Writing/composing original music for a film can get quite complex and interesting. For some film composers, all it requires is a computer, a DAW, a midi controller, or their musical instrument of choice.
For some, it might get a little more complicated—although they might not see it that way. Some film composers record a full orchestra of up to about 60 or 90 players with a choral conductor. Sounds fun, right—-maybe not.
This only explains how complicated and how simple film scoring can get. However, regardless of how simple or complex the process is, there is always one thing that often comes into the picture. Because we are in the digital age, DAWs always play a vital role in film scoring.
It doesn’t matter if you are writing a solo ballad for piano, a string quintet, a contemporary hip-hop groove or recording a philharmonic orchestra, the computer and a DAW will always come into the picture.
On that note, the choice of DAW for your film scoring project will undoubtedly impact [to a great extent] the outcome of your project at the end of it.
Because the DAW occupies a very important position in the hierarchy of things, the choice of it will either mar or enhance your work.
Truth be told, some DAWs are better for projects like this while some are just very unmanageable. For example, there is a reason you will rarely see film composers with DAWs like Image Line’s Fruity Loops.
This, however, is not to demean this awesome DAW, rather, it is to make you understand that some tools are better suited for some jobs than others are. Also, it is also worthy of note that some DAWs were designed with specific sets of musical creatives in mind.
This, to a great extent, will affect the overall functionalities and performance of each DAW in certain areas of music production and sound design. In this article, we will discuss 10 DAWs we feel are amazing for film scoring.
It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner film composer or an expert with vast experience, there is always something to learn. All you have to do is, read on!
10 Best DAWs for Fim Scoring
- Apple Logic Pro X
- Steinberg Cubase
- Ableton Live
- Avid Pro Tools
- Albion One
- MOTUs Digital Performer
Review of 10 Best DAWs for Fim Scoring
In this section, we take a closer look at each of these DAWs and see what makes each of them a great choice for film-scoring tasks.
Apple Logic Pro X
Logic Pro is a very well-known and highly regarded DAW for a number of reasons. It is a highly capable, versatile and easy-to-use software that makes audio engineering tasks a breeze.
Whether you are looking to create a score from scratch or you need to integrate a pre-made score with some video. Logic Pro can get it done for you.
This is an especially useful DAW for those that are working with a limited budget or just prefer not to have to deal with third-party libraries and DAW attachments. Logic Pro comes with a substantial library of sounds and software that make it a one-window solution for all your needs.
Whether you need to pick a new sound or you want to adjust an existing sound according to your needs you can easily do it within Logic Pro.
One of the most important features of film scoring is tempo control. This is crucial when you want to add a bit more life to certain parts of the music or the entire scoreline as a whole.
With Logic Pro, you not only get excellent tempo control, but you also get tempo automation features. This way you can draw the tempo curve across the timeline to adjust it at different points according to your needs.
You also get movie sync features, advanced loop functionality and plenty of recording and editing features to help you make film scoring easy but great.
Here is a good video covering film scoring in Logic Pro.
|Excellent library of sounds||MIDI sampling could have been better|
|Very easy-to-use interface|
|A complete package for newbies and pros alike|
Cubase is another very popular DAW among audio engineers, producers and sound effect professionals. This DAW is very well-known for having excellent MIDI engines and versatile audio editing capabilities—two features that are essential for quality film scoring.
It also houses a number of powerful post-production audio editing capabilities which make it possible for users to really fine-tune their creations.
One of the best examples of the versatility in Cubase is the piano roll. Here you can adjust the grid system, you can edit the expressions and you can even customize the interface. This allows a level of programming and workflow management that you can’t find in any other DAW.
Cubase also features a 64-bit audio engine that is capable of 5.1 surround sound output. It delivers a bit depth of 32-bit with a sample rate of 192 kHz giving you lots of options and also producing extremely high-quality sound when film scoring.
Moreover, Cubase also has a control room feature where you can monitor the impact of different effects of different outputs and monitor multiple channels in a variety of ways.
When these features are paired with the extensive audio library that you get as standard with Cubase, you have a film-scoring arsenal ready to work wonders.
