How to Make Music Without a Computer, My Dawless Setup

Computers can seem like the default tool for making electronic music, but it doesn't have to be that way. What are the advantages of working entirely without a DAW? Find out with this article & video.

What is Dawless? 

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.  

Preference and Workflow

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. 

Staying in Budget

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. 

My Dawless Setup

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.

Gear Used:

  • Squarp Instruments Pyramid
  • Roland Tr-8
  • Korg Volca Keys
  • Korg Arp Odyssey Mini
  • Korg SQ-1
  • Dave Smith Instruments Tetr4
  • Yamaha HS7 Monitors
  • Mackie 1642VLZ4 Mixer
  • Strymon El Capistan & Bluesky Pedals
  • Access Virus Indigo 2
  • Roland A-33 Controller
  • Yamaha P-50 Module
  • Cyclone Bass-Bot TT-303
  • Blues Driver BD-2 Pedal
Learn how to make the most of hardware synths, drum machines and sequencers in your studio in the AskAudio Academy.


Synthesis 101
The Filter
by Bob Moog Foundation

"JAde Wii is a self-taught keyboardist, guitarist, cellist, and Dawless Jammer. JAde has been creating music for over 10 years, but only recently has she become a synth enthusiast, and what a journey it has been for her. She enjoys to explore the realm of composition without a Digital Audio Workstation, which is becoming more and more ..." Read More


Jay Asher
So I am guessing you don't do much orchestral simulation :)
Believe it or not, there was a time when ALL music was created without using a DAW or, indeed, a computer. In fact, computers didn't even exist. Yet, somehow, people coped and managed to make beautiful music. ;-)
cosmetology career
I'm actually in a group on FB Jade started to figure this out, it's about 2/3rds people who grew up with DAWs as the default way, looking to break out of it or just to add a more fluid and realtime aspect to what they do, and about 1/3rd people like me who learned how to do all this long before DAWs existed. It's neat to see them realize how freeing it can be, and kinda neat to be able to pass on info as to how to do it, to them to help get up to speed faster.
When the group formed, it was a natural thing for me to join, I studied synthesis and recording heavily in the late 1980s and early 1990s, then took 20 years off to raise a few kids. When I got back in, had missed the whole DAW thing and I am an app developer by day, so had no interest in more time on a computer anyway.
I will admit (no offense to any of them intended)'s cute to see some puzzle over what at once was the only way of doing something. some things are so much easier than they think they could be they over think it a lot.
It's really nice, but it costs too much for any regular dude.
Zach P
So I've created a nice little gear setup, everything is running in time through a mixer and sounds great on speakers. My problem is how to make quality recordings. Right now im running into a yamaha mg 10xu mixer (24bit sample rate) into my computer and recording on audacity. I dont know if its audacity (ive played around with WASAPI and have all settings on high) but I've noticed the recordings dont sound as good. I was wondering if you had any advice. Like you, I dont want to spend hours manipulating and toying around with DAW's. I just want recordings that dont suck. Thank you!

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