you should send them 60 USD as a thank you. The price is upped if you have an insanely successful podcast and make over 20,000 dollars from using the software.
Reaper does not have any presets or templates to make it easy for podcasters. You can, however, make your own templates. This involves having to learn the DAW a little bit and running through some tutorials (we’ve made one for you here). But after you figure out the basic features, template creation is no problem.
Whatever you end up choosing, be patient, stick with it, and you’ll master it soon enough, with it becoming an invaluable part of your workflow. After you start adding in sounds and music, remember that the best place to find thematic music parts perfectly edited for your work is right here on Create Music. Check out our music tool here.
Are you a podcaster and already using a DAW? Which one is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!