Thursday 21 August 2008

What's The Best Music Software?

This is probably the most common question that we get asked here at the music school. If you are new to music production there is now a bewildering number of music production software packages (often referred to as DAW's or Digital Audio Workstations) out there to choose from and it's difficult to decide what is going to be best for you.

There's a number of factors that can affect your decision. Here's some of the key things to bear in mind before you spend your hard-earned cash:

What is your budget?
Are you a Mac or a PC user?
Do you want to record "live" instruments or record vocals?
Do you want to connect external devices like synthesizers, samplers and so on?

Here's a summary of some of your options - there are others of course but these pieces of software are all widely used and will give you professional results (provided you take the time to learn them thoroughly!).

Cubase 4
Will run on a Mac or a PC and is used by music producers all over the world. Cubase 4 comes bundled with a whole series of software instruments and effects, plus you have the ability to record audio tracks so if you want to record your guitar or vocal then you can just plug in and hit record then edit and re-record to your hearts content. You can also use a variety of "plug-ins" within Cubase which replicate just about every instrument and effect you can think of. If you are a newbie then this is going to keep you busy for a while.
Cost £649 (student discounts are available when you enrol at Point Blank)

In terms of how it works and what it can do, Logic is very similar to Cubase. With two major differences. It's only available for Mac and it's much more affordable since Apple lowered the price and removed the copy protection! The instruments and effects that come with it are awesome and it also supports third party "plug-ins" so you can incorporate lots of other instruments and effects too. Logic is favoured by many producers but there are a lot of features to get to grips with so it can be a bit daunting for beginners.
Cost £319 (students at Point Blank qualify for discounts on Apple hardware & software - view Logic Course including free lessons)

Ableton Live
This is the package that has got people talking in recent years. It has a completely unique approach which offers seasoned producers a new way of creating tracks but is relatively easy for beginners to get results with. If you like working with loops and audio samples it's hard to beat. Recent updates have also added some pretty decent software instruments and effects and it supports external "plug-ins". DJ's love it too because it allows you to improvise and perform live (hence the name) in a way that just isn't possible with decks and a mixer.
Cost £449 (student discounts are available when you enrol at Point Blank - view Logic Course including free lessons)

Reason 4
Reason is modelled on a "real" hardware studio so you start out with an empty rack and add a series of "virtual" synths, samplers, drum machines, effects and mixers. Connect them all up and you're ready to make some noise. Reason comes bundled with a host of instruments to keep you busy and the "rack" system is a great way to learn about how the elements in a hardware studio are routed together. No support for "plug-ins" I'm afraid but you can buy Refills which are basically sound libraries designed specifically for Reason and available in every genre you can imagine. Reason is great for beginners and reasonably easy to learn but at some point down the line you're probably going to want to start recording and editing audio.
Cost £269 (student discounts are available when you enrol at Point Blank)

Pro Tools LE
Pro Tools is the professionals choice and is used in many pro studios. It integrates both hardware and software and specialises in particular in recording and editing audio tracks. The downside is that it costs thousands and is therefore out of reach for most home recording or project studios . The manufacturers have introduced a "lite" version in recent years (Pro Tools LE) which you can run on your PC or Mac without all the additional HD hardware. It's more affordable certainly and the audio recording and editing is still hard to beat, but the MIDI instruments that come bundled with it could be better.
Cost Pro Tools LE from £199

Remember whatever software you choose - it's not going to do all of the work for you. The quality of the music that you produce is down to you; your creativity and your skills as a producer. The software is just a tool for turning your ideas into reality. So whatever DAW you go for try and learn it as thoroughly as you possibly can.