|In this guide we'll show you the different types of software you can use to make music using your computer, and help you choose the software that's right for you...|
Where to start?
There's a huge range of music software available on the market, and it can be very confusing trying to find something that will do what you need.
Before you look at music software, think carefully about what you want to do on your computer. For example, do you want to be able to:
- Record audio, like vocals or guitars, onto separate tracks?
- Edit audio tracks, like removing clicks from recordings of vinyl LPs or mastering finished tracks?
- Work with synthesized sounds within the computer?
- Use loops (repeated sections of audio or MIDI) to make songs?
- Make podcasts, spoken word recordings or radio-style presentations?
- Make DJ mixes or mashups out of your MP3 collection?
- Use your computer for live performance on stage?
Things to Consider
Specialist or General?
You're unlikely to need a different piece of software for every task listed above - most music software has a huge range of features and can be used to do almost everything.
However, each application has its strengths and weaknesses and some are designed with a specific type of user in mind (eg. DJ's or guitarists), so it's important to do your research first, especially if it's essential that the software you choose can do specific tasks like live mixing or producing notation.
Beginner or Pro?
The right software to choose can also depend on your ability level. If you're just starting out, music software can seem quite complicated and daunting, so if you're not very confident using computers it could be easiest to start with something simple. Tutorial books and DVD's are also available for most major music software, which can help to make learning a new system quicker and easier.
Budget software and Upgrading
Many manufacturers make cut-down versions of their professional software with the more advanced features removed - these are good for getting to know the software, and since they're usually much cheaper than buying a full version they're also great if you're on a budget.
If you decide at a later date that you want the full version of the software, you can usually upgrade from your existing software at a discount, too.
Student or Teacher?
Many manufacturers offer a discount if the software is being used for educational purposes - if you're a student or a teacher, you could qualify for an educational discount on your software. This can also apply to charities, youth clubs and other educational organizations.
You'll still get a full, unlimited version of the software you choose, exactly the same as if you'd bought a full license. The amount of discount available and eligibility requirements can vary, but if you think you could be eligible check our Educational Licenses Section for details.
As with all software, it's very important to check that your computer meets the system requirements before you buy. With music software, the minimum system requirements are just that - a minimum.
Working with sound is a very intensive process that can put a lot of strain on your computer system, so it's wise to make sure that you're well within the limits and even consider an upgrade if necessary. This will ensure that your computer can run your software smoothly, without glitches and with minimum latency (delay).
If you're looking for inspiration, you can view special offers tailored to different types of musicians here:
Types of Music Software:
Sequencers were originally designed for programming MIDI data to make music - they helped the user to create a 'sequence' of commands telling the computer what notes to play, when, how loud and using which instrument sounds.
Modern sequencing software has a huge range of other features, the most obvious difference being the ability to work with audio and MIDI tracks together (for example, a computer-generated drum track with real guitar and vocals recorded over the top). A good sequencer will also allow you to edit, mix, add effects, import samples and loops, incorporate extra 'plug-in' pieces of software and even burn your finished track to CD or print notated sheet music.
Because modern sequencers do so much more than simple MIDI sequencing, they're often referred to as 'digital audio workstations' or DAW's. Often a DAW will have everything you need to go from idea to finished song in one package.
If you want to make multi-track recordings of songs, combine MIDI and synthesized sounds with recordings of live instruments, or generally use your computer as the equivalent of a recording studio, a DAW is a great starting point.
Audio and MIDI recording and editing, available in professional and Studio (lite) versions.
Audio and MIDI recording and editing, includes remixing features useful for DJs. Available in pro and LE versions.
Audio and MIDI recording and editing - for Mac only. Available in Pro and Express versions.
Audio and MIDI recording and editing, available in a range of versions designed for everybody from absolute beginners to professionals.
Loop-based sequencing software popular with dance or R’n’B musicians – available in Pro or Lite versions.
Combining intuitive tools to record, edit, mix and perform music with great-sounding loops, instruments and effects, Sequel is the perfect first step into music production and performance.
View Guide: 'How to set up a Home Studio'...
'Soft studios' work in a similar way to DAW's, but with one main difference - usually, they won't let you work with audio, only with MIDI synthesized sounds.
Soft studios work like a computer simulation of a recording studio - they usually include a huge library of loops, sounds (as well as the option to design your own using synthesizers or buy expansion packs with more presets) and effects from which you can create music.
