What is a Digital Audio Workstation used for?
The function of the DAW is to record, edit/mix and play back a musical production. Source instruments such as voice, guitars, keyboards and drums are recorded, not necessarily at the same time, and once the digital streams are captured in the DAW, editing and mixing can be performed. Playback is used for monitoring purposes. And finally a piece of music is produced.
The ability to record source material separately is a tremendous plus. Rather than to require a 4-member band to be together at the same time (though they may be anyway), source recordings can be done individually, with repeat takes until the desired performance is achieved. Synchronization can be achieved by the human e.g. singing the voice portion along with a previously recorded piano accompaniment. MIDI in the DAW can also be used for synchronization, which may be done after the source recordings.
Once the source material has been recorded and captured on the DAW, editing, mixing and other digital sound processing (e.g reverb) can be performed to render the final musical production. The ultimate power of the DAW can be pointed out with the example of a single person creating and producing the music normally achieved through a multi-member band.
Another use of a DAW is to render a musical creation where the source material is not necessarily produced from the actual instruments, whether they are acoustic instruments recorded through microphones or digital source feeds directly into the DAW such as through electronic keyboards. Digital drum sets are also very popular and prevalent in the DAW domain.
Musical notes can be entered into the DAW through an electronic keyboard attached to the DAW through a MIDI interface. Musical notes can also be entered into the DAW through music notation software which is "connected" to the DAW through the MIDI protocol. Once the notes have been captured, the DAW can be used to render the sampled sounds of various instrument.
Note the use of recorded sound samples from real acoustic instruments is of much higher sound quality than synthesized sounds which are available on the standard personal computer. An example of this application is the creation of an orchestral performance by a single person with a DAW.