Technology: DAW Workstations

Mike Lawson • Technology • December 9, 2014

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Customizing Beyond the Bundles

While the idea of buying a new digital audio workstation (DAW) bundle may be appealing, for many educators it might be more feasible to incorporate existing pieces of hardware and software into a customized solution. Fortunately, there are many different ways to accomplish this, as well as numerous resources available to help educators choose how to customize these workstations for their specific needs.

Make A Plan
Music tech retail stores can be a good resource in terms of deciding which component parts you may need. While not every music retailer offers technology sales as part of their services, they still might be able to refer you to experts who can assist with consultation, installation, and post-sales technical support. 

Be realistic about goals and applications. For example, are eight audio input channels necessary? Even if you can think of scenarios where you might use all eight, you might only need two or four on a regular basis. Getting to know how your DAW will typically be utilized will save money in the long run. Keep in mind that the DAW bundles that a music retailer can assemble for you often include “lite” versions of the software (and in some cases you won’t qualify for upgrades or support). Sometimes the free versions of software aren’t as good of a value as they might seem. Be careful to discern between pricing and the product features that you will need in your teaching. Haste in making a purchase before adequate investigation can lead to waste. 

Dealer Support
Music directors who are utilizing digital workstations in their instruction would be wise to partner with companies that can provide both service and expertise. Examples of these companies include Kelly’s Music and Instruments, Sweetwater, Sam Ash, SoundTree, and Romeo Music. Yamaha, Roland, and Korg also maintain a large network of music retailers with full product support. If you know the right questions to ask dealers, you’ll be in a better position to assess how to meet your needs. Here are some possible questions to consider when thinking about product support:
1.     What products does your company offer that fit well into the digital music workstation components that I already have?
2.     Can you provide some minimum specifications for each hardware and software product appropriate for entry-level classroom use? What makes the products in your DAW packages appropriate for teaching situations?
3.     Can you suggest some ways to keep the cost per workstation affordable, as well as maintaining open-ended expandability?
4.     Does your company provide prescribed all-in-one bundles as well as customized packages? 
5.     Can your technical staff make some recommendations for putting together an entry-level digital music workstation for the classroom? How about for intermediate and advanced levels as well?
6.     Can your dealer assist with the installation of the DAW?
7.     Will the dealers provide post-sale technical support for the products they sell, or is that something handled directly by each manufacturer?

After-Sales Support
Since 2004, Hal Leonard has let music dealers design and support customized digital music workstations so they can better meet the needs of their clients. Although not a manufacturer of hardware and software, Hal Leonard does distribute these types of products to music retailers around the world. They also provide technical support to their retailers in terms of helping make recommendations to educators. Here are a few of the DAW products for educators that Hal Leonard recommends to its dealer network:

Presonus Audiobox Recording Bundles series (Studio, Stereo, and Creation) – These are perfect for educators because they give full recording solutions right out of the box, with hardware and software, at a great price.

  • Avid Fast Track Duo – Includes Pro Tools, as well as an audio interface that can connect via USB or iOS.
  • Blue Microphones Yeti Pro – Stereo condenser microphone with two channels of audio via USB or XLR.
  • Acoustica MixCraft with Curriculum – Any educator who wants to get into recording and music creation can use this affordable DAW software that also has an accompanying curriculum.
  • Samson Carbon 49 Controller – An affordable 49-key controller with USB connection that can work in any set-up.
  • M-Audio Pulsar Matched Pair – Ideal for stereo ensemble recording, as they are a matched pair.
  • Notion/Sibelius First – Either program is affordable and these give most educators everything they need in a notation program.
  • Technology Strategies for Music Education – General topic book.
  • Technology Integration In The Elementary Classroom – General topic book.
  • Musical iPad Book – Demystifies iOS in the music classroom setting.
  • Using Pro Tools in Music Education – Helps teachers use Pro Tools in the classroom.
  • What makes Hal Leonard a significant bridge to local music dealers is that they sell solutions that are bundled with different, compatible brands, as well as all-in-one bundles. They offer every component of the recording process – from software to hardware, and mics to monitors with multiple options based on price and specs. They represent Avid (Pro Tools & Sibelius), M-Audio, Steinberg (Cubase), Propellerhead (Reason), Ableton, Sony (Acid), Samson, Blue Mics, Apogee, Cakewalk (Sonar), Griffin, IK Multimedia, Acoustica (Mixcraft), and PreSonus, among others. Plus they provide direct support nationally. Hal Leonard also has options for every system out there: laptop, tablet, desktop, and even smartphones. 

Many music educators know Avid Technology for their notation and digital-audio sequencing products, but Avid specializes much more in video and audio production technology – specifically, digital non-linear editing (NLE) systems, and management and distribution services. Avid products are now used in the television and video industry to create television shows, feature films, and commercials. Media Composer, a professional software-based non-linear editing system, is Avid’s flagship product. 
At the very basic level it is important for students to be able to learn with tools that are being used in the real world. They need to learn music notation as well as how to make use of a digital audio workstation for recording, mixing their music, and collaborating with friends and fellow students. Beyond the software, they need an audio interface with a minimum two inputs for mics or instruments, a stereo speaker and headphone out, MIDI keyboard, and at least one microphone and a pair of headphones. Avid can supply the DAW and notation software and the audio interface, so I suggest their Fast Track Solo interface which includes Pro Tools Express Software.

