Artists can’t paint without a canvas, and musicians need digital audio equipment to put their music out to the world. There are some people who believe that the digital audio workstation (DAW) you choose won’t make a difference if you’re already great at what you do, but having the best music production software can only help your sound.
Different equipment comes with different capabilities, so it’s important to know what’s available that will work best for your needs. If you can find the best equipment for what you do, your music will start to take shape with less thinking and more creating, something all artists crave.
To understand our list of the best music production software, you’ll first need to understand what the software is and how to choose the best product for you. Our top ten list is not in any particular order, as what’s right for you might not be the best for the person next door, but these truly are the best of the best for 2019.
Best Music Production Software Comparison Table
What is a Digital Audio Workstation?
A digital audio workstation or DAW is a computer-based program that is designed to help you edit, record, mix and master your audio files. You can use this equipment to record a series of instruments and vocals, then rearrange, splice, cut and paste, and add effects to create a cohesive song.
Essentially, your DAW is the blank canvas with every paintbrush and color ready to roll, all you need to do is pick up a brush and start creating. DAWs make it simpler for artists of all skill levels to put the song that’s been in their head out into the world.
In the old days, professional musicians used things like drum machines and synthesizers, now referred to as analog setups, to mix music, but most professional and semi-professionals today use DAWs to power their music making. There are still studios who use a mix or who are still dedicated to analog setups.
As technology advances, the trend toward all-digital setups continues to grow. They are fairly user-friendly as compared to the old way of doing things, and they can help artists and producers alike to get the absolute most out of the music they are trying to create.
How to Choose the Best Music Production Software for You
All of the digital audio workstations out there can be the right choice, depending on what you are looking for. With the digital age upon us, it’s hard to go wrong with the advanced software available to you, and all of the options for professional, semi-pro, and amateur musicians.
Just like with computer brands, fast food, and soda, what one person likes doesn’t necessarily always fit another’s taste. Because of that, this topic tends to be highly debated among users, so you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who is not flatly loyal to their software or brand, but that doesn’t mean it will be your favorite too.
There are a few major points that you should take into consideration when buying your first DAW, and we go over those in detail below:
It’s important to understand that this software is often a pretty major investment. You don’t want to sell yourself short, especially knowing that this type of software is usually something that artists keep around for about four to five years, and sometimes longer. Think of it as buying a new car; you don’t want to skimp.
If your budget is limited as you’re just starting out, note that there are free services out there for you to use. However, if you’re looking for something to really get your career or hobby off the ground, you may want to adjust your budget accordingly. Spending a couple of hundred dollars will be worth it in the long-term.
If you’re brand new to the game, you don’t necessarily want to jump in with both feet and try out the highest tech possible right away. Often doing so can lead to frustration more than anything else. Starting with something that is easy to understand and user-friendly is probably your best bet.
If you are a more experienced mixer, you have tons of options out there, which can actually make things more difficult. Your best bet is to stick with what you know or go for a few free trials to see what works best with your setup before you commit to a new DAW all the way.
Remember, this is an investment whether you’re a beginner or a pro, so giving yourself a challenge isn’t always a bad thing, we just want to make sure you won’t get so frustrated that you give up without getting the opportunity to create great music with your new gear.
Mac or PC?
Some DAWs do not work on both, your knowledge of one type of computer may put a damper on using another to mix, so it’s important to know which brand you’ve committed to before you buy software.
If you already own a computer and it’s powerful enough for what you need to do, then that’s awesome. If you don’t, this may take some research. You’ll need a powerful enough computer with enough memory to use whichever DAW you choose, so you’ll probably want to choose your DAW first and a computer second.
In reality, whether you choose Mac or PC doesn’t matter much; this is just another to-each-their-own situation. Both systems have their flaws, but both can also carry the load of most of the DAWs on our list. Of course, you should remember that a couple are Apple technology, and therefore will only work on Mac computers.
What Does the Future Hold?
We already talked about how buying a DAW is an investment, but this part is where we will focus on true beginners. If you are just starting out, it might be harder to make the decisions from the previous categories. You will want to make sure that you choose a solid beginner DAW and a computer that can grow with you.
After a few years of working with one DAW, you may find that it feels boring, or that you’re ready for bigger and better things. If you chose a Mac computer, you pretty much have your pick of any and all software out there to move up. If you chose a PC, you might be missing a couple of pieces that could have worked as a mid-level step.
It’s important to remember that you will want to research the best DAWs for beginners and pick the one you feel will best lend itself to what you’d like to do creatively. Also as well as where you’d like to be in three years or so, then pick the computer that will work best with that DAW, and work from there.
Once you pick a DAW and a computer, stick to it! Aside from moving up from beginner level programs, it’s good to have one DAW that you work with all the time so that you’re an expert at that program and can get the most out of it. Don’t pick a program if you don’t think it will be helpful to you, or usable, in the next five years.
