Not too long ago, a music studio was all anyone could think of when it came to the subject of music production. However, today, you no longer have to own or go to a music studio to get your music produced. You can easily do it on your own by yourself in the comfort of your home with just a simple laptop.
Advances in technology have revolutionized the music industry to a new era. Many Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) have been created over the years, and this has brought with it the inevitable competition in a bid to satisfy customers.
The result of this is that simple users like you and me are the ones who benefit most. These programs have become more affordable than ever before while offering the highest quality services the industry has ever had.
Every company has to put its best foot forward, and this has allowed the regular indie artist to create professional-grade productions of their music for cheap.
Not all music production softwares are the same, though. There are those that will just get the job done, and there are others that will exceed your expectations in every way. These softwares also have different price points depending on the services they provide.
In the end, it is the quality of services you can expect to get that should help you draw the line between the best and the rest when it comes to music production software.
When choosing the best software, you have to consider several factors. Top of the list should be the features it has and what it’s going to cost you.
This article will go through the features and important information about 7 of some of the best music production software in the market today. This will help you choose your preferred option.
Gerhard Behles and Robert Henke had created a homemade software to facilitate their live music performance. Together with Bernd Roggendorf, they co-founded Ableton Live from that software and made their first version release as a commercial software in 2001 in Berlin.
The latest release was the Live 10.1 version on 28 May 2019.
Ableton Live is a software music sequencer and DAW. However, unlike many other sequencers, Live is designed to be an instrument for live performances and a tool for composing, recording, arranging, mixing and mastering. It also offers tools for beatmatching, crossfading, among others used by DJs.
The software is written in C++ but was not prototyped in MAX although most of the audio devices were. It runs on both Microsoft Windows and macOS. Ableton Live has three main versions; Intro, Standard and Suite.
In addition, Ableton has a certification program that helps the music community to inspire more people to explore digital-based music production. The program involved 280 professional educators hand-picked by Ableton by 2018. It has reached 53 countries with instructions being offered in 33 languages.
Ableton Live’s interface makes use of audio sample or MIDI sequences called Clips. These MIDI sequences are arranged to be played live or played back in a pre-arranged order. It is these MIDI sequences that trigger notes on built-in instruments and third party VST instruments or external hardware.
Live’s interface is composed of two Views: the Arrangement View and the Session View. The Session View offers a grid-based representation of all clips in a Live set. You can arrange the clips into scenes and then play them as a unit.
The Arrangement View offers a horizontal music production timeline of clips. This timeline is more similar to a traditional software sequencer interface. It records tracks from the Session View and also does manual MIDI sequencing.
Instruments and effects
Live’s Intro version includes 4 instruments; Impulse, Simpler, Instrument Rack and Drum Rack. The standard version offers you additional external instruments that you might opt to purchase, such as Analog, Bass, Collision, among others. On the other hand, Suite version gives you all the instruments you need.
The effects are created to suit Live’s target audience – electronic musicians and DJs. You can however also use these effects for other recording tasks. They are grouped into MIDI effects and audio effects with a long list going down both groups.
Dedicated hardware instruments
Many MIDI controllers are compatible with Ableton but the APC40 is designed to solely work with Ableton. APC20 was released in 2010. Novation Digital Music Systems created a Launchpad that works with Ableton while Ableton released their very own called the Push and later updated to Push 2 in November 2015 along with Live 9.5.
Other features include:
- Working with audio clips.
- Compact interface.
Pricing and plans
- Ableton Live Intro – $99
- Ableton Live Standard – $449
- Ableton Live Suite – $749
Software updates are priced differently.
- Inspirational clip-based workflow
- Fast navigation
- Powerful automation
- Suite version contains plenty of sample material
- New wavetable synth sounds excellent
- No track comping
- No notation view
- No pitch correction tool.
- Software updates are priced differently
FL Studio was partially released in 1997 then officially launched in 1998 by Didier Dambrin in Belgium. It features a graphical user interface based on a pattern-based music sequencer. Today, it is available in four different editions: Fruity edition, producer edition, signature bundle, and all plugins bundle.
The DAW is present for Windows and macOS and can also work as a VST instrument in other audio workstations. The sequencer is available for iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad, and Android devices. It also includes a free demo version and Groove-a standalone app optimized for touch-based music creation.
The program processes audio using an internal 32-bit floating-point engine. It supports sampling rates up to 192 kHz using WDM or ASIO enabled drivers.
The company skipped versions 13 to 19 to celebrate its 20th anniversary on May 22, 2018, with the release of version 20 with a download size of 702.44MB. It has been downloaded over 9million times.
More features have been added to the program over the years as every version released comes with extra and improved features.
Version 20 came with native macOS support, multiple time-signatures, MIDI and audio consolidation, Sample start for channel samplers, 125 Mixer channels. In addition to this, the version turned the “Hard clip at 0 dB” on by default.
Some other features that came with the new version include an improved Plugin Delay Compensation, the return of the Step sequencer graph editor and 500 playlist tracks.
The mixer interface has tools that allow you to configure any number of channels. As long as the output hardware interface has the same number of outputs, the tools allow you to mix in 2.1, 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound.