For entry level notation, Sibelius First music notation software is good in a classroom setting because it is upgradable. However, entry-level software products can at times be expensive to upgrade.

What makes Pro Tools and Sibelius so popular in the classroom is that these are the same tools used throughout the professional music industry, so students can prepare themselves for higher music education and careers in the real world. Using industry standard software like Pro Tools allows students to record, edit, and mix tracks with the help of included plug-ins that range from virtual instruments to sound processors and effects. This is the exact same workflow utilized by top music studios. Sibelius includes all the tools students need to learn notation and to create their own printed scores, and a built-in playback engine allows them to hear their music as they progress through the composition. Pro Tools and Sibelius are available at special academic pricing for students and teachers (

But there’s much more to Avid’s DAW workstation offering. Avid can also supply a range of audio interfaces to allow students to record and playback music from mics, instruments, and MIDI keyboards, starting with Pro Tools Fast Track Solo and including Pro Tools Express entry-level software. The Avid Artist Series controllers allow for affordable tactile control of tracks within Pro Tools. Fast Track Solo is the entry level audio interface from Avid that is bundled with Pro Tools and Express DAW. 

Avid can supply a number of affordable bundles for educational applications including different levels of Pro Tools software, from entry level to professional, with audio interfaces and the Artist Series controllers. Sibelius notation software comes bundled with PhotoScore, education software for scanning printed music into Sibelius, and AudioScore, education software that can transcribe audio music files into Sibelius. Many larger institutions also install complete professional studio solutions, including Pro Tools HDX and System 5 audio mixing consoles. They also often install Pro Tools Software on every student laptop as part of larger bundled solutions, at special educational pricing.

For middle and high school music programs, consider the following for entry-level classroom use for both teachers and students. 
•    Fast Track Solo or Fast Track Duo interface, which
    includes Pro Tools | Express Software
•    Sibelius First music notation software, entry level
    version of Sibelius 

 For a university and professional music school teachers:
•    Mbox Pro audio interface which includes Pro Tools |
•    Pro Tools | Software Academic
•    Sibelius Academic edition software
•    Sibelius multi-seat license, allowing multiple copies
    to be installed on all computers and floating licenses
    allowing a maximum number of users at any one time.

For students:
•    Fast Track Solo or Fast Track Duo interface which 
    includes Pro Tools | Express Software
•    Or Mbox Pro audio interface which includes
    Pro Tools | Software
•    Pro Tools | Software Academic
•    Sibelius Academic edition software

The Avid Learning Partner program (ALP), with over 750 educational partners worldwide from K-12 to university, provides 15 courses for audio and over 75 direct training courses. Avid’s Authorized Curriculum not only provides comprehensive product training, the coursework features projects that enable students to learn through real-world scenarios to keep them fully engaged. The ALP complements the Avid products and workflows by providing educators numerous courses that can be integrated into all levels of curriculum. More info is available about the Avid Learning Partner Program at:

Other Customizing Sources
PreSonus, Focusrite, and Icon Digital USA – all featured in the October SBO installment with entry-level DAW bundles – also provide customized component parts and consultation to ensure a good fit with pre-existing hardware/software. For example, PreSonus’s AudioBox iSeries interfaces record with USB 2.0 to Mac, PC, or iPad with up to 96k sample rate, with free iPad Capture and Studio One Artist software included, but their interfaces will work with all other software as well. The trend for mobile apps will continue as cloud resources continue to grow, allowing tablets and smartphones to become more prevalent in a DAW environment. Need studio monitors? PreSonus has Eris Studio Monitors with superb sound at an affordable price. Plus they connect with XLR or 1/4” cables and provide acoustic tuning and EQ, allowing them to be customized to any space, small or large, with three versions available. Their Ceres Monitors allow students and teachers to quickly send music over Bluetooth to any pair of monitors from a smartphone, tablet, or computer. In this kind of music lab, students can send their audio to any pair of speakers in the room, illustrating the dynamics of a DAW classroom with mobile tools over the traditional music classroom or lab.

Other Companies to Watch for Future Bundles? 
Down the line, I expect Yamaha, Korg, and Roland to offer similar DAW kits for classroom settings. They all have the necessary component parts to offer DAW bundles, plus excellent dealer networks and strong technical support services. Roland’s main DAW (Sonar) software is for Windows; it will be interesting to see if they add an OEM DAW for Mac or pass up that chunk of the market. Yamaha’s Cubase is available for multiple platforms with both sequencing and notation capabilities for classroom use.

Closing Comments
Many dealers pride themselves on offering great service. I encourage consumers to purchase from a quality local dealer or a service-oriented online retailer. Good dealers have the expertise and experience to guide you in putting together bundles that work for your needs. Be sure to ask probing questions – don’t assume that a “one size fits all” approach is in your best interest. You’ll discover that many local dealers that sell the Hal Leonard bundles won’t be in a position to provide any support, and Hal Leonard prefers to provide support to dealers and not end-users. That is why it is often best to purchase from a specialist – a store that sells mostly guitars and saxophones can’t be expected to know the intricacies of digital audio software! 

A digital audio workstation is the teaching fast track in today’s music classroom. Bundle up!

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