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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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Avid Pro Tools
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 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
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 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.