The program has support features for pitch shifting, beat slicing, chopping and audio editing. It can also record up to 125 tracks simultaneously as of version 12.9. A digital piano roll is another feature that you cannot overlook about FL Studio.
When it comes to sharing, FL Studio supports import and export of audio as WAV, MP3, OGG, FLACC, MIDI, ZIP or with an .FPL filename extension.
- Plug-ins including Dashboard, Edison, Fruity Video Player, Deckadance, etc
- Virtual effects like Gross Beat, Hardcore Guitar Effects Suite, Juice Pack, Fruity Vocoder, etc.
- Samplers- DirectWave Sampler and SliceX
- Synthesizers including 3X Osc, Autogun, BooBass, Drumaxx, among others.
Pricing and plans
- Complete access all unlocked- $737
- Basic melody & loops creation – $99
- Full song creation & mic recording – $199
- Full song creation & extra plugins – $299
- It is a very robust music production software
- A powerful set of tools that will perfectly suit any production workflow
- It is regularly updated and always comes with new sets of features
- You only pay once and all updates come free
- By default, it is load-disabled
- It can be rather tasking to a low-powered CPU
Logic Pro is a DAW and MIDI sequencer software for macOS. It was created in the early 1990s by German software developer CLab, later Emagic.
The program was acquired by Apple in 2002 and ranked as the 2nd most popular DAW after only Ableton in 2015. After Acquisition, Apple stopped the production of Logic’s Windows version.
Logic Pro offers software instruments, effects and recording tools for music creation. It supports royalty-free, professionally recorded instrument loops.
The program can work with MIDI keyboards and control surfaces. One of the coolest things about it is the ‘Smart Controls’ feature that allows you to map parameters from an array of plugins to a single, convenient control interface.
The latest version only runs on 64-bit mode which only shows how efficient they want their program to be. This, however, locks out all the 32-bit users, even for those using previous versions, since Logic Pro X only transfers in 64-bit.
On the plus side, it comes with several advantages like allowing you to undo mixer actions when editing.
The program offers many software instruments you need for sound creation. Some of them like ES, ES2, ESE, ESM, ESP and Retro Synth produce sound through subtractive synthesis.
Other sound production forms by the instruments are frequency modulation synthesis (EFM1), wavetable synthesis (ES2, Retro Synth), vocoding, sampling, and component modeling techniques.
The Logic Pro X version 10.2 came with Alchemy which you need for sample-manipulation synthesizing. The software instruments are activated by MIDI information that you can input via a MIDI instrument or draw it into the MIDI editor.
Because of this feature, you can use several machines for production. One machine runs the Logic Pro app while the other machines on the network run the Logic node app.
This feature functions across an Ethernet LAN which can happen in near real-time if the network is fast enough. Distributed processing abilities lets you combine the power of several Macintosh computers from which Logic can access 24 processing threads.
Other features include:
- Production effects
- Selection-based processing
- Music notation
Pricing and plans
- Logic Pro app costs $199.99
- MainStage costs $29.99
- It is fast and powerful
- Great interface
- Updates are released frequently with additional features and bug fixes
- No copy protection
- Only compatible with macOS
- Less flexibility of the mixers
Pro Tools was released by Avid Technology initially in 1989. It was written in C, C++, and Assembly for macOS and Windows. The program can run as a standalone software or operate using external analog/digital converters for music production.
Audio and MIDI tracks are graphically represented in a timeline where they can be recorded and edited in a non-linear manner.
It supports 16-bit, 24-bit and 32-bit depths adding, adjusting and processing audio effects and virtual instruments in real-time in a virtual mixer.
It handles WAV, AIFF, AIFC and MP3 files incorporating video editing capabilities also. Pro Tools updates mostly involve replacing features rather than advancing their functionality.
Music instruments and effects
Like the other music production software, Pro Tools provide you with the software instruments you need. Effects such as reverb, equalization, and compression are also offered by the program.
Software instruments and audio effects can be added, adjusted and processed in real-time in a virtual mixer.
HDX and HD Systems
These were introduced in 2011 as accelerated PCle cards that came along with version 10. With HDX Systems, computation precision is increased to 32-bit, unlike the previous 24-bit. HD|Native was later included in the product but remained outdone by HDX.
With the incorporation of HD|Native, you can install up to 3 HDX cards on one system for a maximum of 768 voices. The amount of voices offered by Pro Tools’ HDX is determined by specifications on your computer, software configuration and your preferences.
The systems accelerate digital signal processing for only Avid’s AAX format plugins.
Pricing and Plans
- Pro Tools First gives local storage for $4.99 per month
- Pro Tools Standard – $599
- Pro Tools Ultimate standalone software – $2499 with a 1-year annual upgrade plan.
- Easy and fast interface to use
- Free 16 tracks trial
- It does not need a powerful computer to function well
- A limited number of projects and saving options
- Few effects and sound processors
Cubase was developed by Steinberg developers and made their initial release which had originally only a MIDI sequencer in 1989.
The DAW was written in C and C++ and is compatible with both Windows and macOS. Besides editing and sequencing audio and MIDI you can also use Cubase to host VST instruments and effects.
