Ready to dive into recording and producing your own music but unsure which music production software to choose? You’re faced with a myriad of software choices, each one promising you to be the best, but which one is the best for you?
That’s exactly what this guide aims to help you with. Here, we’ll explore some of the top music production software suited for beginners, breaking down their key features and strengths and how they can enhance your music-making process.
We’ll cover options like Garageband and FL Studio and professional choices like Pro Tools, Logic Pro, and Cubase. By the end, you’ll have a solid understanding of each software’s strengths and limitations.
So, let’s tune in and discover the best tools that will transform your musical ideas into reality!
Garageband (Mac/iOS) – Best Free DAW for Beginners
Apple’s Garageband comes free with every Mac and iOS device, making it the most accessible entry point into DAWs.
Garageband provides a simple, intuitive interface and a solid set of basic features. It’s great for beginners looking to get started with recording vocals, guitar, and basic MIDI instruments.
The built-in instruments like synthesizers, drum machines, and sampled instruments allow you to create full arrangements without external gear.
It also includes a library of free loops and effects like reverb, delay, and guitar amp models to expand your creative palette. Useful features like Flex Time allow easy editing and manipulation of audio clips.
However, more advanced producers may find Garageband limiting. Recording and editing capabilities are streamlined, so intricate audio edits or MIDI compositions are difficult. The sound library is decent but not on par with paid DAWs. And Apple provides few options for expanding Garageband with add-ons.
But for informal music creation as a hobby, Garageband is unmatched in its simplicity. It makes basic home recording and music production available to everyone.
- Simple, intuitive interface
- Decent built-in instruments and loop library
- Useful features like Flex Time
- Free with Mac/iOS devices
- Easy to get started
FL Studio (Windows/Mac) – Best DAW for EDM
Image-Line’s FL Studio (formerly Fruity Loops) is a longstanding favorite for electronic dance music production.
Its pattern-based workflow and quick access to drums, synths, and samples make FL Studio great for fast, fluid beatmaking. The included instruments like 3xOSC, Sytrus, and Harmless provide versatile synth capabilities, while plugins like Gross Beat and Maximus give FL Studio unique sonic possibilities.
FL Studio’s Piano Roll editor is ideal for programming melodies and harmonies at the MIDI level. Automation options and a flexible mixer ensure your tracks can be intricately refined. If you have a MIDI keyboard or pad controller, FL Studio makes performing and capturing your ideas simple. An affordable $99 starter edition makes it easy to get started.
While FL Studio excels at electronic and hip-hop music, it lacks some recording and editing features found in traditional DAWs. Audio editing is functional but not as intuitive as the piano roll MIDI workflow.
And macOS support is still incomplete compared to the Windows version. But for beatmakers and EDM producers, FL Studio delivers an inspiring workflow at an affordable price.
- Pattern-based workflow ideal for electronic music
- Great built-in instruments, plugins, and effects
- Affordable entry price
- Excellent piano roll editor
- Large user community for support
Pro Tools (Mac/PC) – Best DAW for Professional Studio Work
Avid Pro Tools is the industry standard if you aim to produce and record professionally. It’s been used to record, mix, and master countless Grammy-winning albums and Hollywood film scores.
Pro Tools sets itself apart with powerful audio recording and editing capabilities, AAX plugin support, and integrated metering for loudness standards.
Pro Tools is designed to handle large, complex sessions with hundreds of tracks and high track counts. The highly customizable workflow enables pros to tailor it precisely to their needs.
Detailed automation and routing options give you fine-tuned control over your mix. And tight hardware integration allows using Avid consoles and controllers to accelerate your workflow.
Of course, such power comes at a premium price. Even the basic Pro Tools Artist subscription costs $14.99 a month. You’ll need an audio interface and a powerful computer to get the most out of it. And the learning curve is considerable. But for professional studio work, Pro Tools remains the undisputed leader.
- Industry-standard DAW for pros
- Powerful audio recording/editing capabilities
- Customizable workflow with track presets
- Tight hardware integration
- Automation and advanced routing
Logic Pro (Mac only) – Best DAW for Mac
For Mac users, Logic Pro offers a complete production suite for serious music creation. It comes packed with synthesizers, samplers, studio drummer instruments, guitar amp models, and a massive sample library.
