You might have the best computer and instruments in your home recording studio, but you can’t do anything without the right studio software. It’s sad but true!
Although there are a lot of software options out there, it’s not always easy to know what software is the most important one to get, especially because you might need recording software, post-production software, and more that you hadn’t even considered.
That said, it’s good to consider that music software isn’t something that should feel like a chore. It’s an exciting addition to your home studio.
How does studio software improve your craft?
It helps you create more professional music and simplify the process so you can make the most of creating, recording, and producing music without stressing about how to turn those tracks into something real. The software helps you do that and more.
The big catch is that you need to find the right features in the software so that you get what you want from it, instead of features and frills that you don’t really need.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the best studio software to invest your money in (and ones that you don’t have to pay a penny to use).
If you’d like to see a graphical breakdown of studio software, we got you covered:
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But First: Why You Need A Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) Anyway?
On the subject of studio software, a term that usually comes up is Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).
You’ve probably heard this before, even if you’re a beginner. You might’ve even scratched your head and wondered what on earth a DAW is.
Well, a DAW can refer to two things: it can be an electronic device or a software application.
Now, since we’re talking about computer programs in this article, we’re going to look at DAW in terms of software.
DAW software basically works by helping you to record and produce music on your computer and devices, so you can unleash your creativity and get more done in an efficient, organized way.
Let’s check out some of the best DAW software for your home studio, based on your needs, starting with the best free software to purchase.
Best Free Music Production Software: GarageBand
By now, you’ve probably already spent a lot of money on your computer and instruments and shelled out money for designing your home studio.
You might not have a lot of cash for studio software left by the end of the process. The good news is that you don’t always have to spend a lot of money for decent software.
It’s a total myth that music software has to be expensive in order to be of high quality, so don’t believe it!
GarageBand is a music software that’s considered to be one of the most popular digital audio workspaces (DAW).
You’ve probably heard about it around and the hype surrounding it isn’t just about the fact that it’s free. There’s a lot of goodness in this software.
GarageBand is software that’s both powerful and smooth to use, whether you’re a pro or just starting out in the music production business.
GarageBand is all about making things user-friendly, with a “drag and drop” feature being utilized often so you can start creating tracks with ease.
GarageBand also has lots of virtual instruments you can use that sound like the real thing, which is a great feature to add more quality and expression to your music production.
The one drawback, however, is that it’s only suitable for your Mac computer, not Windows.
Best-One For PC: FL Studio
Windows lovers, don’t despair!
You’ll find some great software picks tailored to Windows, and FL Studio is one of them.
It’s great for beginners because it’s become so popular, thanks to how you can do lots of different things with FL Studio, including correcting your sound.
Its interface is especially user-friendly for beginners, which is a plus as some software can be quite complex and difficult to understand at a glance.
FL Studio offers effect plugins and 18 presets. You also get free updates of the software for life, which is a nice bonus.
Cost: FL Studio comes in various editions with price tags that vary, but you can find the Producer Edition with extra plugins for $199.
Best For Being Super-Easy: Audacity
If you’re just starting out in the business and you want studio software that’s really easy to use, Audacity software is a solid choice.
It’s also free and compatible with PC, which is a bonus.
Audacity has quite a few benefits. These include that it’s a small program size, so it won’t take up a lot of space on your computer.
It’s also open source and has a solid community support team that works on improving it all the time.
You can use Audacity for various tasks in your music production.
These include recording instruments and vocals, mixing these sounds into tracks, and creating music files that you can share with others in a snap.
Cost: Free, which is a bonus. The combination of how it’s easy to use and free makes this a great DAW for beginners and intermediates alike.
Best-One For Allowing Customizations: Reaper by Cockos
While Audacity is great, sometimes you want a more complete recording software.
That’s where Reaper comes in. Reaper contains full MIDI and audio capability, so it’s a good choice if you want more than the ability to make simple recordings.
What makes Reaper stand out is that it’s really easy to work your way around.
It makes use of a “drag and drops” feature for almost everything, while you can customize it according to your needs.
This means you can adjust the layout and toolbars to make it even more comfortable to use, which is a plus if you’re spending many hours a day in your studio.
One of the most important things about DAW software is that it should streamline your production process, and Reaper definitely does that with all its customizable goodies.
It also has good audio processing (64 bits) and supports various media in almost every format.
However, the thing about Reaper is that it doesn’t make use of virtual instruments, so it’s not the best DAW software for you if this is an important element of your music production.
Cost: Reaper costs $60, which makes it budget-friendly while giving you the features that you need to churn out quality tracks.
Best Overall Winner: Ableton Live
This software comes up a lot when people talk about the best DAW, and it’s no surprise why Ableton Live is an all-rounder for music production.
It’s especially great for live performances.
If you’re performing a live show, you can use samples of your music material and loops to create new musical arrangements completely off the cuff, which opens you up to a lot of creative opportunities.
Live performances aside, Ableton Live is also great for creating music and improvising on tracks.