The program has had some big artists such as Avicii, Zedd, and Tiesto as notable users. There is an iPad version called Cubasis which is a full rewrite and supports MIDI and audio tracks, audiobus and virtual MIDI.
The full Cubase version has unlimited audio and MIDI tracks while lesser versions have limits.
Cubase has been actively updating its program since the first release. This includes the Cubase VST and Cubase SX versions which were introduced to address certain specifications in previous versions.
The latest version is Cubase 10.0.
This feature was introduced in 1999 for software synthesizers. If you are a third-party software programmer, this was definitely made for you.
It enables you to create and sell virtual instruments. The feature came as a major plus for Cubase as well as the music production software. Other DAW software use the Cubase’s VST as a standard when integrating software-based instruments.
This feature lets you keep track of chord changes either manually or automatically. You can also use it to harmonize audio and MIDI tracks automatically and trigger chords with basic voices.
Expression maps add a lane to Cubase’s piano roll. It allows you to define changes to the articulations and dynamics of the instruments. The feature eliminates the need for use of complicated MIDI program changes that are required by other DAWs.
Other features include:
- Note expression
- Key editor inspector
- Audio warp quantize
- Cubase Elements – $99.99
- Cubase Artists – $309.99
- Cubase Pro – $559.99
Acid was first launched in 1998 in Maddison, Wisconsin. Developed by MAGIX Software GmbH, Acid Pro was published by Sonic Foundry which was later merged into Sony to create Sony Creative Software.
MAGIX later acquired the bulk of Sony’s creative software suite and released its first version in 2018.
The software is known for its fast way of creating beats, music texture and complete compositions. When using Acid Pro, you create using specially prepared music wave files that are prepared using audio editing tools. These are also called acidized music files.
It is not a big requirement but your PC has to be Windows 2000 or later to run the program. Acid Pro has over 20 Direct X audio effects, the Beatmapper tool, the Chopper tool and uses the new Media Manager technology.
Like most other DAWs, Acid Pro includes MIDI and multitracking audio recording which they introduced in 2006 with Acid Pro 6.
Acid Pro has all the fundamentals for music production common to most of the DAWs including a vast number of instruments and effects. Here are some of its other key features.
This technology is used with Acid Pro as the repetition and transposition of sound clips to form a song. Acidized loops include tempo and information that allows Acid Pro to effectively time stretch when you use the music software during pitch shifting.
Sony, who now owns the program, sells a line of Acidized loop sample CDs to be used with the music software.
Acid Pro provides a full digital audio workstation that fully supports VST. This also comes with full support for ASIO, VSTI audio, plugins, and music synthesizer standards.
- Acid Pro 9 – $ 129.00
- Acid Pro Next – $399.99
- Acid Pro Next Suite – $599.99
- Very simple interface
- Supports 64-bit
- You can back to the light GUI
- The prices are not competitive for the DAW market
- It is for loop-based composition only
- You can’t separate VITA VST content on to a different drive
This is a DAW you can use to create, record, mix and master audio that was first released in 2009 by PreSonus developers. It is available for your Windows and macOS computer.
Studio One is recognized widely for its rapid workflow, cost-effectiveness, and usability. They have won several awards for their competency including the Japanese VGP for 3 consecutive years.
Their latest release is version 4.5 which was brought to the market on 21 May 2019.
Studio One contains fundamental features common across most DAWs for the creation and production of music. It has features for functionality found in multi-track recorders and audio mixing consoles.
The software also allows users to undo previous actions, editing without loss of information and the use of virtual instruments.
It also has a set of interesting core features that include:
Multi-touch interface with a drag and drop function
A major feature is the multi-touch interface that includes a drag-and-drop function. The interface also lets you project multiple screens which includes HDMI displays. These functionalities allow you to perform multiple tasks all at once, saving you a lot of time.
Separate Project level interface
This provides you with the tools to master, manage the metadata and export one or more songs simultaneously. It goes a long way to offer options for creating Red Book Standard CDs or disk images.
Chord track feature
The software automatically detects chords from audio to MIDI tracks. You also get an option for chord transposition and substitution from this feature.
The mix engine effects feature
This feature provides you with plug-ins that can be used to modify the standard mixing processes for a specific channel.
Mackie Control Universal Communications Protocol compatibility
This lets you combine the program’s functionality with Mackie Control, Logic Control, and HUI for interfacing with audio control surfaces.
The program is also compatible with Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol Mkii series and keyboards from other DAWs.
Buying Studio One 4 professional costs a $299.92 one-time purchase.
Some of the Studio One related products include:
- Audio Batch Converter-$49.95
- Channel Strip Collection-$79.95
- MVP Loops-Mainstreams-$49.95
- It is quite fast
- Studio One has a lot of additional features not offered by other DAWs.
- It only supports 64-bit locking out users of 32-bit and 24-bit
DAWs have literally changed the industry’s landscape when it comes to music production. This list includes some of the best ones in the market right now based on many factors, starting from the marvelous features to the efficiency and effectiveness they come with.
Any one of them will significantly make your music production process a whole lot easier. The best part is that they are all constantly being updated, which means that they can only keep getting better.