Advanced capabilities like Arpeggiator MIDI effects, Smart Tempo for adjusting project timing, and the Script Editor for automation make Logic extremely deep for professionals.
Yet Logic includes beginner-friendly features like Drummer tracks that auto-generate beats and Smart Instruments that assist with melodies and basslines. This combination of power and accessibility makes Logic a great choice as your skills progress. And the one-time cost is very reasonable compared to subscription plans.
The main downside is Logic only runs on Macs. Some producers also find it less intuitive than Ableton for live performance and beatmaking. But with its polished instruments, intelligent, creative features, and seamless macOS integration, Logic is hard to beat for Mac users.
- Huge collection of high-quality instruments, loops, effects
- Advanced tools like Arpeggiator, Smart Tempo, Script Editor
- Beginner-friendly drummer tracks and smart instruments
- Full-featured production suite
- Reasonable one-time cost
Ableton Live (Mac/PC) – Best DAW for Live Performance
Ableton Live has become the DAW of choice for electronic musicians focused on live performance and improvisation.
The unique Session View provides an intuitive environment for launching audio clips and MIDI scenes to create songs and remix tracks on the fly. Max for Live allows for custom MIDI and audio effects tailored to your needs. And instruments like Wavetable, Drum Synths, and Echo provide deep sound design capabilities.
For the studio, Ableton’s Arrangement View offers a timeline to compose full productions with recorded audio and virtual instruments. Extensive warp, quantization, and automation options allow your tracks to be polished and tight. Ableton Live’s fluid workflow will inspire new creative possibilities regardless of your musical style.
Downsides include a lack of score editing features and limited audio comping/pitch editing capabilities compared to traditional DAWs like Pro Tools or Cubase. But Ableton Live is empowering for beatmakers, EDM musicians, and live performers.
- Session and Arrangement Views tailored for live use and production
- Max for Live for custom instruments, effects, and more
- Great built-in instruments for electronic music
- Audio clip warping and manipulation
- MIDI sequencing capabilities
Presonus Studio One (Mac/PC) – Best Affordable Pro Grade DAW
Studio One from Presonus straddles the line between content creation and professional mixing/mastering. It combines a forward-thinking, creative workflow with pro features to record and mix at studio quality.
Advanced editing tools like audio comping and transient detection make it simple to achieve polished results. And mastering features like spectrum analysis, limiters, and channel strip modules helps your tracks stand up against commercial releases.
Yet Studio One doesn’t overwhelm beginners with too many options. The intuitive single-window interface, drag-and-drop functionality, Notion music notation integration, and built-in virtual instruments/effects make it easy to get up and running.
When you’re ready for more intricate edits, automation, and routing options, they’re available. Studio One grows with you. And the affordable Pro version is a fraction of the cost of Pro Tools or Cubase.
Studio One hits the sweet spot between effortless usability and pro-grade mixing/mastering tools for solo artists, home studios, and media creators.
- Intuitive single-window interface
- Advanced editing and mixing capabilities
- Built-in mastering features
- Notion music notation integration
- Virtual instruments, effects, and sound libraries included
- Affordable compared to competitors
Cakewalk by BandLab (Windows/Mac) – Best Free DAW for Windows
Originally developed by Cakewalk, Sonar Platinum became Cakewalk by Bandlab after the company was acquired by BandLab Technologies. As a result, Cakewalk is now completely free, removing the barrier to entry for beginners seeking professional tools.
Cakewalk offers unlimited audio and MIDI tracks, customizable pro mixing workflows, vintage FX modules, and powerful synthesizers like Rapture Pro. Mastering effects like Limiter, Multiband Compressor, and Maximizer ensure professional polish.
Advanced editing capabilities allow comping multiple takes and ultra-precise audio edits. And full notation and lyrics capabilities mean you can compose pro arrangements.
The learning curve is steeper than entry options like Garageband. However, for a free DAW, Cakewalk provides impressive capabilities rivaling premium competitors. The unlimited track count and pro mixing/editing tools are generous.
Windows users lacking Logic or Pro Tools alternatives find its free cost highly appealing. If you need pro features without the studio budget, Cakewalk is difficult to pass up.
- Fully-featured DAW, completely free
- Unlimited tracks
- Pro mixing, editing, mastering capabilities
- Vintage FX modules and synthesizers
- Full notation and lyrics functions
- Windows and Mac support
Reason (Mac/PC) – Best Suited for Electronic Music
Propellerhead’s Reason emulates a rack of synthesizers, samplers, and effects to inspire electronic music creation.