Some of the software on our list is better for performing live due to its integration with MIDI controllers, control surfaces, and VST instruments. Live performances come with their own set of challenges, so making sure that your software works well with your other gear is important in having your show go flawlessly.
While some DAWs are geared toward live performances, others have some tools to help in these situations, even though that isn’t their specialty. Overall you can use just about any software to perform live, but if live is your focus versus studio; you may want to consider software that is made with live performance in mind.
We’ve said it before, stick to what you know. Just like playing an instrument, the more time you spend utilizing a specific type of software, the better you will be at it. Your confidence will grow as your experience level does, so don’t give up and get a new DAW every other year.
If you feel like you’ve mastered a DAW, you can look into extensions or hot keys. You can also try to re-learn or ask other users for secret tips they’ve picked up along the way. We aren’t saying you have to use Acid Pro forever. We’re just saying you should stick to it for a while, so you aren’t re-learning software every year or so.
10 Best Music Production Software
Now that you know how to pick your software, and you know what it is we’re talking about here, but what is the best music production software out there in 2019? We’ve picked our ten favorites to share with you. Don’t worry if your pick isn’t on our list; there are plenty more DAWs to choose from, these are just our preferences.
- Multitrack audio recording and MIDI sequencing of software and hardware instruments
- Unique session View for nonlinear composition, flexible performance and improvisation
- Real-time warping of audio: automatically sync music and loops, regardless of tempo
Ableton Live has been around since 1999. It is a great fit for many people, from beginners to professionals. It comes with about 50 GB of sounds in a library to help you get started mixing right away, and it has standard multi-track recording. The MIDI sequencing is seamless, and it’s an excellent fit for performing live.
- Fully reworked scalable interface to fit any screen size or resolution Multi-touch capability extends to the Mixer New...
- FL Studio is a complete software music production environment and DAW representing more than 14 years of innovative...
- Everything you need in one package to compose, arrange, record, edit, mix and master professional quality music
Beginners will love this DAW, as it’s one of the best out there for those who are new to the music making industry. FL Studio is one of the most popular DAWs out there, so there are plenty of videos on YouTube, and lots of online tutorials to help you get started using the software. This is also an inexpensive software for beginners.
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Reason isn’t as well known as other software, but it’s a great fit for those who are mid-level to professional in the industry. It’s stable and has great workflow. Although some of the plug-ins are a bit out of date on this software, it still works great, and it has an excellent drag and drop feature that intrigues many users.
- Award-winning 32-bit floating-point Steinberg audio engine with up to 192 kHz, 5.1 surround, flexible routing and full...
- Unlimited audio, instrument and MIDI tracks and up to 256 physical inputs and outputs.Full Control Room integration,...
- MixConsole for pro mixing desk experience and integrated high-end channel strip, VCA faders, Loudness Meter, Wave Meters
Cubase is an award-winning software with unlimited audio, instrument and MIDI tracks and full control room integration. The sound library that comes with this software is huge, and it has powerful plug-ins. This software can be more difficult to learn than others on the list, but in the long-term, it’s a great investment.
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PreSonus is a brand a lot of music makers love. Studio is stable software that integrates well with other products but is a standalone workstation as well. It has drag and drop options, unlimited tracks, and mastering integration. Its workflow is getting smoother, although not as good as some others on the list. It’s a good mid-level.
- The new Audio and MIDI mixing console allow users to visually represent audio signals in a project and provides...
- Allowing for a much more flexible and efficient in-studio recording environment.
- Input busses control routing of input signals, including the ability to record from external devices with effects,
Acid Pro by Sony gives you flexibility and efficiency with in-studio recording. Its software package is great for anyone, even professionals, and it’s easy enough to use that beginners won’t be discouraged. Acid Pro works with you from creation to post-production. It comes with 90 virtual instruments, so that you can create straight away.
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Another great tool for beginners, Avid Pro Tools is actually meant for educational purposes. The only bummer is that this software is only available to those in education, meaning you have to be either a teacher or student to get it, but if you’re eligible it’s perfect software to learn and perfect your skills.
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This well thought out and unique DAW is the most advanced of the Logic series. It basically gives you a studio-like feel on your Mac. The downside is that this is a Mac-only technology, so if you have a PC you’ll be out of luck. If you’re a Mac user, the effects, instruments, and toolkit in this software out of the box is great for all levels.
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GarageBand isn’t what you’d call sophisticated, but it is straightforward and great for beginner to mid-level creative. The interface is interactive and intuitive, and the sound library is huge. This is also a great educational software, and can even teach you to play guitar or piano with 40 lessons from different musical genres.
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Although its popularity has gone down with the rise of Ableton and Logic Pro, Reaper is holding strong as one of the best dedicated DAWs on the market. It’s more useful than most for mixing and mastering if you need flexibility in your work. This is one brand that offers a 60-free trial as well, so you can use it before you commit.