Here is a good video covering the basics of scoring in Cubase.
|An excellent user interface, very intuitive and also customizable||Can be challenging to integrate third-party software into Cubase|
|Top-tier sound management features|
|Sound editing, morphing and manipulation make film scoring a breeze|
If you enjoy hip-hop, electronic or any other ‘modern’ flavours of music, chances are that you have heard or even used Ableton Live. It is easily one of the most widely used DAWs among producers who primarily work with modern genres of music.
This is largely because it offers a number of features and also a lot of sounds that are great for these genres of music. However, this doesn’t mean that it cannot be used for film scoring as well.
One of the key features of Ableton Live is its simplicity. In Ableton, it is very straightforward to import a sound, chop it up, loop it, customize it and get it going with your project. The same is true if you need to work with video.
The DAW accepts a wide range of video formats and allows you to make many audio adjustments to it. While the interface might not be like other DAWs, once you understand where everything is, it is extremely fluid.
Whether you need to design the sound from scratch, track, manipulate samples, mix and master, or anything else, you can get it done through Ableton. It offers a bit of everything—so, for someone who needs a one-window solution, this is a great DAW to use.
Here is an in-depth video about scoring in Ableton Live.
|Session view makes it very easy to input MIDI and monitor things as you record live||Lacks the advanced features that are specialized for film scoring|
|Lots of great sound manipulation features come as standard with Ableton||The video editing workspace could have been a bit more customizable|
Nuendo also hails from the Steinberg pavilion and is one of the DAWs on this list that is targeted toward professional audio engineers and easily caters to corporate-level audio design requirements.
At first sight, you could mistake Nuendo for Cubase but you couldn’t be further from the truth. As you start to unravel the unique features of Nuendo you realize that while it does share a lot of things with Cubase there is another full range of features that are completely unique.
One of the best features of Nuendo is ADR which stands for automated dialogue replacement. This is often one of the most challenging tasks in post-production audio when audio needs to be redone and kept in line with video. Nuendo solves this problem through AI.
The AI-driven Detect Silence tool and Dialogue Detection mode work in tandem to seamlessly replace audio in the video. Moreover, the tool gives you plenty of control and serviceability over the specific tracks that you are dealing with and makes the entire process a breeze.
Nuendo also offers one of the most advanced mixing and mastering interfaces on any DAW currently available.
It even features support for Dolby Atmos where you can create binaural audio, surround sound audio, Dolby Atmos-supported audio, and many other high-end audio configurations.
Nuendo also offers a range of upgrades over a lot of tasks which cumulatively have a big impact on the quality of sound you are able to get from the system and how efficient it is when it comes to film scoring.
Here is a detailed video guide to scoring in Nuendo.
|AI-driven systems make audio manipulation much easier||Not that beginner friendly|
|Advanced toolset makes fine-tuning for TV, radio and other commercial-grade output possible||Some advanced services require additional software that can get quite expensive|
|Unique capabilities make this DAW excellent if you are creating output for cutting-edge devices and sound systems|
|A powerful sound engine makes it possible to work with a lot of different inputs and create lots of different outputs making this a great solution for film scoring|
Reaper is known as the affordable all-rounder DAW that has been around for ages and has developed an almost cult-like following. The fact is that this DAW gives you nearly all—if not even more, capabilities that other DAWs do when it comes to sound design.
It also comes at a very affordable price. Just like other systems, Reaper has evolved over the years and today it is something that anyone can very easily use even for rather complicated tasks such as film scoring.
What makes Reaper really stand out from other systems is its ability to accommodate third-party software.
The Reaper DAW itself is extremely lightweight at just 250 MBs, it barely takes any processing power and it creates a very cosy ecosystem for third-party apps to enter and make their home.
This way, as a film-scoring professional, you can still use all your favourite tools in Reaper and also benefit from the functionality of this particular DAW.
Another feature that makes Reaper very popular with users is its flexibility. If you know how to code you can customize Reaper not only in terms of its UI and UX but even down to how it performs certain tasks.
You can either write your own code or you can get premade scripts that you can simply load into the system and customize a certain part of it.
This is especially useful for film scoring when you need the workflow to be set up in a certain way so things get done quickly and according to how you want them to get done.
