If you’re working on a limited budget (and who isn’t) there are a few DAWs you might want to check out before jumping to a paid version.
There are several other free DAWs available and although limited, they’ll allow you to get your feet wet (or quite possibly drown) in the DAW multiverse. Which you decide to try will probably depend on what you’re wanting to do and personal preference. If you’re going for electronic/MIDI music then you’ll definitely want to check out Ableton Live Lite 9 or Reaper or possibly even Pro Tools® First from Avid. But with ProTools reputation for being notoriously complex and hard to learn it may, or may not, be a good fit.
Another DAW that’s come to my attention recently is Ardour. It’s a free DAW that looks pretty powerful and allows for the use of several plugin types. At the moment, it’s only available for Linux or MAC systems, but you might be able to run it as a virtual machine in VirtualBox.
If you’re in the market for a more full-featured (read pricier) DAW, then here’s a video from lynda.com that does a pretty good job of explaining the various DAWs on the market and which may be more appropriate for what you’re wanting to do.
But no matter the DAW you choose, the following will hold true.
WORKFLOW IS EVERYTHING
Anyone that’s ever dabbled with recording audio on a shoestring budget comes to two distinct realizations very quickly. One, it’s a hell of a lot harder than it looks to get great sounding audio. And two, finding a comfortable work flow that includes offloading some of the button pushing to your feet becomes critical to getting good takes.
LOOK MA, NO HANDS!
If you’re a one man band, you’ll need to figure out a way to start and stop recording and looping without using your hands. There are many inexpensive pedals on the market that will allow you to start and stop the DAW transport without requiring you to take your hands off of your instrument. I bought an M-Audio SP-2 sustain pedal for a whopping $12 on eBay and it functions as a sustain pedal for the keyboard AND with the proper interface, it can be used to trigger the DAW recording transport. It’s also heavy enough that it could probably be used as an anchor for a small boat!
WHATEVER WORKS FOR YOU!
Of course, there are many other FREE applications that can be used to extend your sonic capabilities. These run the platform gamut from Windows to Linux to MAC to iOS and Android. Which you ultimately choose is up to you and your own personal preferences.
Looking for a exhaustive list of free VST plugins for your DAW?
Or something a little more specific?