Those who want to make music rather than just listen to it — and want their
work immortalized, even if no one listens to it — find ourselves on the cusp of yet another technology-wrought music revolution.
Over the last decade, the thousands you might have spent on precious, brief access to a professional studio has shrunken to hundreds you might spend putting together a project studio at home, like the one Sleigh Bells used to fuel their meteoric rise.
Some who have the recording bug — particularly those who are just getting started — might question the wisdom of spending even those hundreds, now that a well-established and growing field of online digital audio workstations (DAWs) offer music production starting at precisely… nothing. (Feel free to skip directly to the reviews below, if this is all the introduction you need to that concept.)
The “cloud” — a buzzword that basically means extending one’s computing experience to include remote servers — is reinventing not only listening, and even recording, but the notion of what it means to be in a band. It no longer has to mean hanging out together in a garage or basement studio, thanks to the collaboration features included in many of these online DAWs.
So, does online recording herald the death of the home studio, just as desktop DAWs presaged the death of the professional studio? Both claims are overstated. These inexpensive online DAWs are limited in ways we detail in the reviews, and even the most modestly ambitious music recording enthusiast can tell the difference between what you get when you spend thousands, and when you spend pennies.
What services like these do offer, however, is another expansion of our collective music canvas. Because of them, more people will have the chance to record themselves regardless of the instrument(s) they play, their level of musical sophistication, and their personal finances. The democratizing effect of online recording is to realize the egalitarian idea that we can all be creative without being rich, and musically connected to each other even in the hurly-burly of modern life.
We examined four of the most fully-realized online digital audio workstations available today, which let you jump into this very innovative musical world without a lot of fuss and without spending a dime upfront. Each has its own plusses and minuses, which is why they’re listed alphabetically rather than ranked by quality: