Gone are the days when the only way to produce music was through playing actual instruments. In today’s world, music production applications are all the rage. With these programs, you get a software interface pre-loaded with various sounds, acoustic effects and virtual instruments. All you need to do to compose beats is point and click various options or drag and drop sounds and effects.
Since the 90s, when recording software emerged, developers have continued to launch more and more music production applications. With numerous options available, this makes it hard for beginners to choose the ideal music production software. So, the following post addresses the all too common problem of choosing a digital audio workstation (DAW)/music production application. You’ll also find quick reviews covering 4 of the most popular music production programs for beginners. But before we get to the list, here’s a little more information on what beginners need to consider and know about when looking for music production software.
How to Choose Music Production Software for Beginners
There are many options to choose from when it comes to selecting beat-making software. Generally, you can opt for paid or free versions. The latter programs tend to be limited in functionality but they give you the chance to test a particular DAW and its ease of use. On the other hand, paid music production software can be full featured, limited, and even downright expensive.
Despite being restricted in features, limited or “light” versions are much better in functionality than free editions and more beginner-friendly compared to the advanced DAWs. The flipside is, of course, once your music creation skills become better, you might need to move on to a “pro” or full featured software.
Choosing full featured professional music production software from the beginning can be a little intimidating if you’re just starting out. Such advanced software tends to have a long feature list. This in turn would make the learning curve a bit slow for a beginner. However, the advantage is that pro versions have everything you need. This means that the software will grow with you and there will be no need to upgrade later on.
If you’re on a low budget, it’s best to choose a limited music production program. This option is cheaper than going for a full-blown professional DAW. That said, however, make sure that your chosen software developer offers a pro version with better features so that when the time to upgrade comes, you won’t have to go through the trouble of learning how to use a new DAW.
As a beginner, you should keep an eye for music production software that is easy to use. Most software developers offer a demo or free trial version of their beat-making applications. Take advantage of these free versions to get a feel of the interface and intuitiveness of various tools offered by a particular DAW.
Don’t forget to also compare prices before choosing your preferred music production program. Pay attention also to the virtual instruments, sound effects, plug-ins, and other features that each DAW offers. Remember that the key to choosing the best DAW is settling for one that’s competitively priced, feature-rich, and capable of growing with you as your skills improve.
List of Top 4 Music Production Software for Beginners
Reason is an audio production software designed by Propellerhead. The first version, Reason 6, was initially meant to be a drum sequencing program for creating beats. However, Propellerhead have continued to make improvements to their recording studio suite software over the years. The newest edition, Reason 8, has the capabilities of a full-fledged digital audio workstation (DAW). Here’s a quick review of Reason 8 detailing the software’s ease of use, features, and more.
Ease of Use
In the newest interface, Propellerhead removed the bulging 3-D controls found in previous versions. Reason 8 features a flat look, which is cleaner and more user-friendly. The interface comprises of four main areas: a rack, sequencer, mixer, and browser. The browser (which isn’t found in the previous version) in Reason 8 helps to improve workflow. Unlike previous editions that used a menu item, Reason 8 also features a browser that sits in a pane on the left side of the screen. It looks like a traditional folder tree meant to facilitate easy access to the sound library.
The rack is where you load virtual instruments and effect modules when composing music. On the other hand, you can record, edit, or arrange audio and MIDI parts on the sequencer.
Reason 8 implements drag and drop capabilities beautifully. For example, you can create a device instantly by dragging a synth or other sound effect from the browser and dropping it into the rack or an empty space in the sequencer track window.
Another great feature that makes Reason 8 intuitive is the use of hotkeys. If you have a small screen, you can de-clutter the interface by hiding some of the tool windows. For instance, pressing the F3 key opens and closes the browser pane. In addition, you can hide and unhide the mixer, rack and sequencer displays by pressing F5, F6 and F7 keys respectively.
When it comes to features, Reason 8 doesn’t disappoint. There are up to 3000 loops ready to drag and drop into the sequencer or rack. With the starter package, Reason Essentials, you also get access to 6 instruments, 7 essential effects and mixing tools. The pro plan, Reason 8, comes pre-loaded with 25 effects and 9 virtual instruments.
Other impressive features that Reason 8 offers include the ability to record live instruments and the virtual SSL 9000K mixer, which boast a multiband EQ and master bus compressor.