If you want to record tracks in the studio, Ableton Live will also be a treasure for you because of all its features.
You can tweak your tempo and pitch, and even fix up any problems with the timing that you’ve noticed in a pre-recorded performance.
You also get quality instruments and effects that are built into the software, making this a great tool for both music creation and editing post-production.
So, if you want a solid all-rounder, Ableton Live is a piece of studio software that you can’t go wrong with.
Cost: Ableton Live costs vary depending on the package you buy. For “Intro,” which is basically the essentials, you’ll pay $99, for the “Standard” package you’ll pay $449, and for the “Suite,” which is a complete studio software package, you’ll pay $749.
Best For Audio Editing: Cubase by Steinberg
While there are lots of DAWs out there that can help you edit your music, one software that stands out in this regard is Cubase.
There are some important reasons for that, so let’s look at its valuable editing tools:
Cubase has a feature called “Audio-ins” that enables you to use effects and filters in separate ways on your music pieces.
It also has a frequency equalizer which enables you to do delicate edits on your sound.
Its “Key Editor” feature is one that really stands out when using this software.
It allows you to do lots of different editing tasks when you playback your music, such as changing or deleting notes and even changing your editing tools.
Although you have to pay for this software, it does come with a free trial so you can give it a whirl and see if you like it.
Cost: Cubase Pro 10 costs $579.99. This version is an upgrade from previous editions, and it has some decent perks. These include an upgrade when it comes to the audio manipulation feature, which makes your sound even better.
Best For Mixing: Pro Tools by Avid
Pro Tools has become highly popular in the music industry.
It’s simple to use with an easy layout, so even if you’re just starting out with music production you’ll be able to use it without a hassle.
It also has virtual instruments that you can use during your music creation process.
However, Pro Tools is best for mixing tracks because you can compose and record tracks, then mix and edit them, all in the same place.
Best of all, this software has an Avid Audio Engine. This means that it has a fast processor to prevent lagging, and can auto-tune your harmonies so that they sound professional.
Cost: Pro Tools costs $599. Use it for all of its features, but make it a studio staple if you mix tracks.
Best Amp Modeler: AmpliTube
Amp modeling refers to the craft of copying a physical amplifier, such as that of the guitar.
So, when you conduct amp modeling, you’re basically recreating the sound of an amplifier. To do this, you need the right software.
AmpliTube is considered to be one of the best amp modeling software options out there.
This DAW software makes use of amplifier modeling so that it can reproduce textures and sounds produced by guitar effects and amplifiers.
But it’s certainly not limited to guitars. You can process a bunch of different sounds, including vocals, drums, and keyboards, which makes it highly versatile.
This software also includes 51 effects pedals and gives you the opportunity to use more than one mic so that you can change the sound you want to produce depending on your preferences.
The best thing about this software is that it saves you money.
Instead of purchasing all the instruments you want to create the sounds you want in your home studio, which can run up quite a bill, you can access them all in this software instead!
Cost: AmpliTube costs approximately $165, which is really value for money.
Best For Writing Songs: PreSonus Studio One Artist 4
If your main tasks include writing and composing music, this is the studio software that you need to get your hands on.
You’ve probably already heard of PreSonus because it’s become quite popular in the industry.
But their Artist 4 release changes the game for songwriters, whether that refers to beginners or pros.
Studio 4 is an upgrade from the company’s Studio 3 edition: it offers you many tools that can help you in the process of songwriting.
For example, Studio 4 contains a “Chord Track” tool. This is basically a tool that shows you the chordal structure of your music, but you can also use it to change your music’s sound.
So, if your music is following the Chord Track you’ve set up, it will adjust itself to those specific chords, as Sound on Sound explains.
This is a great way to streamline your sound in an easy and interesting way.
There’s also a song import function that enables you to take a piece of music from another project and use it in your current one, which is useful because you can use this software from the start of your music creation process all the way to the end of it.
Cost: You can get the PreSonus Studio One Artist 4 for approximately $100, so it’s really not a lot of money if you’re serious about writing and composing music. As a bonus feature, you also get to use a trial version of Melodyne to correct your pitch correction.
Best For Beginners and Pros: Acoustica Mixcraft Pro Studio 7
It’s not always easy to know when you should upgrade your software or what kind of software you’ll need based on your expertise and experience.
That’s why something like the Acoustica software can help you. This software is valuable for beginners and pros in the industry, without being too expensive to afford.
It’s both professional in its features while also being easy enough to work around if you’re new to the game.
With this software, you can mix and record both MIDI and audio. Best of all, you can mix your sounds while editing them, making it really versatile and user-friendly.
You get 18 instruments and 52 effects in this software, which is a nice quantity if you love making tunes.
When you’re done, simply upload your tunes directly to an online platform, such as social media if you want to share your work with your friends.
Cost: Acoustica Mixcraft Pro Studio 7 costs $164.95. It’s a great go-to product if you’re really not sure what you’re looking for in-studio software but wants something that’s good for all types of musos.
