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Best Music Making Software of 2022
March 28, 2022
The best-music making software allows artists and producers to work with sounds digitally, whether or not you have a live band or instrumentation. Often referred to as digital audio workstations (DAWs), this software provides a detailed interface for recording, mixing, and mastering your work.
Choosing the right music software comes down to your own personal needs. Since many options have similar features, your level of comfort with a particular interface often takes precedence. Most music-making apps also feature their own built-in sound libraries to compare against each other, such as the sound of drum machines.
In this guide, we review the best music-making software available today with information on key features, product highlights, and pricing.
Based in Germany and California, Ableton is an industry stalwart that’s extremely popular with recording artists. In particular, the software Ableton Live is well-liked by electronic music producers and DJs, thanks to the homemade audio and effects packs. Those perks make it very useful for live performances, too.
As of March 2022, Ableton Live is available in 3 versions. Each has its own one-time price, with higher-priced plans offering more features and better audio handling.
Intro: Good basic plan with 16 audio and MIDI tracks, 16 scenes, 2 send and return tracks, 8 mono audio input channels, and 8 mono audio output channels.
Standard: Helps professionals expand scope with unlimited audio and MIDI tracks, unlimited scenes, and 256 mono audio input and output channels. Adds audio-slicing and audio-to-MIDI features.
Suite: Greatly expands the amount of content you can manage per track, as well as the amount of built-in content, including audio and effects packs.
If budget is an issue, you’ll be pleased with the Intro version of Ableton Live 11. It’s packed with features such as Comping, MIDI polyphonic expression, tempo following, and note and velocity chance. Standard and Suite offer convenient linked-track editing, so you can manage more tracks at once.
3 versions: Intro ($99), Standard ($449), Suite ($749)
Popular with producers and performers
Massive built-in sound library
2. Avid Pro Tools
Avid Pro Tools is undeniably one of the most popular studio software options in the world. Like Ableton, Pro Tools is full featured and supports a companion hardware line, with most of the interface designed to sync up seamlessly with a full-scale studio environment.
For career musicians with a reasonable budget to spend on production, Pro Tools is superb music-maker software that supports quality and quantity. The latest version is available in 2 tiers for a monthly subscription that grants access to all features.
Pro Tools: The starting Pro Tools plan offers much of the same functionality as Ultimate, with less support for complex workflows and extensive hardware suites.
Pro Tools Ultimate: Substantially boosts the scale and complexity of support audio, with lots of added features. Includes in-the-box dubbing, advanced audio editing, field recorder workflows, and more.
Pro Tools is a top-shelf candidate for professionals, especially engineers and hardware-obsessed artists. It’s also no longer restricted to studio hardware, so you can work with Pro Tools in your home setup.
2 tiers: Standard ($29.99), Ultimate ($79.99)
Popular with studios and professionals
Established industry benchmark
3. PreSonus Studio One
Founded in Louisiana, circa 1995, the earliest form of PreSonus was created to help musicians Jim Odom and Brian Smith prepare their music for CD recording. Their PreSonus Studio One has many of the same capabilities as the competition but with a more intuitive interface. It doesn’t hurt their credentials that Fender is set to acquire the business.
Studio One is currently offered in 3 formats, with a streamlined free version, Studio One Prime, made for newcomers. Here’s what you get with the paid options:
Artist: Features “drag-and-drop workflow” system and unlimited tracks, effects, and plug-ins. PreSonus recommends it for musicians and podcasters.
Professional: Adds support for native plug-ins, Celemony Melodyne Essentials for managing vocals, more workflow features, and built-in audio content.
Sphere: Available only as a monthly ($14.95) or annual ($164.95) subscription. Adds the Presence XT Editor for editing samples, notation software from Notion, and even more content and plug-ins.
In addition to its interface and workflow features, Studio One appeals to artists with an existing investment in Fender. While the merger is in the works as of this writing, it stands to reason Studio One’s support for Fender will benefit from the connection.
Monthly subscription and/or one-time payment
3 versions: Artist ($99.95), Professional ($399.95), Sphere (monthly/annual)
Strong candidate for fans of Fender products
Popular workflow and interface
Developed by two students at Carnegie Mellon University, Audacity is an open-source, free music-making software with more than two decades under its belt. It allows you to make your own modifications and additions to the core program and sell your own version of the software. It’s streamlined to run smoothly on most operating systems, too.
