Best Software for Making Music

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Music-making software gives you a beautiful new way to create music. There is a lot of different music-making software on the market, and they have very different features and functions. So, how do you choose the best software for making music?

Music-making is the process of writing, composing, and recording songs. The term music-making may sometimes refer to other activities such as mixing, mastering, and arranging.

Making and creating music is probably one of the best things in the world. It’s something anyone can do with their voice or any instrument, with or without formal training. People make music in different ways, but the end goal is always the same: to create something that makes people feel something. That’s why, if you’ve ever considered making your own music before, it’s important you know all possible methods of doing so. Some people use software to create digital sounds with computer equipment; some use instruments like guitars and violins to play actual sounds with their voices. This post will be all about how to create music using the software.

1. Image-Line FL Studio

Originally launched as FruityLoops, Image-Line’s DAW holds near-iconic status for a certain generation of producers, particularly in the hip-hop and EDM realms.

The headline feature in version 20 was a native 64-bit Mac version, meaning that FL Studio can now be used on macOS (as well as PC) without the need for a clunky workaround. Pleasingly, licenses are shared between both Mac and PC versions. 

Image-Line offers lifetime free upgrades to FL Studio users, meaning that all existing users of the software now automatically own upgrades to version 20 on both platforms.

And the updates just keep on coming: version 20.5 brought in Flex, a new preset-based soft synth, while 20.6 added a variety of new features. 20.7, meanwhile, gives you the tools you need to make a social media-orientated music video, and version 20.8 makes the software even “faster and more precise”.

There will always be those who claim that FL Studio isn’t as ‘serious’ as some other DAWs, but the facts suggest otherwise, and it has some notable fans in the pro community, too.

2. Bitwig Studio

Has it really been seven years since the launch of the first version of Bitwig Studio? It has indeed, though that still makes it a relative infant in DAW terms.

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The application has come a long way in that time, though, throwing off the shackles of its inevitable Ableton Live comparisons – the two share a number of original developers and some significant workflow similarities – by adding multiple features that have bolstered Bitwig’s reputation as possibly the most inventive DAW on the market.

That said, version 4, is most notable for the introduction of a pretty fundamental feature: comping. This is handled in a typically elegant, ‘Bitwiggy’ way, though, and if you’re looking for new ‘creative’ functionality, consider Operators, which add a new and very powerful dimension to how and when MIDI or audio events are triggered.

3. Apple GarageBand

More than 17 years after a fresh-faced John Mayer helped to launch it at Macworld, GarageBand has matured into a pretty capable DAW. Sure, it’s great for newbies, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find some rather more advanced features, too.

Non-musicians can simply sequence the supplied audio loops, but a decent collection of software instruments comes supplied, too, as does multitrack recording functionality and a good selection of virtual guitar amps and stompboxes. Drummer is great for automatically generating beats, Smart Controls make for more pleasant editing of sounds, and you can even use the Logic Remote iPad app to control the software.

As a further bonus, projects are compatible with Logic Pro, GarageBand’s big brother, and also with the iOS version of GarageBand, giving you a mobile option. And the fact that it’s free means that every Mac owner should try it.

4. PreSonus Studio

Here we have a very stable music software by a brand we love, PreSonus. They include Studio One DAW in a lot of their products, such as their AudioBox iTwo audio interface we recently reviewed. This isn’t just a little add-on to products, however — It’s a full-on standalone workstation giving you drag-and-drop functionality, unlimited tracks, MIDI, VST, buses, and FX channels, as well as mastering integration (not necessarily on Pro Tools level), a Melodyne feature, and some nice reverb effects that sound very smooth (some of the best reverb some have heard). It’s stated to be a bit easier in terms of workflow as compared to more popular DAWs, such as Logic needing a few more extra steps to achieve a certain function you need. The interface isn’t that impressive in terms of aesthetics but I’d take workflow overlooks any day — pretty standard.

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The 64-bit sound engine gives you studio-quality recordings. It basically has all of the essentials and we see it competing against a lot of the other more known DAWs out there. It’ll take a bit to learn the mastering tools but if you need software for that this can get you by if you are trying to avoid Pro Tools. It’s compatible with both Mac and Windows and starts around $400 retail. Check out their nice little package called the PreSonus AudioBox Studio which gives you Studio One (Artist version, not Pro), headphones, a mic, audio interface, and necessary cables. Otherwise, go with something more popular.

5. Acid Pro

We don’t recommend going this far when it comes to Software. If you really do just want to try them all, give this one a shot, but we highly recommend the others in this post when it comes to being able to handle demanding plugins and just having features that “work”. Acid doesn’t “work” as much as the others.

When I first started making music in 2001, I had an old version of Acid Pro when it was still made by Sonic Foundry. I got so accustomed to it I continued to use Acid Pro 4.0 until early 2010 when I finally made my switch to Ableton. There were pros and cons for sticking with the software for so long, one pro mainly being that I knew it like the back of my hand. If my friends were ever over making music and wanted something done, I could merely press a hot-key and had it complete, getting some ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ here and there. The downside was that it was a bit buggy when it came to MIDI incorporation and other more advanced features that are available with DAWs nowadays. Their latest version is actually very stable and we recommend this for beginners until even semi-pro like we were for the past decade.

Acid Pro (now owned by Magix) just does what you want in an essential-based manner. There’s the recording ability, loop audio tracks, and MIDI support. It’s got a pretty solid sound series loop (3,000 sounds) and comes with about 90 VST’s to mess around with using your MIDI controller. The time-stretch works pretty well too, something I’ve used quite a lot if I need to slow down or speed up a sample or track I’ve recorded. It’s downloadable and very cheap, so if you’re looking for a budget-friendly DAW and one that has been around for decades — this is it.

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6. Waveform Free

The folks at Tracktion seem to have hit on a rather canny business model by releasing older versions of their DAW for free, with nothing taken out. 

The convention seems to be to make the version two iterations before the current one available to download without charge. You might not get all the latest features, but you’ll receive an update each time the company updates its flagship DAW, which it does almost yearly. The latest version to have its price tag shaved off is Waveform Free.

Every section is scalable, so you can adjust to suit your workflow and the bottom panel changes to display whichever parameters you’ve selected elsewhere on the screen. 

Waveform Free also features an unlimited number of audio and MIDI tracks, all depending on your hardware capabilities of course, and is able to host multiple plugin formats including VST and Audio Units.

Note that before you can download the software, you’ll be prompted to enter an email address and password to create an account. When you run the software for the first time after installing it, you’ll see a notification that it’s running in demo mode, but don’t worry – click ‘Unlock…’ then enter the address and password you set earlier, and all the features will become available.

7. Cakewalk

Cakewalk – formerly known as Cakewalk SONAR, was one of the first-ever digital audio workstations, but its owner Gibson halted development. Luckily for music makers, cloud music creation platform BandLab snapped the software up and has made it available to download free.

Cakewalk is a complete music production package, with creative songwriting tools and instruments, advanced mixing and mastering tools, unlimited MIDI and audio tracks for your own recordings, and a full suite of editing tools. Once you’ve finished, you can publish your work directly to SoundCloud, Youtube, Facebook, and many other sites.

Conclusion

Making music can be both fun and stressful at the same time. Why? It’s because there are different kinds of tools available for making music. And each tool has its own pros and cons. This makes it very hard to pick the best software for making music.

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