Picking a DAW is a surprisingly personal choice; here are some tips to help the decision!
When it comes time to pick a Digital Audio Workstation to be the heart of your studio, you need to consider your personal needs, preferences and working styles to make an informed decision. Ultimately, many DAWs share a lot of common features: almost all can record, edit and mix audio; they all can import and convert multiple common audio formats; almost all can import video for scoring purposes; and almost all can seamlessly time stretch audio.
The difference, then, is primarily work-flow and layout...and you. Seriously, before you invest a few hundred dollars into a DAW, you should consider a few things.
What type(s) of music do you want to make? Though the DAWs all have roughly the same functionality, some DAWs tend to be more accepted in different genres. Image-line’s FL Studio software is often used by producers who make various forms of electronic music – the hip-hop, trance, and dub step communities have taken to it wholeheartedly. Ableton Live began life as a DJing software, and so not surprisingly is big among house, hip-hop and trance DJs. Alternatively, a software like Avid's Pro Tools is pretty heavily used by vocalist in every genre, and is also heavily used by the film and gaming industries. Know what lane you're aiming for, and then choose from there.
Will you be recording live instruments, or will all your sounds be “in the box”? Again, most DAWs overlap features. But some are better suited for the process of recording live instruments. If you have a guitar/bass/drums trio, a DAW like Nuendo or Sonar will make your recording process slightly less convoluted than a DAW like FL Studio. If you are content using sounds in the box (and the sound quality of virtual instruments are fantastic, these days) then your options expand a bit.
Are you a Mac or a PC user? As time goes on, this consideration will become less and less important. At the moment, however, there are still a few major DAWs that aren't dual platform, as of yet. Users of Logic are pretty much locked into using Apple hardware. Users of FL Studio and Sonar are tied to PC hardware, for the moment. If you have a OS preference, it helps to be aware of what apps are exclusive to your OS choice.
What is your work-flow like? Do you work in a linearly fashion? Or are you more of an artists who jams until inspiration finds you? Or are you a combination of both? An application like Propellerhead's Reason and it's Blocks feature allows users to group and move large chunks of audio as they see fit. This functionality makes the composition process a lot easier. Alternatively, a DAW like Cubase or Studio One features a default left-to-right visual orientation that may make it easier for the more linear composer to lay down idea.
Ultimately, the choice of DAW is a personal one. So many features are available in most DAWs that any type of music can be made in any of them. In addition to the information presented here, there are more in-depth differences between the DAWs. Furthermore, most manufacturers of the individual DAWs offer functional demos available for download. If you're having difficulty making a choice, don't hesitate to play around with a demo or three. Just remember: the software is just a tool, and the real artist is YOU.