Best music software

I know this has been covered to an extent before in Sockpuppet’s quite admirable thread, but I couldn’t really find a ‘perfect’ answer tailored to my setup.

I’m hoping to start making my own tunes, hopefully starting out with just the Macbook, but maybe someday in the future moving on to adding in a keyboard I can noodle away on. I’ve heard good things about Logic, but was wondering if anyone had any good recommendations for decent software that is easy enough to learn (I’m of course prepared to spend some time learning it - I just don’t need the music software equivalent of the space shuttle).

In terms of genre of music, I’m really quite easy in my listening habits, but it would certainly be biased towards the electronica side - a bit of DnB, a bit of dubstep, a bit of whatever I feel like at the time.

Would be really grateful for any suggestions.

As always, thanks in advance!


If you’re going to be making loop-based electronica with maybe just a mic for vocals now and then, then any of the numerous all-in-one loop-based electronica music making programmes that people use - such as Fruity Loops, Ableton Live, Reason, Garage Band (probably in about that order of popularity) - are going to be just fine. A lot of dubstep is done on Fruity Loops nowadays (along with Native Instruments’ Massive synth plugin for the alien bass sounds). Ableton Live is probably the favoured sequencer for musicians whose music is to a large extent loop-based but also has some elements of songwriting. Reason is also a very powerful loop-based sequencer (more or less the same setup as Fruity Loops), but it’s a bit older, and its soundsets probably aren’t as up to date (although there are gazillions of them). Garage Band is great for sketching things, but probably not as good as the others for bringing something to a finished state. All of these come with (and can have added to them) loads of different virtual noise-making modules like synthesizers, sample libraries. They also come with (and can have added to them) tons of audio effects (delay, compression, eq, reverb, etc).

If you’re going to be recording physically played instruments a lot as well - guitar, drums, lots of vocals, etc. - then you’ll be wanting more of a fully-fledged sequencer like Logic or ProTools. Sequencers can do more or less everything that the above programmes can do, but their paradigm is designed more around a software recording studio ideal. They’re best if you’re already a musician and can play a keyboard properly and think in terms of harmony, musical timing, etc., or if you want to do music that isn’t just loop-based but might have unusual and/or complex arrangements, mixed time signatures, etc. Their midi implementation, visual scoring and audio editing facilities are better, and generally they have the best audio engines (at the end of the day, best final quality) for professional, paid work.

Personally I use Cubase/Nuendo on the PC, as they are very fast for “sketching” things if you’re already a musician and think musically; but Logic on the Mac is great too, and ProTools (Mac or PC) is the industry standard if you’re going to be doing it professionally (although Nuendo is also sort of an industry standard for a/v work).

Finding a sequencer to suit you should be the easy part - the hard part is building up a library of sounds, particularly if you want to make music for clubs, which is as tightly fashion-oriented as the fashion industry - you have to know what sounds are being used, and be able to reverse-engineer what’s current. This is much easier nowadays than it used to be, since everyone puts up how-tos on YouTube anyway :)

Don’t forget you will also need to budget for some sort of USB or Firewire audio I/O box if you’re going to be using a mic. The DACs on a Mac are pretty darn good, but any instrument or voice that goes in you will want ton, if record as well as you possibly can within your budget, and that will require a decent outboard I/O (figure in maybe $500 - $800, although the ceiling can be as high as you want it to be). Again, if voice is going to be involved anywhere at all, get the best mic you can get. I highly recommend the Neumann TLM103, which is basically a cut-down version of the industry standard Neumann mic.

That’s grand, thanks!

To be honest, it’s not making music for clubs or anything like that in particular, it’s just for messing around at home and trying to come up with a few things. Ableton sounds like a winner as, as far as I can see, FL isn’t available for Mac. or has that changed?

What are the tutorials, etc. like with Ableton, it’s been about 14 years since I messed around with music on computers!

Thanks again, appreciate it.

You can’t go far wrong with Ableton. It’s also more “visual” than FL or Reason, which can be a great advantage for music with long, fiddly arrangements (but can also be a slight disadvantage in that you start thinking of your music in visual terms - “this block could repeat 3 times”, etc.). Just remember to stop looking at the screen now and then, and/or close your eyes and listen :)

Good luck!

I guess that’s why you’re the guru!!