Here is a nice video about film scoring in Reaper.
|Highly customizable especially if you know how to code a little bit||Reapers on functionality is a bit limited for advanced film scoring but is excellent if for newbies|
|Excellent if you need something that will readily accept your favourite tools and software|
|Very cost-effective and you get a free trial for an unlimited amount of time|
If you want something that is all about performance, then Bitwig is a great choice to consider. One of the reasons why it doesn’t always get the attention that it deserves is that it is a bit rough around the edges when it comes to UI design and interface usability.
However, if you can get familiar with the layout, you will be pleasantly surprised to discover what this DAW can do in terms of sound design and audio engineering. One of the best features of Bitwig is easy access to a plethora of modulation controls.
Audio Sidechain, Audio rate, XY pad mapping, LFO and envelope followers are just some of the things you can apply to a given sound or sound wave at the click of a button.
What’s more important is how easy to access these are and how quick it is to map them out to a sound.
This makes your workflow extremely smooth and quick. Bitwig also gives you a multiband split on any plugin.
This means that without applying any kind of bus or having to tinker with EQ in any way, you can isolate a frequency range on any sound or plugin and apply any kind of effect on that particular frequency.
This is an underused feature of Bitwig that can make a huge difference to your work.
Here is a good video about scoring in Bitwig.
|Bitwig is all about performance and you get a number of features that you cannot get in any other DAW||Can be a bit difficult to understand for new users and especially those that are new to sound design|
|A customizable DAW that can be easily tweaked for quality film scoring|
Avid Pro Tools
Pro Tools is one of the oldest and one of the best in the industry. There are several reasons why this is a staple DAW in many production houses around the world and is preferred by audio technicians in every field.
One of the most powerful features of this DAW is the recording function. There are few—if any—other DAWs that can handle live recording much like Pro Tools.
This ability of Pro Tools becomes even more apparent when you record live percussion or wind instruments that are notorious for being “recording nightmares.”
Pro Tools is widely used and one of the benefits is that it is very easy to import audio from other DAWs into Pro Tools and vice versa.
If you are using Ableton, Logic Pro, Reaper, Reason or any of the other popular DAWs for some work, you will easily be able to move things in and out of Pro Tools.
Pro Tools also gives you an editable timeline. This way, you can actually watch the video that you are editing, as it plays with the changes you are making. This makes the entire workflow that much smoother and easier.
Here is a detailed video about scoring in Pro Tools.
|Versatile DAW with all the modern functionality you would need for film scoring||Quite demanding on the PC|
|Can be used in conjunction with other programs seamlessly||Can be hard to understand for users since it has an old analog-style interface|
For the audio designer on a budget, it gets much better than Audacity. A fully capable DAW that is available; completely for free and is constantly receiving updates by a global community of developers and audio fans that help to make this DAW an excellent platform to get started with.
In fact, even some top-tier industry professionals use this DAW thanks to its brilliant performance. With this DAW, you get good, sturdy performance in all the main areas.
Whether you are recording, modifying audio, adding effects, or making EQ tweaks, Audacity can get it all done. This is a no-frills DAW; you will get the basic tasks done quite well but don’t expect to get anything crazy out of it.
It also comes equipped with all the tools you will need to modify sounds, add effects, tweak nuances of the sound and edit it to integrate it with your video. Again, while this DAW will get the job done it doesn’t offer any cutting-edge solutions like Nuendo.
Overall this is a great performer and a certain win for the budget category. This is a perfect DAW if you are on a tight budget or you just want to experiment with film scoring and get to know the basics.
Moreover, if you aren’t working on very demanding projects Audacity will be more than enough to get your work done.
Once you have maxed out Audacity’s capabilities you will be in a good position to invest in a more expensive DAW so you can get the things you specifically need.
This video covers some basics of scoring functions in Audacity.
|It’s completely free to use||Not suitable for advanced audio design work or users who need very specialized solutions|
|Comes with a decent library|
|Has some good software inbuilt to get audio work done|
Albion One has taken a big step forward in terms of both design and performance as compared to previous generations.
The latest version is composed of five main departments/sections alongside all the software that was previously available in Albion for audio recording and manipulation.
Albion One Orchestra includes some basic patches of brass, strings, and other sounds to help you get started with audio production. These can be further modified to suit your needs.
Stephensons Steam Band includes various pads, plucks, drones and other sound design tools that can be used with in-built and external audio sources. Brunei Loops features a number of looped libraries as well as some kits.