By mimicking real audio gear, Reason provides an intuitive environment for combining instruments and effects. The built-in devices offer deep sound design possibilities without third-party plugins.
Reason also includes classic synth and drum machine sounds for electronic, house, techno, and hip-hop. Drag and drop routing between rack devices enables complex modulation scenarios. For fast creative workflows, Reason is appealing. And the cost is affordable compared to high-end options like Pro Tools or Cubase.
However, Reason lacks some features found in traditional DAWs. Audio recording and editing capabilities are basic compared to Logic or Ableton. And you’re limited to the built-in instruments and effects unless you integrate Reason with another DAW via ReWire. But for electronic musicians, Reason provides inspiration and solid value.
- The rack of instruments/effects mimics real audio gear
- Large collection of synths, samplers, and sounds
- Fast workflow for electronic music
- Drag and drop routing for creative modulation
- Affordable price point
Reaper (Mac/PC/Linux) – Best Budget Friendly DAW
Reaper, from Cockos, prides itself on being a fully-featured DAW for a budget-friendly price. It offers a serious bang for your buck at $60 for a personal license.
Reaper comes with robust tools for recording, editing, and mixing multitrack audio and MIDI. Customization options like screen themes, keyboard shortcuts, and scripting allow tailoring the workflow precisely to your needs.
While Reaper doesn’t include virtual instruments and loops like FL Studio or Logic Pro, its core sequencing and mixing capabilities rival DAWs that cost far more.
The resource-light codebase and cross-platform support make it a favorite among laptop producers. And regular updates keep steadily improving on an already solid product.
However, Reaper does assume some audio engineering knowledge. Beginners may find it less approachable. But for intermediate producers on a budget, Reaper provides pro-grade tools at a bargain cost.
- Incredible value at $60 for a full license
- Powerful editing and mixing options
- Customizable to suit any workflow
- Active development and user community
- Available for Windows, Mac, and Linux
Steinberg Cubase is a music production powerhouse used by professionals worldwide. Top producers and film composers rely on Cubase for composing, recording, editing, and mixing.
Deep MIDI sequencing capabilities, VST instrument support, surround sound mixing, and hundreds of included audio effects keep Cubase at the forefront of music technology.
However, such powerful tools come at a steep price. Cubase Pro costs $580. Beginners may find it overkill, while FL Studio or Logic offer more approachable entry points.
Cubase still runs better on Windows than on Mac. But advanced producers ready to invest in a professional-grade production environment will find Cubase a versatile creative studio.
- Advanced MIDI sequencer and composition tools
- Hundreds of studio-grade audio effects
- Surround mixing capabilities
- VST instrument and effect support
- Tight integration with Steinberg hardware
The Best DAWs for Complete Beginners
So, which music production software is right for a complete beginner just getting their feet wet? Here are our top 2 recommendations based on budget and platform:
Best Free Option: Garageband
For Mac/iOS owners wanting to get a taste of music production without spending money, Garageband is the obvious choice.
The simple interface, MIDI instruments, and included loops provide a fun introduction to laying down tracks on your computer. While limited for advanced work, Garageband is a capable free starting point.
Best Paid Option: FL Studio
FL Studio is excellent for beginners willing to invest some money for more capabilities. The $99 Fruity starter edition unlocks full-featured music production with pro-quality synths, drums, and effects.
The intuitive step sequencer and piano roll make FL Studio fast to learn for beatmaking. And you can upgrade affordably as your needs grow. For paid music software on a budget, FL Studio packs incredible value.
Honorable mentions for beginners willing to spend more go to Logic Pro for Mac users and Studio One for Windows/Mac. But our top recommendations are Garageband if you need free, and FL Studio for affordable yet powerful paid software to start out.
Now Go Make Music!
We hope this guide has made the world of music production software feel less intimidating. When just getting your feet wet, choose an accessible option like Garageband or FL Studio. Focus on having fun, creating music, and learning the basics without being overwhelmed.
As your skills grow, you can always upgrade to a more advanced DAW in the future. The most important thing is finding inspiration in software that fits your musical interests.
With the right creative tools, you’ll be making your own songs and productions in no time!