Are you trying to make sense of all the Music Making Software available? Looking to choose the right audio production software for your studio. As a musician you want to harness the power of your PC, Mac or iPad to record and edit your songs. The problem is where to start, and how to pick software that won’t stand in the way of your creativity. DAW’s, notation software, audio editors, you will have heard lots of these terms, and seen some of the price tags, but how to choose?
Keep It Simple
It is helpful that nearly every piece of music making software has a demo version or free trial you can download and try. But even then some of the software is so daunting and with such a steep learning curve that you can often become overwhelmed before you even recorded a note. Don’t give up straight away. Our advice: KISS. Keep it simple, stupid! Once you have a bit of success with a good, easy to use, entry level product, then you can start dreaming even bigger dreams. Armed with a new set of skills. So in this post we are going to focus on music making software that is easy to use, and mostly either free or inexpensive.
Digital Audio Workstations (DAW) and Sequencing Software
This is the traditional place to start. The DAW (or Digital Audio Workstation) has evolved to becoming a one-stop complete audio production environment. This is the recording software where you record, layer and mix multiple audio tracks, MIDI tracks. You combine live audio with virtual instruments. Then use a virtual mixing desk and effects to create a finished recording of your song. Here are a few brilliant examples of DAWs. And remember, the focus here is on entry-level, easy to use, pocket-friendly music making software.
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Mixcraft (for Windows)
Mixcraft is widely know as “the Musician’s DAW”. Why? Because it is easy to use, and so you won’t find your creativity hampered with technical difficulties. This recording software is a complete “recording-studio-in-a-box” with unlimited MIDI and audio tracks. It has plenty of built-in pro audio effects, and virtual instruments. It’s also super easy to arrange vocals, guitars, and keyboards in the mix. You can also edit and score video files, and add text titles and scrolling text. In other words, Mixcraft is the perfect introduction to digital music creation. Note that Mixcraft is a Windows based product that can be used on a Macintosh computer running bootcamp. It is a perfect alternative to Garageband for PC users.
Magix Music Maker (For Windows)
If you want to make your own music on Windows, then Magix Music Maker has been a good choice for a long time. Music Maker is also the ideal mixing software. It is easy to simply import music and modify it any way you want. Then you can choose from a massive selection of instruments and loops. Layer up with your own recordings. Whatever your music genre, you should be able to easily create your own arrangements in the unique Magix studio environment with intuitive drag & drop controls. This is another great Garageband alternative for Windows users. The nice thing is you can start with a free version, and upgrade once you have found that you love this music production software.
FL Studio (For Windows and Mac)
From its original Fruityloops beginnings, FL Studio has evolved from being a brilliant looping software package, to become a complete software music production environment or Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). Representing more than 20 years of innovative development it has everything you need in one package to compose, arrange, record, edit, mix and master professional quality music. FL Studio is one of the world’s most popular DAWs and is used by the professionals and beginners alike. FL Studio has a brilliant support portal, and because it has been going forever there are simply loads of resources to help you get started. Mac users used to be so disappointed that this software was only available on PC, but now it is multi-platform and simply better than ever.
Oh, and one of the really brilliant things about FL Studio is that once you have bought it, you get free updates for life. Which is nice.
Garageband (Mac and iOS Only)
If you have an iPad or a Mac then you are in luck. Because where else would you start but Garageband? GarageBand is a fully equipped music creation studio inside your Mac — with a complete sound library that includes instruments, presets for guitar and voice, and an incredible selection of session drummers and percussionists. Garageband makes it super-easy to learn, play, record, create and share your songs. Windows users are always contacting us to ask for Garageband alternatives for Windows. We recommend eitherMixcraft or Magix Music Maker. Both are low cost (plus there is a free version of Magix) and both offer Windows users all the features you get in Garageband and more.
Another option is to buy the home recording studio hardware you need such as a MIDI controller and/or audio interface and make sure it comes with a good suite of software so you can get started right away. Many manufacturers include DAW software and other goodies so that buying one bit of equipment can be like getting a whole ‘studio in a box’. The benefit of this is you get some decent hardware and some excellent music making software which will be totally compatible.