Plug-ins and Expansions
It’s possible to expand your music creation capabilities by hooking up Reason 8 with plug-ins. However, this music recording studio software is only compatible with plug-ins using the Propellerhead rack extension format. This format somewhat limits your third-party plug-in availability.
- Pre-loaded with a good selection of virtual instruments and sound effects
- Reason 8 can record live instruments by connecting the software to MIDI hardware
- Intuitive interface with hot-keys for easy access
- Compatible with both Mac and Windows
- Free video tutorials on Propellerhead’s YouTube Channel
- Feature rich music production software with functions such as live sampling, real time audio stretching, and multi-track sequencing
- Helpful support team with software experts who will answer your questions
- 30 day free trial
- Not compatible with AU or VST plug-ins
If you’ve never used a beat-making program before, it is best to stick with the Reason 8 Essentials package since it has all the features a beginner needs. The pro version on the other hand makes a great choice for intermediate and advanced users who are familiar with and want to do MIDI sequencing.
Ableton is a unique music production software that has been around since 1999. Over the years, it has been continually improved to provide features that make music production a breeze. The latest edition, Ableton Live version 9.5, now comes with a new interface, analog modeled filters, as well as slicing and warping features.
Ease of Use
Ableton Live 9.5 features a minimalist interface with a flat look and only two main windows. First, there’s the arrangement window sitting on the right hand side of the screen. Secondly, Ableton offers a unique session window that resembles channel strips in a mixer. You can flip between these two views easily using two circular icons near the top right of the display or by simply pressing the tab key.
The Arrangement view is basically similar to what you would expect from most DAWs. It displays tracks on a vertical axis that moves from left to right. In contrast, the session window is not linear at all. It is essentially a giant sketchpad, which lets you create and edit MIDI clips in real time without having to start and stop the audio engine.
Ableton Live 9.5 fits everything on one screen, which is an extra plus that will have laptop users smiling. Therefore, you won’t end up with multiple little windows everywhere that leave you wishing you had an extra wide display.
There are three editions of Ableton live 9. These editions share common features but have varying sounds, effects, and instruments. For example, the Intro edition has a limited feature set so it only includes 3 instruments, 27 effects, and about 700 sounds. The Standard version has 38 effects and 1,100 sounds. If you want more, the Ableton Live Suite comes with 9 virtual instruments and 41 special acoustic effects. Installing one of the 25 supported sample packs also expands your audio library, giving you a choice of up to 3000 sounds.
There are many other impressive features in Ableton Live 9.5. The conversion tool slices up audio files into MIDI clips, allowing you to expand your sound library with extra sampled beats, melodies and harmonies. The music creation possibilities with this software are endless since it also records live instruments when paired with MIDI controllers.
Plug-ins and Expansion
Like most music production software suites, Ableton also works with third party plug-ins. You can expand your music creation capabilities with this DAW since it supports a wide range of VST and Audio Unit (AU) plug-ins.
- Built-in tutorial helps novice users learn how to use the software with ease
- Simple and easy to use interface
- Unique audio and MIDI clip-based workflow
- Suite version features an enormous sound library
- 30-day free trial available even for pro package
- Compatible with both Mac and Windows
- Mixer view could be more robust
- Software lacks track comping, notation view and a pitch correction tool
The workflow of Ableton Live 9.5 may be a little different compared to how most typical digital audio workstations are designed. But this music production suite is a powerful piece of software. Beginners will find the Intro Package to be more user friendly while serious music producers should settle for the Standard, if not the full featured Suite edition. Overall, Ableton is a good DAW if you’re thinking long term or want software that’s ideal not only for studio but also live settings.
Apple Logic Pro
While its name may be a little intimidating to novice users, Apple Logic Pros is actually a very user-friendly audio recording program for people of all levels. Like most Apple products, this software only runs on Mac. The Latest installment, Logic Pro X 10.2, comes with a host of new features, some of which will be included in this review as well as the pros and cons of this software.
Ease of Use
The Logic Pro X interface is very much similar to GarageBand, but only that it’s far more intuitive. On the top right portion of your screen you’ll find the arrangement window where most of the music composition and editing takes place. Logic Pros 10.2 version now features a collapsible browser that lets you search for sounds, effects, and other presets using keywords and categories. Just below the arrange window, there is the multi-mode view that holds the mixer, piano roll as well as the score and sample editors. The transport still sits neatly atop the workstation.
