Music Production Software – A Buyers Guide

This is the sequencer in Cubase, a DAW.

Whether you’re building a home studio or just want to get into some basic music making, you’re going to need some form of music production software. There’s a whole host of different choices out there. Indeed, the most popular brands such as FL Studio, Apple Logic Pro and Ableton Live are only the tip of the iceberg. There’s also a range of beginner and intermediate products, which, while lacking some of the splendour of the big players, still pack a punch and at reasonable price too. With such a huge selection of products out there, the question becomes what should you look out for what buying music production software? In this post we’re going to look at exactly that.

The move from hardware solutions to digital ones has made it tremendously easier to record, edit, arrange and produce banging tracks from the comfort of your own home. In fact, what used to cost thousands can be done for a fraction of the cost. Of course, studios and certain hardware will always be superior to these standalone products, but the results are still to a professional standard.

Now let’s look at some of the most important points to consider when buying Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software:

Ease of Use: If you’re just starting out, you’ll want software that’s intuitive and won’t have you reaching for the instruction manual every two minutes. For more advance users, you’ll probably already know what you’re doing, but comparing the interfaces of different products is still a wise choice. The software should come with tutorials and preferably have built-in help sections. There should also be a comprehensive manual, FAQs and a support forum or support system in place to help you if you run into trouble. You can check their forums prior to buying to see if they’re usually helpful.

Lite or Pro: The name might differ, but you’ll usually find for top end DAWs they’ll be a lite and pro version available. Make sure to check through the features because the cost difference can be quite hefty. The lite version is usually significantly cheaper and you might find it has everything you require. These companies normally have an upgrade option available, which allows you to upgrade to the pro version for a less substantial fee than buying the full version on its own. You can get your feet wet with the lite version and upgrade later without having to shell out the full price.

Plug-ins and Virtual Instruments: You’ll want to grab software with VST or equivalent support. VSTs work in conjunction with DAWs and give you access to thousands of virtual synthesisers, samplers, effects and instruments. Alternatively, if you’re starting out and want to test the waters first, there’s software without VST support that provides an additional version of its self that works as a VST. This means all the samples and kits available in your beginner software can be used in more advanced DAW packages if you decide to upgrade later.

A DAW that allows the use of plugins adds more opportunities for you. You’ll be able to drastically improve software and tailor it to your likening. They’ll allow you to achieve various functions and effects not available in the default program.

More basic programs should support the input of additional samples and kits to increase the future possibilities available to you.

Vocal and Pitch Correction: If you’re planning on adding vocals to your music, you’ll want to make sure the software has pitch correction capabilities. You’ll also want to check it has support for syncing audio. This means you’ll be able to correct for any delay introduced to your work during recording.

For Beginners: If you’re going to opt for more cost effective beginner or intermediate software, do ensure you’ll be able to create tracks from scratch. This means it should have a beat and percussion sequencer as well as instrument and effects sets you can use to construct beats.

Production and Mixer: For advance or intermediate music producers, you’ll want to ensure the software has an in-depth virtual mixer. Basic features such as mute, solo and volume control for different tracks should be sufficient for someone starting out. However, a more in-depth mixer with features comparable to a hardware based studio mixer will be required for those looking to produce professional beats. This means the inclusion of equalization and other effects and options such as input gain, panning, reverb, chorus, delay and compression.

Computer Compatibility: You’ll need to ensure the product will run on your computer. Certain software is PC (SONAR) or Mac (Logic) only. A multicore processor and around 8 gigabytes of RAM are a good starting point. More advanced users should consider investing in an audio interface and other equipment. Regardless, make sure your computer exceeds the minimum system requirements so everything runs smoothly. The more virtual instruments and affects you plan on using the more resources required.

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