Because soft studios are self-contained, they're good for beginners, and they're very popular with people making electronic music. Many artists also use them in addition to a DAW for making synth tracks, importing finished tracks into a DAW to overdub live instruments or vocals.
Rack-based soft studio – very user friendly. Also available – Reason Refills: sound library expansion packs for Reason.
Audio and MIDI recording, integrated WAV editor, samplers and synths. Avalable in XXL, Producer and Fruityloops versions.
Sony Sound Forge 9.0 Professional
An audio editor allows you to do just that – import, record and edit audio files.
Usually, audio editors will only allow you to work with one audio file at a time (although some allow you to multi-track), so they're best for doing detailed editing jobs on recordings (like removing clicks from vinyl transfers) or for polishing up finished tracks before burning them to CD.
Many audio editors come with a large collection of effects, ranging from reverb and EQ to noise removal or even voice removal for making karaoke-style backings.
Audio editors are popular for relatively simple music tasks like vinyl to digital transfer and podcasting. They're also often used in conjunction with a sequencer for more detailed editing jobs and mastering of finished songs.
|Sony Sound Forge|
Professional digital audio recording and editing application. Available in Professional or Lite versions.
Professional digital audio recording and editing applcation. Includes mastering and CD burning features. Available in Pro or Studio versions.
The industry standard stereo audio editing, processing, and mastering application for the Macintosh. Available in Pro and LE versions.
Sequencing or audio editing software usually comes with a set of built-in effects, but if you need more or higher quality effects it's possible to buy these separately as plug-ins.
An effects plug-in is a program that integrates into a larger piece of music software. Once installed, they are accessed in just the same way as the effects included with your software, so you don't need to load them separately or import files in and out of different pieces of software.
Effects plugins are available to emulate just about every studio effect (reverb, distortion, compression etc.) as well as offering more advanced features like pitch correction, noise reduction and acoustic compensation to counteract the acoustics of the room you're working in.
|IK Multimedia Classic Studio Reverb|
A suite of four high-end studio-quality reverbs modeled after popular outboard classics.
|Native Instruments Guitar Combos|
Guitar amp emulator software.
|Celemony Melodyne Plugin|
Correct pitch and timing, quantize audio, restructure melodies and more – it has never been so easy.
|IK Multimedia ARC System|
The First Acoustic Room Correction System in a Plug-in.
Virtual instruments are pieces of software that you can play via your computer using MIDI. Some virtual instruments have their own interface through which they can be played, or they can be used with a MIDI keyboard or the MIDI features of a sequencer or DAW.
Most virtual instruments operate as plugins in a sequencer, working in much the same way as effects plugins. Some also have a 'standalone' mode, which means they can be used without a host program.
Virtual instruments are available to mimic practically any instrument - many use recorded samples of actual instruments to give extremely realistic sounds. Other virtual instruments work as synthesizers, producing a vast range of computer-generated sounds that can be either loaded as presets or customised by the user.
High quality drum samples recorded from real kits. Includes extensive groove library.
Huge collection of orchestral samples played by the Czech Philharmonik Orchestra and recorded in the famous Dvorak Hall in Prague.
|Rob Papen Albino 3|
Plug-in synthesizer for PC and Mac.
Books, Guides and DVD's
If you're new to a piece of software or if you know the basics and want to learn more advanced techniques, a separate guide book or tutorial DVD can be a useful starting point.
Software manuals are a very useful reference, but can be quite technical. Accompanying tuition books often take a more practical approach to the software, focussing on making music rather than explaining every feature and function in detail.
Tuition books are also available to explain more general concepts in computer music-making, for example MIDI or drum programming. These are useful for learning the theory behind your software, and also for picking up new techniques for making music.
Tutorial books that focus on a particular software package often include CDs with demonstration projects, and DVDs usually run on your computer allowing you to interact with the tutorials.
|ASKVideo Cubase 4 Tutorial DVD Level 1|
earn everything from basic setup and tools to audio and MIDI recording, editing and mixing. This video tutorial is a must for every Cubase user, whether you are just starting out or a seasoned pro.
|Basic Rhythm Programming|
This handy pocket-sized guide will help you use today’s hardware and software sequencers to lay down professional-sounding grooves and produce music at home.
If you're unsure about any of the above, or if you're not sure which products would be best for you, please contact us and we'll be happy to offer friendly, impartial advice and recommendations.