20 or so years ago, most people would have scoffed at the idea that an entire recording studio could shrink into just a laptop and a pair of headphones. In today's day and age, a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) is all you need to start creating extraordinary music, even right from your bedroom. We'll walk you through a couple of packages for the best music production software for beginners, so you can start recording, beat-making, sequencing and processing great music.
Why Go DAW?
A digital audio workstation, as the name suggests, is a music production software- the equivalent of a canvas to a painter. The software enables the user to record music from a wide range of sources (mostly virtual instruments), such as electronic keyboards, drums, microphones, etc., before exporting the project into audio and MIDI tracks. There are two main types of DAWs; a standalone/integrated system- a physical mixing console, and software-based DAWs.
Why do you need a DAW? For starters, the digital audio side allows you to record sound from a microphone, as studios do. You can then edit the recording by adding effects, then mix and master it all down as a track or song. On top of that, a digital audio workstation allows for MIDI sequencing, so you can use virtual synthesizers to create rhythms, tracks and songs. Furthermore, you can also work with loops and samples somewhere in between the two.
Let's delve into our 5 picks for the best music software.
1. FL Studio
- Powerful mixing and automation
- Powerful MIDI editing and recording
- Flexible Browser and workflow features
- Support for all VST standards
- Over 80 instruments and plug-in effects included
FL Studio is arguably the best music software for beginners who want to get into hip-hop and EDM. In fact, it has one of the largest and most loyal fanbases among PC producers. Furthermore, it bridged to cross-platform after its version 20 release, meaning Mac users can get in on some of the action too.
It comes with a fully customizable interface on top of free lifetime updates, making it very friendly for beginners. Its drag-and-drop feature is just as nifty for beginners since they can get going even on the first use. Furthermore, FL Studio also comes with an app, IL Remote, that allows the user to control some software elements from a smartphone.
Some people deem FL Studio as not "too serious", including the somewhat counterintuitive workflow. That being said, it's just as stacked with features like any other top DAW in the market. More so, it has also come in leaps and bounds, thanks to its most recent updates that further cement it as one of the top beginner DAWs.
2. Ableton Live
- This item is shipped as a download card with a serial code and instructions to...
- Multitrack audio recording and MIDI sequencing of software and hardware...
- Unique session View for nonlinear composition, flexible performance and...
- Real-time warping of audio: automatically sync music and loops, regardless of...
- Unlimited audio and MIDI tracks
When it comes to fast and creative workflow, Ableton Live is right there at the top. It's well known for its quick and easy productivity, including the inclination to live performances. This makes it one of the most popular DAWs in the DJ and dance community.
Ableton Live is undoubtedly a fully-fledged Digital Audio Workstation with more than sufficient power to produce a complete track from scratch. It comes with over 1500 sounds, 21 audio effects, 11 MIDI effects, 4 software instruments and over 5GB of presets and sound library content.
Ableton Live 11, the most recent version, comes with even newer features such as comping and MPE support. This is a great package to get started on music production and flourish in the game. The only notable downside is the audio interfaces present quite a lot to get your head around.
3. Apple Logic Pro X
The first thing that stands out with Apple's Logic Pro X is the extremely appealing User Interface, which is simply stunning, snappy and responsive. It's possibly the most complete DAW out of the box, making it a great tool for anyone looking to create music. Additionally, it's also a superb choice if you're a budding producer who likes making music with plenty of samples and loops from the get-go.
Beginners don't particularly need third-party plugins to produce music since all features out-of-the-box work and sound fantastic. These include outstanding MIDI editing, audio editing, complete mixer support and even a score editor. Not to mention, this digital audio workstation is among the most affordable. Yet, at its price point, it still offers the best all-in-one package for music recording, composing, mixing as well as mastering.
4. PreSonus Studio One
- Intuitive single-window work environment with quick and easy drag-and-drop...
- NEW! VST / AU and ReWire support. Use third-party plug-ins, virtual instruments,...
- Unlimited Audio and Instrument Tracks, Buses, and FX Channels.
- Five powerful virtual instruments including: ○ Impact XT: powerful...
- Patterns allow for intuitive drum and melody composition via familiar drum...
If you're looking for a solid and capable DAW for a smooth landing into the music production process, the PreSonus Studio One is an excellent choice. This DAW comes in three versions in its fifth iteration: Prime (completely free), Artist and Professional. All versions feature the software's characteristic intuitive single-window working environment, including the snappy and easy drag-and-drop functionality.
As much as the Prime is sufficient for newbies looking to get into the game, we recommend going for the Artist version. Admittedly, it does have a pretty shallow learning curve, but it's immensely feature-rich with unlimited audio and instrument tracks, FX channels and buses. This undoubtedly makes it a great DAW for beginners dipping their toes in the water.
PreSonus Studio One 5 comes with five incredibly powerful virtual instruments: Presence XT virtual sample player, Impact XT drum sampler, Mojito monophonic subtractive synth, Mai Tai polyphonic analog modeling synth and Sample One XT live sampler and editor. These are certainly more than enough for any beginner looking to learn music production.
