Alright, so you’ve determined that your computer is up to snuff for recording music. Congratulations! The computer is oftentimes the most expensive piece of the whole studio (especially starting out).
You’re creating a DAW, a Digital Audio Workstation. Now that you have a computer, you need some recording software.
“What should I get?” you ask.
There are a ton of options, and many of them are free. If you’re not sure how serious you are about recording, you may need to start with one of the free programs. I’ve found Reaper to work well on the PC. If you’ve got a relatively new Mac, then you’re already off to the races with GarageBand, which is included for free.
Don’t let the studio snobs intimidate you, there is good music to be made with free software. A good friend of mine in Nashville has made some very good-sounding recordings with GarageBand and a cheap little audio interface. (I’ll cover interfaces in the next article.)
Free software is, however, free, so you will most likely run into limitations before long. At that point, you may be ready to spend a little money on some good software.
The Major Players
There are several major players on the market vying for your attention (and your money). They are as follows:
- Avid Pro Tools (Mac & PC)
- Presonus Studio One (Mac & PC)
- Apple Logic Studio (Mac only)
- MOTU Digital Performer (Mac only)
- Steinberg Cubase (Mac & PC)
- Cakewalk Sonar (PC only)
- Ableton Live (Mac & PC)
- Propellerheads Reason (Mac & PC)
Now there are hundreds of users who swear by each of these platforms, and I’m not here to make a definitive statement about which one is “best.” As a consumer, I’ve used most of them. Having spend several years selling music equipment, I’ve sold them all to various customers, and I’ve developed differing opinions on each.
Here are my picks (for both Mac and PC): Pro Tools and Studio One
Why? Well, for one, I own them.
Here’s a quick run-down of why I like them:
You’ll hear it all over the web, but Pro Tools really is the “industry standard,” if for no other reason than LOTS and LOTS of people have been using it for years. If you think there’s ever a chance you’ll want to work in a studio, it might be worth your while to become fluent in Pro Tools.
Also, Pro Tools has a simple layout, which is helpful for beginners. There aren’t a million buttons all over the screen to confuse you. And you don’t have to deal with a bunch of different windows. You only have two – the Mix Window and the Edit Window.
Pro Tools also includes some very usable virtual instruments. I’ve used MiniGrand (piano) and DB33 (organ) a LOT. Plus Xpand! includes lots and lots of patches, from crazy synths to a pretty realistic upright bass sound.
When I first wrote this article back in 2009, I don’t think Studio One existed. Fast forward to 2013, and I’ve been using Studio One almost exclusively for close to two years.
It all started as a favor to my buddies over at Presonus. I just wanted to try out their software and see how I liked it. Initially I wasn’t a big fan, but after some major updates (and after finally trying to learn to use it the way they designed it to work), I’m a BIG fan.
In fact, I recorded and mixed my most recent album Help of the Helpless in Studio One.
The main benefits of Studio One: drag and drop workflow (actually helps you mix really fast), really smart layout for recording, mixing, editing, etc., fantastic integration with the onboard mastering suite. All in all, it just helps me stay creative and work FAST.
The truth is that all of these programs will do the same thing. The difference lies simply in how they do it. If I told ten guitarists to play an E minor chord, I bet they wouldn’t all play it the same way, but none of them would be wrong.
Do yourself a favor, do a little research, but don’t make it a 6-month process. For every month you wait around for the “perfect” solution, that’s one less month that you could’ve been making music.
And that’s what it’s all about after all, right?