Darwin Percussion Library will take care of all your percussion needs. Albion Legacy includes all the orchestral sounds from previous generations of Albion. In addition to these, you also get an upgraded interface, upgraded sound engine and added sound design tools.
Overall, it is a very comprehensive package and when you consider that Spitfire also offers a lot of free goodies on its website that can be loaded into Albion One, you get quite a lot for your money.
This is a great tool for film scoring because not only does it have excellent audio capabilities it also makes the process of integrating audio with video very quick and smooth.
Here is a detailed video about scoring processes in Albion One.
|Excellent selection of orchestral sounds||Is a bit limited for people looking for a DAW with a broader sound library in terms of genre|
|Lots of free value available from Spitfire|
MOTUs Digital Performer
Digital Performer has been around for several decades now and has become synonymous with film scoring. The latest iteration of the software, DP 11, features a healthy list of features, upgrades and innovations from the previous version.
This is not to say that DP 10 was a ‘light’ system by any measure, but it does go to show how serious the team at MOTU are when it comes to making DP the most advanced DAW specifically for sophisticated audio engineering.
One of the big changes with the latest version is the Nanosampler 2. The UI is a bit bigger which gives you access to even more knobs and buttons to tweak the sound. Unfortunately, the sampler still only supports one sound at a time.
For the synthesizer, you get five instruments that offer plenty of functionality for that department. There is also a decent array of percussion and bass, however, it is not nearly as big of a selection as you would find with other DAWs.
In this version, you also get Live Performance Mode which allows effects to be processed in real-time as you are playing or recording.
You also get a huge variety of plugins for effects. Also, it features nearly 100 effects that can be applied to different instruments and each plugin can be tweaked individually.
The latest version also allows you to playback video at 1080p or 720p while you are scoring which makes the task that much more convenient. However, it does demand quite a bit of processing power.
Here is a complete video tutorial series about MOTU Digital Performer.
|Excellent film scoring tools and MIDI notation tools||Weak instrument bundle|
|Quality live performance solutions|
|Excellent pitch correction|
|Several background features that make it excellent for daily use|
Can you Use Any DAW for Film Scoring?
Technically, you could use any DAW for film scoring. However, would that be the best way to go about your work? Probably not. Having the right tools for the job can make your life easier and can also help you do a better job.
Each DAW has some strengths and some weaknesses. Choosing the right DAW is about choosing a DAW that suits your needs and has the specific features and abilities you need to help you create the best compositions possible.
If you are going to be recording a lot of live sounds or using your own samples, you don’t need a DAW with the biggest stock sound library.
Similarly, if you are recording live, you need a DAW that will have excellent sound input and sound recording features rather than one that only offers limited input sound quality.
When looking at something for film scoring, things like audio detection, video playback and automatic time alignment will be very helpful.
What are the Best Film-Scoring DAWs for Macbook Users?
If you are using a Mac then using something that is native to that environment will definitely help. Here are a few great options for Mac users and also some more that Windows users can use as well.
What are the Best Film-Scoring DAWs for Widows
Windows is still one of the most widely used systems across the world. Luckily there are plenty of DAWs to explore that are designed specifically for this platform. If you like one of these be sure to check out the official website, they may be available for other platforms as well.
What DAW Do Professionals Use for Film Scoring?
Film composers will select a DAW based on a lot of different factors. One main factor is the capability of the DAW itself—-another important factor is how easily that DAW can integrate into the large audio production ecosystem.
Moreover, composers also have to keep in mind what they want to achieve and they look for the best solution to get to that goal.
Some of the most popular DAWs include:
Logic Pro X – This DAW was used to score ‘The Social Network’ by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. It was also used to score ‘Man of Steel’ by Hans Zimmer.
Cubase – This DAW was used to score ‘Guardian of the Galaxy’ by Tyler Bates.
Pro Tools – This DAW was used to score ‘Interstellar’ by Hans Zimmer.
Choosing the right DAW depends on a number of factors. You need to know what you need from the DAW, which features of the DAW can be substituted for third-party solutions and how well a DAW suits your workflow.
There is no perfect solution, so the best option is to explore a few different platforms to see what works for you. Moreover, even once you have started a project you can still move over to a different DAW.
Starting off with a premium DAW might have a steeper learning curve but you will be able to learn a powerful platform directly that can help you progress quicker down the path of audio composition.