Cubase Elements (for Mac and Windows)
Steinberg Cubase Elements is a cutdown, streamlined and easily accessible version of the might Cubase music production environment. Elements uses the same technology platform as the full version, so once you have mastered this entry-level version you will be able to upscale to the same software as the professionals. Cubase elements turns your Mac or PC into a complete music studio, with audio and MIDI tracks, virtual instruments and FX, a virtual mixing desk, chord tools to help you compose your songs as lots of other music features to explore. Cubase elements offers easy-to-use capabilities for efficient songwriting. Plus, you have access to a nice broad range of instruments give your mix polish. Cubase Elements is the budget gateway to professional music creation workflows. Cubase has been used by countless professional artists around the globe, so you are in good company with this DAW.
Pro Tools (Mac and Windows)
Head to head with Cubase is the other massive name in digital audio production. That would be Pro Tools. Pro Tools is THE music, film, and TV industry standard software, providing everything you need to compose, record, edit, and mix audio. Whether you are in your studio or in the cloud. The reason we don’t list it higher in this list is that the learning curve is steep. However, if you are eager to dip your toe into the world of Pro Tools, then you can start with Pro Tools First, which is completely free. Then if you find yourself loving it, there is an upgrade path to the more pro versions.
The Digital Audio Workstation production software detailed above is the most popular approach to music making on your computer. And most of the software has a notation view as well, so it ticks the box for a wide range of musicians. However if you are really into traditional songwriting using notation, or you want to score orchestral pieces, or make arrangements for choirs etc, then you might prefer to use notation or score-writing software.
The ‘big hitter’ of notation software is Sibelius. And just like Pro Tools First, you can also start off with Sibelius First for free. The main limitation is that you can only score 4 tracks in the free version. When you are ready to trade up, then Sibelius is THE pro score writing software.
So another option is to look at Musescore. Musescore has grown to become the world’s most popular notation software, and does not have any limitations. It can be used on Windows or Mac. It is widely used in schools as well as in Conservatoires, and by choirs and orchestras worldwide.
Band In A Box
Band In A Box software was first developed back in 1988, so after 30 years it is one of the most established music making software packages there is. And it is quite unique.
One of our favourite products, and one that doesn’t seem to come up much in discussions about music making software, is Band-In-A-Box from PG Music. This is probably the longest established and certainly one of the most popular music making software packages of all time. Already packed with features, the latest version has added functions that in our opinion make this an essential buy for musicians in any genre, for keyboard players, guitarists, singers, in fact any musician looking for an outstanding tool to make the most of their creative ideas.
Create Arrangements From A Set of Chords
The original idea of this software was to be able to quickly create backing tracks – and so you can. Simply type in the chord sequences, choose your style, and the backing track is generated. Here are some of the things you can do:
- Pick which instruments get included, the tempo, the style
- Record your vocal or instrument line on top
- View the track in notation view
- Export the whole thing as a MIDI file
- Or, create an audio file which you can then share on social media, or burn to see.
More Band In A Box Features
But check out some of the other things you can do with Band In A Box Software :
- Generate a chord progression in the genre that you choose, based only on the melody. In other words, you think of a tune. Band-in-a-Box creates the backing for you.
- Audio Chord Wizard – you import an MP3/WAV.WMA file, Band-in-a-Box works out the chord sequence for you.
- Vocal Harmoniser – you sing a track, Band-in-a-Box will generate harmonies for it.
- Soundtrack Generator – if you need to generate some original, royalty-free music for backgrounds, home videos, slide shows, voiceovers, jingles, themes, underscoring scenes or entr’acte, dance routines, ceremonies or any occasion that calls for musical accompaniment, the soundtrack feature allows you to generate music in the style you choose for any length of time you specify.
- With RealTracks you can add the human element of session musicians to your songs.
Another Music Making Software Option: Buy The Hardware First
It is easy to overlook this. No matter how good your music recording software is, if you intend to record (and if you want the best quality playback) then your recording HARDWARE is arguably more important. Because the signals you record are only as good as your Audio Interface and Microphone. So it might make sense to start with a hardware purchase. Then use the software that comes with the interface (almost all interfaces will have some recording software included).
Once you have got your home recording studio up and running, then think about the DAW you want to use.