5. Steinberg Cubase Elements 11
- Full version, perpetual License of Avid Pro Tools. Includes 1-Year of Avid...
- Compose, record, edit, and mix high-quality music or sound for picture-on a Mac...
- Avid Pro Tools comes packed with over 60 amazing virtual instruments, effects,...
- Software can be activated and used with iLok Cloud. iLok Key not included and...
Steinberg's Cubase has been a frontrunner ever since digital audio workstations made it mainstream. The brand pioneered some of the outstanding features in music software that we now consider conventional. Therefore, when you get the Cubase Elements 11, you know you're in good hands with one of the most respected and widely-used DAWs on the market.
Elements 11 comes with plenty of content, ranging from 1000 instruments sounds, 64 MIDI tracks, 48 audio tracks and over 50 VST effect plugins. It also presents a wide selection of pretty nifty features, such as MixConsole, chord pads, sampler tracks, chord track, chord assistants, scale assistants and even a basic score editor. Even better, it doesn't require an annoying e-licenser USB dongle to run.
Factors to Consider in the Best Digital Audio Workstation
The truth is, the best music production software for beginners is ultimately subjective. What matters most is the one you're most comfortable with and the one that gives you a higher initial learning curve. Some factors that might help you narrow down to your ideal music software include:
1. OS & Hardware
Basically, this is a choice between macOS and a Windows computer. Back in the day, Mac-based DAWs were the favorites for professional composers and producers, thanks to Apple's high-performance computers. But nowadays, you can pretty much produce the same thing on a Mac or PC.
However, it's worth keeping in mind that some digital audio workstations are exclusive to one operating system. For instance, Logic Pro X is only available on Mac, while Sonar Cakewalk only runs on Windows. Therefore, we recommend looking for a DAW that runs on both PC and MAC because this also opens you up to collaborations with other producers down the road.
2. Audio Plugin Compatibility
The music software market has three types of plugin formats:
- Audio Units (AU) - native format for macOS X, but not exclusive to the ecosystem.
- Virtual Studio Technology (VST) -most commonly implemented plugin standard
- Real-Time Audio Suite - only works with Pro Tools
It's important to establish if your desired DAW is compatible with various audio plugin formats. This also extends to their bit format, which is either 32-bit or 64-bit.
3. Your Production Goals
One key aspect when it comes to music-making and production is workflow. As a beginner, you want a DAW that'll offer a high initial learning curve without too many technical issues to hamper your creative workflow. As such, it's always best to download trial versions for different DAWs to discover the one that allows you to "flow with the flow" most.
Not all music software is built the same. Therefore, it's important to ask yourself a couple of questions before you get started:
- Are you looking more into audio recording or full-blown synth and virtual instruments composition?
- Are you leaning more towards electronic music? This requires plenty of sounds and effects tinkering.
- Do you intend to do studio recordings mostly or live tracks as well?
- How much control over audio and MIDI editing are you looking for?
- Are you planning to arrange and (perhaps) print sheet music?
These questions are meant to guide you in charting your own path in music production. If you have a clear image of what you want to do with a DAW, finding your best music software becomes even easier.
This is pretty straightforward - choose a digital audio workstation that you can afford. You don't always have to go for the biggest version. Plus, you can always take advantage of season sales to get a new DAW or upgrade your current version. In fact, the free versions for most DAWs are more than sufficient to get started.
1. Get a genuine copy of your desired DAW.
2. Probably stay away from DAW that requires you to use a dongle to run.
3. Less is more -you don't need hundreds of features to bring your best music to life.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Digital Audio Workstations
1. Can music production be self-taught?
Absolutely! So many people have taught themselves music production by simply getting affordable or free DAW, a couple of free plugins and watching dedicated YouTube tutorials, or taking courses from Lynda.com. Furthermore, if you're looking to go deeper, there are plenty of helpful online music production courses from professionals at the top of their game. Plus, you can attend a school for music production if you want a more holistic learning experience.
2. Is music production hard?
Honestly, yes. But it's just as challenging as anything else that's new to learn. DAWs and recording gear aren't always super intuitive, especially if you lack a technical music background. It takes a goo deal of time and dedication to get into the groove, but once you do, the process becomes a breeze.
3. What DAW software are some of the famous producers using?
Most beginners are often curious to know what their DAW their favorite producers use. So here's a list of popular producers and their go-to software for music production.
- Martin Garrix FL Studio
- Laidback Luke - Ableton Live
- Deadmau5 - Ableton Live
- Avicii+ - FL Studio
- Skrillex - Ableton Live
- Headhunters - Studio One
- Chainsmokers - Ableton Live
- Tiesto - Logic Pro
- Diplo - FL Studio
- Alesso - Logic Pro
- Mr. Belt & Wezol - FL Studio
- DJ Snake - FL Studio
- Eric Prydz - Logic Pro
- Nicky Romero - Logic Pro
- Naffz - Logic Pro
- Alvaro - FL Studio
- Paul Nolan - Ableton Live
- Maddix - FL Studio
- Armin van Buren - Ableton Live
Hopefully, these can give you that extra nudge to find your favorite DAW.