Methodology – Choosing the Right Music Production Software
DAWs are, at first glance, incredibly complex. Once you start one up or look at the screenshots, you’ll most probably be taken aback by the sheer amount of information on the screen – various knobs, effects, channel strips, and so forth. Beginners especially might have trouble identifying essential functions, let alone assessing the worth of specific software compared to other DAWs.
Hence, we decided to lay out some core features to look for in the best DAW software. Simultaneously, these features and metrics also serve as the basis of our evaluation process, by which we rank music-making software.
Operating System and Hardware Requirements
One of the first things you need to know about music production software is that its availability can be highly dependent on the OS you’re running. Most music production programs are made either for Mac, Windows, or both.
Mac users will, in most cases, have a greater selection of DAWs available, as Windows-based production software often has a Mac version as well. However, those looking for the best music production software for beginners on a PC will find that many Mac DAWs are not available on Windows. Still, there are plenty of options available for both operating systems, and some even work on Linux.
The other thing to keep in mind is the system requirements of the software you’re eyeing. While no DAW requires a high-end gaming PC to run, they can be a bit more demanding than you think.
The two requirements to look out for are processing power and RAM, as the software utilizes both resources somewhat heavily, especially during more advanced or lengthy producing sessions. Whether you’re looking for the best music production software for beginners on a Mac or Windows, you should also check whether the music creation software supports the OS version you’re using.
Lastly, you’ll want to make sure that your sound card and audio interface support ASIO drivers. The ASIO protocol allows DAW software to directly communicate with the audio interface without going through the OS, netting you substantial performance gains.
Ease of Use and Interface
Since we’re focusing on beginner-friendly music production software in this article, a program’s ease of use is a hugely important factor. However, we have to get one thing out of the way first: Even the best beginner music software couldn’t be described as truly easy to use. Music production is a skill that takes a while to learn, and sometimes years to master. More likely than not, your first hours with this type of software will be spent trying to navigate its functions.
Still, there are noticeable differences between providers in how intuitively their workstation is laid out. Additionally, we take into account whether there’s a tutorial or a beginner-tip system included with the software to help newcomers.
Audio plugins are independent pieces of programming that are ‘plugged in’ to the best music production software to broaden its functionality. While music mixing software usually comes with a set of basic functionalities, you’ll almost certainly need to add plugins to expand them.
Plugins can add equalization options, effects, dynamic range control, instruments, synths, and so forth. Plugins are practically essential for any serious music production endeavor. While you can probably do without them at the very start of your producing career, you’ll learn about their importance pretty quickly.
There are three main plugin formats to watch out for when browsing the best DAWs for beginners, but keep in mind that not all DAWs support all formats. If you plan to use a specific set of plugins, make sure the production software you’re eyeing supports them.
The three plugin formats are:
- Audio Units (AU) – a system-level plugin provided by Core Audio, native to macOS and iOS. However, it’s also used by many DAWs that are not exclusive to Mac.
- Virtual Studio Technology (VST) – the most popular plugin format for music-producing software. It is mainly used to stimulate the use of recording studio hardware within DAWS for adding synths and effects to your library.
- Real-time Audio Suite (RTAS) – while the best free music production software for beginners will often include support for the previous two plugin formats, the RTAS is used solely within Pro Tools systems.
Before you commit to purchasing a DAW, make sure you’ve checked its audio-plugin compatibility.
Like with most products, the pricing for music-making programs varies by provider. Thankfully, besides paid solutions, there’s a handful of robust free options as well. But, before you open your wallet and purchase the piece of software you found to offer the most bang for your buck, you should keep a few things in mind.
First of all, check out the best music production software for beginners with free solutions currently on the market. Free production software – e.g., Apple’s GarageBand – can be a great starting point for inexperienced enthusiasts. There are several other worthy free choices to keep an eye on as well.
However, free software is often very limiting in its functionality, and you’ll want to switch to a paid version sooner or later. If you decide to take that step, we recommend you opt for an upgraded version of the software you’re already using. By doing this, you’ll be staying within the interface you grew familiar with, instead of one where you’d have to learn the layout again.
Also, when looking at different pricing tiers for the most popular DAWs, don’t immediately go for the top-tier choices. Music-making apps often have a massive number of features, but you probably don’t need all of them. List the capabilities that suit your needs, related to the type of music you want to make, and purchase an app accordingly.
Lastly, a hugely important aspect not to lose sight of when choosing music production software is your genre preference. Hip-hop, EDM, pop, and rock have vastly different production needs. While it’s rare for music recording software to be highly specialized for a certain genre, some software is just better adapted for some types of music.
What is the easiest music-making software?
While all of the DAWs we’ve reviewed here are suitable for beginners in one way or another, Apple’s GarageBand is widely considered to be the easiest to use.
Which software is best for music production?
The most powerful music production programs currently are Cubase 11 and Ableton, based solely on the number of features included. However, other programs might be more suitable for specific genres.
Can I teach myself music production?
Definitely, but it will require some time, and you won’t learn it overnight. Look for comprehensive guides and tutorials on the internet and follow them diligently.
How do Beginners start producing music?
First of all, find yourself the best music production software for beginners that matches your needs. After that, you should probably get a MIDI keyboard, master the software’s capabilities and controls, study the available plugins, and start practicing.
What is the best free music-making software for beginners?
While free music production programs are somewhat limiting in the features they offer, Apple’s GarageBand and Audacity are among the best free solutions.