Overall, the Logic Pro X 10.2 edition doesn’t feature any major interface changes apart from the fact that Level Compensation and the Mix parameter are now on the main view.
Apple upgraded Logic Pro X 10.2 with a massive alchemy library, which now features over 3000 sound presets. These include 67 digital effects, 18 virtual instruments, and a large loop library. The Transform Pad function lets you choose from 8 different variations of the pre-selected sound or effect. Logic Pro X also features master sound morphine capabilities, which let you combine distinct elements from up to four different sources. Whether you prefer spectral timbre, classic tones or modern melodies, this DAW lets you sculpt your sounds with up to 38 different filters.
The software also has multiband EQ to tweak the sound of your recorded audio. The mixing console can accommodate up to 255 MIDI and audio files, with each tracking handling 15 different effects. You can also connect MIDI instruments to serve as peripheral devices for this music production software. The mixer automatically creates extra channels when you add MIDI controllers into the mixer.
Plug-ins and Expansion
Logic Pro X can expand your music creation arsenal with third-party plug-ins. The best part is that once installed, you can integrate your plug-ins into the menu and even categorize them to keep the interface organized.
- Useful online help documents as well as phone tech support
- New alchemy library with massive sound pre-sets and effects
- Intuitive UI
- Affordable than most downloadable digital audio workstations
- Not cross platform. Only compatible with Mac and iOS
Logic Pro X 10.2 might not be the easiest-to-use DAW but beginners will get used to this music production software with time. This program is ideal for users looking for music production software that will grow with them.
Fruity Loops Studio
Fruity Loops (FL) Studio is a digital audio workstation (DAW) designed for Window PCs. The program was created by a software development company named Imagine Line, which was founded in 1994. Launched four years later in 1998, Fruity Loops has been around for more than a decade. Over the years, Imagine Line has continuously improved this program to make it more powerful and easy to use. As of writing this review, the latest version, FL Studio 12, was released in April 2015.
Imagine Line offers three different editions of their music recording software, which include Fruity, Producer, and Signature. These programs pretty much share the same core functionality but the difference lies in the feature set that each package offers.
For example, Producer and Signature come with more features, instruments, and packs designed for experienced users. Fruity Loops is the beginner friendly edition. Read on to find out whether Imagine Line’s Fruity Loops audio production software makes a good choice for novice users.
Ease of Use
The redesigned Fruity Loops 12 now features a new interface that tries to improve ease of use in many ways. For instance, iPad users can now take advantage of multi-touch capabilities when working with the mixer. The browser also features tabs and ability to delete content by right clicking. What’s more, new users will love the tool descriptions that appear on the screen’s top left hand corner when the mouse is hovered over a button or control.
The strongest aspects of FL studio lie in its tools and amazing ability to compose electronic music. You can easily create beats by dragging and dropping sounds as well as loops to the step sequencer. The depth of the sound library is impressive, and it will simply leave you spoilt for choice.
Fruity Loops comes pre-loaded with many virtual instruments that you can apply when composing music. What’s more, you’ll have access to 30+ drum machines, synthesizers, sample pads and other effects. Composing and arranging your music will be quite easy thanks to the MIDI recording method that leverages the power of step sequencers.
Plug-ins and Expansion
Like most MIDI based music recording programs, it’s no surprise that Fruity Loops supports a large number of plug-ins. Since this software is compatible with third-party VST-Plug-ins, this further increases your music production capabilities.
- Lifetime license with free updates to new features
- Comprehensive support resources, including a tech support forum, knowledge base and online video tutorials
- Intuitive multi-touch interface with tool tip descriptions
- Powerful MIDI recording step sequencer
- Large sound library
- Demo download available for free
- FL Studio is a Windows only program, but you can run it on an Intel Mac with VMWare Fusion or Boot Camp virtualization software
Fruity Loops is an uncomplicated beat maker that makes digital music creation easy even for absolute beginners. Although simple in functionality, it’s a powerful audio production software in its own right. Two areas where it excels are live instrument recording and electronic beat sampling. Best of all, creative composers will appreciate this audio software’s MIDI controller and its vast sound library.