In the era of apps, we’ve reached a point where there are simply too many options to choose from. If you’re an aspiring artist, music producer, mixer or engineer you might be looking at the seemingly endless list of music software and music apps, chances are you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed. The good news is that there are a lot of excellent options, as long as you do a little research. That being said, if you have the right mindset and creative passion for the recording arts, you’ll do fine with whatever software you choose. However, that doesn’t mean they are one in the same.
Now, not to be an elitist, but if you are scrolling through the app store looking for the best software, we’re going to have to recommend you put your phone down. When it comes to setting up your Digital Audio Workspace, nothing beats the processing power of a desktop or laptop computer. While some programs offer a mobile-friendly version, if you are planning on mixing, editing and effecting multi-layered tracks, you will 100% need the processing power that at the current moment is only available in high-power PCs or Mac computers.
Now before we jump into the best software available in the market right now, it’s important to set some expectations. First, expect to spend some money. If you can, save up some money. There are few exceptions to the rule, but generally, a good DAW will cost you a couple hundred bucks. If you’re setting up a studio, chances are you’re already saving up to purchase mics, so factor that into the cost. Secondly, these things take time. Intuitive or not, DAWs are complex with hundreds if not thousands of plugins and effects. Understanding how best to use these programs can take years of dedicated practice
You can thank the makers of Ableton Live for that massive library of music editing apps out there because this is where it all started. After it’s introduction onto the scene back in 2001, Ableton changed the expectation of what a standard DAW could be. Ever since it’s gained massive popularity and inspired dozens and dozens of software and music apps like it.
At its core Ableton is an all-around great multi-track editing tool. Where it stands out is its MIDI sequencing, whereas other platforms can make a real mess. Depending on which of the three packages they offer you choose from, the program comes up to 70 GB worth of sounds, 13 software instruments, 41 audio effects and 15 MIDI effects.
The makes or Cubase practically wrote the book on DAWs, partially to do to the fact that this music software has been around for 28 years now. Since then millions of artists and engineers have stuck to the program making it their choice VST for scoring, editing and beyond.
Now in it’s 9th version, there are three Cubase programs to choose from, Cubase Pro, Cubase Elements and Cubase Artist — all of which depends on your intended purpose. Elements is a great place to start if you are new, while Pro is for those with a bit more experience behind them.
If you’re interested in music making, you seriously can’t go wrong with Image-Line’s FL Studio. Originally known as Frooty Loops, this four-channel drum machine-turned DAW has made quite a name for itself as high-profile artists like Deadmau5 started advocating its use. This program has come a long way since it’s beat-making days and offers the full to compose, arrange, record, edit, mix and master music.
Apple’s Logix Pro X is undoubtedly one of the best DAW’s in the market, considering it is the choice program of many of the biggest names in electronic music. David Guetta, Calvin Harris, Swedish House Mafia and many more use LPX because of its setup for music production. That being said, its music editing abilities are nothing to sneeze at.
Anyone who has used Garageband will notice that Apple’s flagship model looks awfully familiar, which in part makes it so great. The simplicity of the drag and drop interface makes the program accessible for engineers and artists of any caliber. LPX comes built-in with over 20 instruments 2700 patches, and nearly 6000 loops. Even with all the features built into the program, Logic Pro X’s greatest feature may be the over-the-phone support that comes included in the price. As is the case with most Apple products, the company offers online support and phone support between 8 a.m. to 8p.m., plus learning sessions at most of their brick and mortar stores.
If you ask the average musician about mixing, chances are Pro Tools will come up. In some respects, Pro Tools has become synonymous with recording software for most of the industry — although there are many who would disagree with its worthiness. That being said, there’s no doubting Pro Tools power for multitrack editing, mixing and recording.
Whichever DAW you choose, as a friendly suggestion we’d recommend familiarizing yourself with this program. If you’re sharing files with other mixers, audio engineers or mastering engineers, you’ll most likely come across avid-based file types.
Let’s start with an easy one, because it is in fact, an easy one. Apple’s Garageband if anything is a great place to start for beginners. Seeing as it’s free, there’s a reason this app is so popular among young people and those who are trying out mixing, editing and music production for the very first time.
Garageband isn’t going to give you a ton of options but is a great tool for its highly visual layout. The app comes loaded with some decent guitar amps, drum sets and vocal effects plus a whole whack of instrument sounds that are appealing to for artists who want to fill out their song without a band. Honestly, it’s fun just to play around and make noises with Garageband especially if you have a MIDI keyboard to plug in.
PreSonus Studio One is another excellent choice. Studio One offers a complete DAW experience, and isn’t limited to strictly OS X operating systems. Sharing in Logic Pro X’s intuitiveness, Studio One keeps the artist in mind; not everyone wants to be an engineer, after all!
Features like “Arranger Track” and “Scratch Pad” allow users to make quick adjustments to arrangement or audition composition changes without committing to them. This makes Studio One great for composers working with dense arrangements.
Often unmentioned in the list of “major” software, Reaper is an incredibly inexpensive, fully-functioning DAW. Its efficient 64-bit internal audio processing engine supports media in almost format at any bit depth and sample rate.
Frankly speaking, anything your favorite DAW can do, Reaper can do too! Though it doesn’t come with any of its own virtual instruments, Reaper of course supports plugins and instruments in nearly every format.
Recording, mixing, MIDI’ing, automating, and what have you. It’s all there, and at a price that’s very hard to beat.
Harrison is perhaps best known for designing and manufacturing full-format consoles since 1975, with over 1500 currently installed globally. Before the company’s inception, consoles designed by founder Dave Harrison saw action on AC/DC, Queen, and Led Zeppelin albums.
Harrison Mixbus “is the first full-featured DAW with true analogue-style mixing.” Among the lengthy list of industry standards, Mixbus uniquely emulates the analogue circuitry found in Harrison consoles. The DAW also uses a stereo bus with tone controls and analogue tape saturation.
If a digital workspace with practical, analogue-style features is what you’re after, Mixbus is a good shout.