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Recording

What Is The Best Software For Music Production?

Have you been spending way too much time looking for the best software for music production lately? If so, don’t beat yourself up. It’s a common problem.

Any music industry professional worth their salt will tell you that if you plan to make a sustainable career out of your music the first thing you need to do is start recording. 

Original recorded music opens up a whole new world of income opportunities that simply aren’t available to stereotypical “cover bands”. Getting into the studio really isn’t a question of “if” but “when?”. And the answer is now btw.

For acts who are just starting out this can present quite the problem. Studio rental costs can add up pretty quickly so, at least in the beginning, the DIY approach is often the only option.

As you make plans to set up your own home recording studio your first port of call will quite likely be music production software. However, with so many options on the market it can be quite overwhelming trying to figure out which one should you buy?

“Before we go any further I should probably jump in and clear up some confusion first. Music production software is a category of software that oddly enough has many names. If you happen to see any of the following:

- Digital audio workstation (or DAW for short)
- Sequencing/sequencer software
- Multitrack recording software
- Tracking software
- … or some combination of these…


…then it’s all talking about the same thing”

Having bought and used a few different DAWs over the years I actually do have a little experience in this particular topic. Nevertheless I decided to find someone smarter than me (a lot easier than I expected btw) so they could explain the pros and cons of today’s best software for music production.

Below you’ll see the research done by the super sharp host of the Electronic Music School YouTube channel

He did an incredible job of reviewing the 9 best DAWs available today giving both pros & cons of all of them. I’ve broken down his analysis in the article that follows and you can see his full video at the very end of this page.


Ableton Live 10

Check Out Their Website Here

Pros

  • Superior live performance capabilities
  • Flexible play options
  • Seamless integration with Ableton hardware for live performances
  • Great workflow
  • Impressive included software instruments, samplers and effects
  • Edit multiple MIDI clips within a single view
  • Tons of available learning resources on YouTube, forums and the included manual

Cons

  • Mixer has very limited capabilities. Have to change screens to make edits to channel parameters and effects
  • Lacking features in the piano roll

Conclusion

I have friends who use Ableton Live for live performances and absolutely love it. In spite of the cons it seems to be a very capable tool for music creation and performance.


FL Studio 20

Check Out Their Website Here

Pros

  • Superior MIDI editing capabilities
  • Top notch sound design tools
  • Excellent included synth sounds
  • One payment gives you lifetime updates without additional cost

Cons

  • Inefficient handling of audio recording

Conclusion

FL Studio is miles away from the original Fruity Loops which used to be available for free when it first came on the scene. It’s still widely used by producers who prefer loop based production and is now considered a serious production tool for professional use.


Logic Audio Pro X

Check Out Their Website Here

Pros

  • Great all around tool
  • Excels in audio, MIDI and even video work
  • Arguably the largest selection of effects and instruments
  • Comes fully equipment with everything you’ll need including Flex Pitch which allows you to change the pitch of recorded audio without changing tempo and vice versa
  • Simple, intuitive workflow which will be instantly familiar to those who use it’s free counterpart GarageBand
  • Songs started in GarageBand can be imported into Logic Pro X for continued editing and recording if desired.
  • One of the least expensive tools in the list

Cons

  • Only available for use on Mac computers
  • Not as many learning resources as some of the others but there are pretty good tutorials on YouTube and paid options on tutorial sites like Groove3 and Lynda

Conclusion

Logic is a veteran tool that has gone through a lot of development over the past 2 decades or so. It’s now a much simpler and very powerful tool used in many professional recording studios making it easy to start sessions at home and continue them in a commercial setting.


It now has a 90 day trial version but you can also get your feet wet by starting with GarageBand to help you decide if you like the workflow. 


Cubase 10

Check Out Their Website Here

Pros

  • Outstanding audio and mixing capabilities
  • Mixing console is arguably the most capable and is inspired by analog mixing consoles making it instantly familiar to anyone coming from that world
  • Comes with great effects and decent instruments
  • VariAudio 3 is their pitch/tempo tool comparable to Melodyne so, like Logic Pro X you won’t need to buy a separate plugin for this functionality

Cons

  • Limited modulation capabilities (not sure what this means to be honest)
  • No macro knobs feature
  • USB dongle is required to run the software so one USB port becomes unusable whenever you use the software

Conclusion

A quick check on their website and it seems like a number of very accomplished composers and musicians are using and loving this software suite. The feature set is indeed very impressive but the dongle requirement could pose a challenge for some.


MacBook Pro users will probably need a USB hub on older machines if you want to connect a MIDI controller AND an audio interface at the same time. For newer machines you’ll probably need a USB-C adapter or dock which means you’ll have one more piece of gear to pack when you travel 🧑🏻‍💻


Studio One 4

Check Out Their Website Here

Pros

  • Has all the features you’d expect from a professional DAW
  • High emphasis on workflow. Simple clicks or drag and drop motions get you everything you need
  • Filled with features that all work extremely well. These include the step sequencer, harmonic editing, scratch pad, grooves maps etc
  • Shortcut customisation
  • Assignable macro controls
  • Comprehensive YouTube channel filled with tutorials of many features
  • Includes Melodyne as an integral part of the software
  • Discount offered if you’re switching from another DAW

Cons

  • Included synth sounds aren’t as powerful as other DAWs
  • Not as many places to find tutorials as competitors

Conclusion

Presonus, the makers of Studio One 4 have been a favourite brand of mine for years. They make great quality hardware for professional recording and they’re prices always seem to be lower than many of their competitors. 


