To record or create music digitally you need a computer with ample RAM and storage, proper peripherals, and a software program or suite that turns your computer into a digital audio workstation (DAW). Some software gears itself to beginning users, while some caters to advanced users.
You’ll find different software handy for beat design than notation or lead sheet creation. You’ll find a different program useful for mixing MIDI tracks with digital audio recordings. The program or programs you choose depends on your goals, needs and experience level. Starting with producing software for beginners can let you learn the digital audio engineering process in an easy to use user interface. Jumping right into a full complement of Pro Tools with Finale Pro would be overwhelming and you would likely leave music. But, starting with a simple to use single program that creates beats or records one to four digital audio tracks lets you learn as you grow.
Like replacing your near field speakers and finding headphones that let you hear a pin drop, you’ll need to upgrade your software as you learn. You’ll chase the right software like a guitarist chases tone. As you learn digital audio recording, you will graduate to bigger and better programs.
Apple Garageband for Mac/iOSSony Acid Pro for WindowsFruity Loops Studio for Windows/Mac
Apple created Garageband as a starting point for digital audio. You’ll probably outgrow it quickly and advance to Sony Acid Pro or FL Studio which both provide room to grow as your skill set does. You can enter the intermediate phase with them or choose to move on to another program that lets you grow more. Try Fruity Loops for easy beat creation.
Cockos Reaper for Windows/MacPropellerhead Reason for Windows/Mac
Don’t fear the Reaper. It has tons of plugins you can download from its website. You can customize the plugins. You’ll benefit from applying effects to MIDI tracks and recorded tracks. Reason uses a drag and drop interface. You can splice audio and it features a seamless MIDI integration.
Avid Pro Tools for Windows/MacSteinberg Cubase for Windows/MacPreSonus Studio for Windows/MacApple Logic Pro for MacAbleton Live for Windows/Mac
By the time you reach the point of needing expert level software, you own basic to advanced digital audio recording equipment and you have an environment in which you can record tracks. You also know how to design beats, record studio or live, can splice audio, and integrate MIDI instruments and synthesizers. You probably know how to craft a lead sheet and may know musical notation.
You’re ready for software like Pro Tools, the industry standard. It’s used in most audio engineering teaching environments and many recording studios throughout the world. Your favorite artists probably used it on their last release, or at the very least, the audio engineer who did the final mix down did. If they did not use Pro Tools, they probably used Cubase. Programs at this level use 64-bit architecture to reduce the lag once associated with engineering audio on a computer.
At this level of engineering software you can edit pitch. You’ll access and edit sound libraries and drum kits. You can construct your own effects and kits. The other programs – Studio, Logic Pro and Live – offer similar features. They are less well-known and not as readily available in a studio environment. If you’re working in Pro Tools at home, you can continue working on the same project at any studio that uses it (which is most) by simply saving to the cloud.
As a bonus for yourself, once you reach a cozy comfort level with an expert level software, advance your knowledge and capabilities with Finale. You’ll need to read music, but this is easy to learn. Most church choirs teach it. Books geared to preschoolers all the way to adults exist to teach it. Once you learn to read music, pair Finale with a program like Pro Tools or Cubase. Via a MIDI instrument, you’ll be able to play a piece and not only record it, but notate it. The Finale software is the industry standard for creating sheet music. While it is not a necessity if you record rap, it does come in handy for blues, jazz, orchestral, rock and country. Although most professional musicians use lead sheets, student musicians, choirs and teaching environments require sheet music.
Getting started on your musical journey is as simple as a computer upgrade, a mic and a software program. You’ll need to be knowledge hungry because self-taught audio engineering has a steep learning curve. The programs exist though and most come with ample tutorials and manuals.