Dawless is making music without a Digital Audio Workstation. In this case, we're talking about electronic music. Why would anyone want to do that, you may ask? Well, when you spend most of your day in front of a computer screen because your job or education demands it, the last thing you want to do is get home and try to find inspiration in the same environment. After years of clicking through presets, dealing with updates, crashes, etc. enough was enough. I didn’t want to do it “that way” any more, and I was determined to find another approach.
I started researching “How to make music without a computer?” The results were overwhelming; I was suddenly introduced to a world of new vocabulary that made no sense to me, but the very few that spoke it knew it well. MIDI IN/OUT, THRU, SYNC, Analog, Digital, Polyphony, Multitimbrality, just to name a few terms. What does this all mean and how can I get to the end results? The answer is: trial and error, research, and most importantly, persistence.
Going Dawless isn’t an easy to do, I knew it wasn’t going to happen overnight, I had to acquire all the pieces of the puzzle in order to get to the finish line. But what do I need and in what order? There’s a few ways to do this, there is no right way; it all has to do with preference and workflow.
First, you’re going to want to get yourself a synthesizer. If you don’t consider yourself a keyboard player but more of a knob-twiddler, a monophonic (plays one note at a time) synth will do for now. Since you plan on getting a few more things the most logical thing to do now is get yourself a mixer. Take into consideration how you want to record your jams. Some mixers carry audio over USB which makes it easy to record your music, but it does require you to record into the computer. If you want to leave the computer out altogether, a simple handheld recorder will do. I use a Zoom H4N Pro which is also a great on-the-go recording tool.
Next you will want to weigh the options of a drum machine. There are plenty of Groove Boxes that can handle drum duties well, and this can be an affordable and suitable starting point. If you do decide to get a standalone drum machine, you will need a few more devices to handle sequencing duties. I suggest you start off with something like the Teenage Engineering Pocket Operators, Korg volcas or Roland Boutiques, all affordable synths. Be sure to stay in budget because ‘most expensive’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘the best’, especially when you’re starting out.
At this point you’re probably using headphones to track your mix, but you will want to invest in a good pair of monitors or mixing headphones. I suggest saving up a little and getting a good pair of monitors, these will determine how your music sounds to others.
In this video I explain my workflow and how to plug everything in so all your gear is synced and running on time. This is just one of many ways to do it, once you find a way you feel comfortable with you will embark on a musical journey of self exploration.