I was a bit sceptical when they decided to dip their toes into software creation but as I should have come to expect by now they’ve gone above and beyond to make an excellent tool.


Will they eventually become the industry standard in professional studios? Who knows? They’re definitely one to keep an eye on though.

Need Help Setting Up Your Home Recording Studio?

Click the button below to download the free set up diagram


Avid Pro Tools

Check Out Their Website Here

Pros

  • Industry standard among recording professionals
  • Comes with a decent suite of instruments and effects
  • Works well with audio and video
  • Lots of online resources to teach you how to use the tool
  • A favorite among mixing engineers

Cons

  • Known for not having the best MIDI capabilities
  • Requires a USB dongle for use. Years ago you had to run it through Pro Tools hardware in order for it to even launch.
  • No one-time payment options. You must pay a monthly subscription to use the product

Conclusion

Pro Tools has been the industry standard in studios all over the world for a long time now. The strange thing is that it was originally intended for use in scoring film and syncing to video.


There really is no denying the power and simplicity of the audio editing capabilities but they have been notorious for limiting features in their lower priced options so be prepared to keep spending on additional hardware and plugins to get the most out of it.


Reason 11

Check Out Their Website Here

Pros

  • Modelled after real world rack mounted hardware equipment
  • Simple to use
  • Flexible signal routing for endless sound design possibilities
  • Comes with a ton of native instruments and effects
  • Highly customisable software instruments for a plethora of sound design possibilities
  • Analog style mixing console
  • Available for purchase as a VST plugin for use in other DAWs giving you the best of both worlds

Cons

  • Audio editing capabilities aren’t as powerful as other DAWs
  • Operating system upgrades can render older versions obsolete requiring a mandatory upgrade to continue use

Conclusion

Reason is the first DAW that finally started to make sense to me as a non-engineer type. I love how easy it is to get from idea to recorded track.


The flexible routing options make it easy even for someone like me to use and the ability to use it as a plugin in other DAWs means you can start in Reason and move to say Logic or Pro Tools when needed.


If there’s one thing I don’t like it’s that they seem to come out with a major upgrade once a year. So I never seem to have the latest version because I refuse to pay again to upgrade when I purchased 6 months ago. Maybe I’m just cheap 🤷🏽‍♂️


Bitwig Studio 3

Check Out Their Website Here

Pros

  • Best in class modulation capabilities when compared to all the other DAWs on the list
  • Huge sound design possibilities
  • The Grid allows you to create your own synthesisers and effects processors from scratch
  • The purchase price includes a year of updates (including major updates)

Cons

  • Lacking in pre-made useable devices
  • Has the same limitations as Ableton Live 10’s piano roll
  • Being the new kid on the block means there aren’t as many learning resources as the others
  • After the included one year of updates expires you must purchase the software again to get another year of updates

Conclusion

Being designed by former Ableton engineers means there are many similarities to Ableton Live. This is a good thing because you know the tool will be solidly built and have a ton of features.


The problem of course is that the shortcomings are similar to Ableton’s and since good engineers don’t always make the best marketers and sales people, the pricing structure leaves much to be desired.


They’re relatively new though so hold on a second. I have faith they’ll course correct eventually.


Reaper 6

Check Out Their Website Here

Pros

  • Excellent pricing strategy especially for those on a tight budget
  • Handles audio, video and MIDI well
  • Instead of separate tracks for MIDI and audio, Reaper uses one track type for everything so workflow is faster
  • Fully customizable user interface so you can change it to the way you work. You can even create themes and upload them to their website for all to access
  • Has a great selection of effects

Cons

  • Seriously lacking when it comes to included instruments

Conclusion

Reaper is the cheapest fully functional option by a wide margin when you compare it to the full featured versions of all the other DAWs on this list. Comparing it to the free or cheaper options of other DAWs isn’t really a fair comparison considering how much it does well.


Reaper doesn’t skimp on recording capabilities but given the limited selection of included instruments it may be better suited to musicians who actually play instruments (remember those?).


The Final Verdict

If you’re looking to this section of the article expecting to see a “Winner of the Best Software For Music Production” competition, you’re about to be sorely disappointed. All of the digital audio workstations or DAWs mentioned above are excellent choices for your home recording studio.

The one YOU decide to go with will depend heavily on a few of things. Here are some questions you’ll need to answer to help you decide what works for YOU:

  • How do YOU like to create music?
  • Are YOU more interested in live instrument, sample-based or synth-based music production?
  • Will YOU need powerful MIDI editing capabilities?
  • Is portability important to YOU?
  • Will YOU need to send compatible session files to another studio?

All in all the best DAW for your needs comes down to your unique circumstances and your personal preferences. The good news is once you figure out what they are you already know you have great software tools to choose from.

I hope you found this helpful. I know I did (thanks Electronic Music School). Feel free to weigh in down below in the comments section to let me know what you think.

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