Best For Recording Vocals: RecordPad by NCH Software
If you’re a singer who wants to record vocals, you might be wondering what the best DAW software is for this purpose.
A good one to try is RecordPad.
This software is very popular all over the world. It can work on PC and Mac, as well as your Android and iOS devices, which is a nice plus if you like making music on the go.
Its compatibility is also useful if you have different devices in your studio and want to use the RecordPad on all of them.
In RecordPad, you can do a lot of recording and editing tasks. These include recording vocals and refining your recordings.
The software also has a voice-activated feature, which is quite a nice bonus. It allows you to erase long periods of silence when voice recording, which could have happened during the recording process.
In addition, you can also eliminate noise that made its way onto the recording, such as in the form of environmental disruptions, helping you to fine-tune your vocals so that they sound crystal-clear and professional.
Cost: The license to use RecordPad varies according to whether you want the personal edition ($29.99) or professional one ($34.99).
How To Choose The Right DAW Software
While it’s good to consider what you need the studio software for, such as recording vocals or editing your recordings, it’s also important to consider other factors before purchasing it so that you don’t waste your money and ensure that you get what you need.
Your Level Of Experience
This is probably the most important factor to consider when purchasing studio software.
If you’re a beginner, you should avoid the temptation to spend a lot of money upfront for software that’s used by professional musicians and producers. There are many reasons for this.
Firstly, you won’t be able to understand the complicated setups and tools, which means you won’t be able to use it.
In addition, this can also cause you to miss out on the opportunity to learn how the software works.
It’s better to choose something that’s more appropriate for your skill level and then move your way up.
If you’re only starting out in music production, you might try it out and see that it’s not something you want to do on a professional level.
This means that using software that’s free is probably sufficient for your needs instead of buying high-end software that won’t be used.
How To Set It Up
This point can also be linked to your skillset. If you don’t really know your way around studio software, it can feel overwhelming to use.
Now, to make matters worse, you don’t want the mission of having to set it all up. This can be stressful.
So, your best bet is to focus on software that you can open on your computer and start using immediately without a hassle, even if you don’t have a lot of knowledge about studio software.
A great example of software that enables this is GarageBand.
Your Current Computer
If you have a Windows computer, knowing that the software you’re purchasing is compatible with Windows isn’t enough to reassure you that you’ll be making the right choice.
The same goes for Mac devices. You need to take your computer’s specs into account so that the software will run smoothly and not waste your time.
The most important things to ensure are that you have enough RAM, hard drive space, ports, and a strong operating system on your computer so that the software will work effectively on it instead of creating problems such as lagging.
When it comes to RAM, most DAW software will require 2 to 4GB.
Don’t forget to check for plugin compatibility between your computer and DAW software that you’re interested in purchasing, as some DAW formats can’t work with certain plugins.
An example is how VST plugins aren’t always compatible with a DAW software that makes use of AU plugins.
Pro tip: It’s always a good idea to make use of Solid State Drives (SSD). Since these drives don’t have internal parts that move, it makes them much more efficient at retrieving data and playing complex arrangements without a hassle.
Consider Your Future As A Musician
You don’t want to purchase DAW software that doesn’t meet your studio requirements after just a few months of use.
That’s why it’s important to consider your goals when purchasing studio software.
If you’re only making music as a hobby and don’t see that changing, then a beginner type of software might be perfect and give you everything you need.
On the other hand, if you’re going to be progressing quickly from beginner to pro, this could cause you to want something more extensive right from the beginning so that you don’t have to purchase extra software in the next year or so.
In this case, choosing software that will give you everything you need for the long-term future can be a valuable investment.
Pro tip: It’s always a good idea to make use of DAW software that comes with a free trial so you can try it out and experiment with its features to see if it will be limited to you in the near future or will have everything you need.
Do you need to get studio software immediately?
Not necessarily. If your audio interface or MIDI controller already has Digital Audio Workstation software on it, then this can help you get started with recording your music.
However, it’s worth bearing in mind that this will only be entry-level software.
What are the dangers of pirated DAW software?
Not only is piracy illegal, but using pirated DAW software can wreck your studio gear. The program could break down and corrupt your files.
In addition, you won’t get the benefit of having technical support for the software if you need it.
Having the right studio software is one of the most important essentials you need to consider if you’re interested in music production and have your own studio.
As outlined in this article, it’s clear that there are many different types of studio software depending on your needs and budget.
There is actually a dizzying variety of DAW software on the market, which can make it difficult to know which one to buy.
It’s good to know that they all essentially do the same things, but just in different ways.
So, in order to make the right choice, an important thing to consider when choosing DAW software is to focus on the type that will be right for you and the music you hope to produce, as we’ve outlined in this article.
Finally, taking your budget concerns into account can help you make the decision to purchase the right DAW with most, if not all, of the features you need in your home studio.
In addition, it helps to know that there are some good DAW software alternatives that don’t have to cost a thing.