You can write your own plug-ins for Audacity, but it also supports LADSPA, LV2, Nyquist, VST, and Audio Unit effects. If you aren’t working with digital source material, you need a mic and a mixer, but this software is a fantastic starting point. Podcasters and other audio professionals will love it, too.
Free to use
Open-source and customizable
Easy to run on just about any system
5. Waveform Pro & Free
With roots in U.K. studio technology, Traktion’s Waveform Pro 12 is another standout that’s popular for its unique interface. Traktion also offers Waveform Free, which is stellar free music production software with very few content limitations and restrictions compared to other free offerings.
Here’s how the 2 differentiate:
Free: One of the most full-featured free DAWs available. Thanks to extensive functionality and limited restrictions, Waveform Free can help you start making music at any scale.
Pro: Available in a variety of bundles to help address other needs, the core Waveform Pro 12 software is $149. The “Everything Bundle” costs $999, and it adds extra audio content and production tools.
Though there are plenty of reasons to consider the Pro version, Waveform is an obvious candidate for the best free music-making software in particular. Thanks to its lack of content limitations, even a professional can get a lot more mileage.
One-time payment, plus add-ons
Available in multiple bundles
Extensive features for a free DAW
No track limits
6. Steinberg Cubase
Released more than 3 decades ago, German audio tech firm Steinberg’s Cubase software began its life as a MIDI sequencer based on the Atari ST. With such a long history, Cubase’s interface has changed greatly over the years through continued innovation.
Cubase 12 is available in 3 different packages:
Elements: Bread-and-butter DAW with notable built-in features, though it includes limitations on complexity that may feel restrictive.
Artist: At the artist level, this package unlocks more of the workflow features you need for a true studio environment. They include combined select tools mode for using object and range selection at once, and ARA 2 support so you can get the most from your plug-ins.
Pro: Dramatically expands plug-in support and management options for composition and mixing. Ideal for brisk workflows and artists who need an extensive built-in sound library.
Steinberg supports mobile and tablet recording through the Cubasis app, now in its third iteration. It’s well-rated in both the App Store and Google Play, and even works with the Chrome OS, making it one of the best music-making apps in terms of versatility.
3 versions: Elements ($99.99), Artist ($329.99), Pro ($579.99)
Support for mobile music making
Long history in the industry
Reaper is designed for simplicity and efficiency. It's popular for its easy-to-run software, affordable licensing options, and emphasis on practical recording features. You’ll find minimal restrictions and plenty of support for most standard plug-ins.
There are 2 license packages for Reaper, Discounted and Commercial, but both provide the same functionality. This makes it a useful tool for home and teaching environments in particular.
Students have plenty of room to learn with Reaper, and enough functionality to keep building on their experience. You’ll also benefit from Reaper’s active user community, one of the driving forces behind updates and changes.
Discounted ($60) or Commercial ($225) licenses
Discounted license is perfect for home and school use
Easy-to-run software with very few built-in restrictions
8. iZotope Music Production Suite
The iZotope Music Production Suite is a solid standalone DAW you can buy outright or as part of a bundle. If you go the latter route, you’ll find ways to expand your studio tech or sound library.
The core suite includes tons of useful plug-ins for instrument balancing, fine reverb control, and mastering your tracks. You can upgrade some of the included tools to pro versions or experiment with other features as part of the subscription tier. Base costs and bundle prices vary, but subscriptions are currently priced at $199 per year or $19.99 per month.
One-time payment or subscription
Available in multiple bundles
Good audio repair tools
Comprehensive core plug-ins
There is a wide range of prices and features with today’s music creation software, but the good news is you have plenty of options to consider for almost any application. Free music makers like Waveform Free or Audacity are more than adequate for basic needs. Otherwise, professionals may consider PreSonus Sphere or Steinberg Cubase Pro the best music-making software.
About the Author: Dwight Pavlovic is a contributing writer for HP Tech Takes. Dwight is a music and technology writer based out of West Virginia.
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