Remember the iconic film, the Wizard of Oz? The giant floating head bellowing powerful words throughout the room was certainly the first place the main characters’ eyes gravitated to. But behind a curtain was a technical wizard, pulling the strings and making the whole thing happen.
This technical wizard could be comparable to the modern music producer. This isn’t to say musicians don’t play a big part in the equation – they do make the music, after all. But as far as actually producing the music, cleaning up the tracks, mixing them at the right levels, and putting that final touch of polish on it, it’s the producer who does the bulk of the work in that aspect.
Producers need a lot of things to be successful. A good music vernacular helps – know whether to tell your vocalist they’re flat or sharp. A good ear also helps – because some musicians may stumble into the studio and began jamming away even while out of tune. But as far as tools go, music production software is something every studio producer needs.
If you’ve ever considered a career in music production or even thought about picking it up as a hobby, you need the right software. It can help you tune up questionable pitches, enhance rhythmic accuracy, achieve the perfect balance between tracks, and turn a decent jam session into a great-sounding work of art that keeps listeners smashing the replay button.
Why is Music Production Software So Important?
For a music producer, their software is their hub. Music production software, also known as a digital audio workstation (DAW), is crucial to producers. In a broad sense, it’s their world. Sure, other studio equipment may be important. The interfaces, the mics, the amps, the monitors – all of it plays an important role in making sure the sound is right and the musicians can perform at their best.
But producers are responsible for ironing out those small details and catching those things other people may look over. Is the beat right for the song, or could it stand to be tweaked a little? When the vocalist sustains that long note in the chorus, do they warble a little too far off pitch and need to be brought back just a tad?
These are the questions you will ask yourself as a producer – and if you have the right software, you’ll have the ability to offer answers as well. Music software allows producers to do it all – they can monitor recordings as they’re captured, edit tracks in real time, apply effects, adjust pitch and duration, mix down tracks, master entire songs, and more.
A producer’s studio may be their domain, but their production software is the centerpiece of their world. Good music production software can put your musical production career on the right path straight from the beginning. And your skill level, whether beginner or intermediate, will help determine what type of music production software you choose.
Factors to Consider When Buying Music Software
When a person looks at a piece of software, the most important thing is their ability to understand it. No one can create good results, especially for something like music, with a program they don’t understand well. Depending on how long you’ve worked with music production tools, you’ll need to choose your selection accordingly.
Any music software you choose should have the learning curve applicable to your experience. If you’re the type of person who is just getting started, you may want to look into the more simplistic options on the market. These usually come with basic effects and recording functionality but skip out on a lot of the more complex add-ons. As you become more experienced, you may upgrade your DAW or replace it altogether.
You should also consider the type of music you want to produce. Some software is better suited for certain genres and emerging musical trends. Depending on what you’re interested in, research options on the market and see what producers who are already established in your field of choice have to say about their choice software.
For the sake of making upgrading or expanding easy on yourself, choose a DAW that is already equipped for scalability. Many of them have their own dedicated sites where software owners can log in and check for updates, newly released extras, and packages that include everything from virtual instruments to effects.
It’s also worth considering the type of situations your software may need to be geared toward. While some of them are designed to be used for live performances, others are more equipped for MIDI sequencing. Once again, it comes down to what direction you’d like to take your musical production aspirations.
What Are Some Good Options to Consider?
In 2018, there are plenty of music production software producers on the market. Many of them take pride in releasing new and improved programs that give music producers unparalleled options to guide their musical journey. Here are some of the top options for music production software available today.
Acoustica Mixcraft Pro Studio 7
This is a classic example of a mid-tier DAW. It’s a great demonstration of how DAW creators can offer a value-based product or one that seems to stuff as many features in as possible for the price it comes with.
This software comes in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions and uses a handy performance panel to help studio producers get real-time information about how the tracks are looking as well as how they’re sounding. With 18 instruments and 52 effects as well as the option to upload tracks directly to popular onboard platforms, this software is a great choice.
The downsides to this software are the simple-sounding samples and the fact some plug-ins take quite a bit of clicking around to access.
Image Line FL Studio 12 Producer Edition
Fruity Loops has had a storied evolution from their humble beginnings as a loop sequencer software company in the early 2000s. Now their Studio 12 Producer software offers a cleaner interface with better-looking vector graphics than before. It also comes with touchscreen capabilities with compatible monitors.
This DAW also has plenty of plugins and editing accuracy that even lets you tighten up ghost notes. The only real downfall of it is that Apple lovers are left out on this one – Image Line FL Studio 12 Producer Edition is currently compatible with Windows, not Mac.
Ableton Live 9
Ableton is another popular name that’s been around in music production for a long time. Their Live 9 software provides a long list of exclusive features including new controls for both recording and session view. The software even has its own push controller, making it easy for producers to make sequences, create beats, and more.
The software gives users access to a number of free patches and add-ons, with effects like the Glue compressor bringing a unique sound that’s hard to emulate with other compressors. With a library of content so extensive it’s almost exhausting and an improved browser to make finding things easy, this software has few drawbacks. The only real negative is the learning curve.
These are just a few of the popular music production software choices a person may choose. While these are modern options, it is possible to find some great DAWs by looking at the classics from previous years as well. Older software may not have the same type of compatibility as newer, whether it's with hardware or software. If you’re looking to add a new program to your studio, make sure it won’t require you to overhaul your existing equipment lineup.
What Should Starters Look For in Music Production Software?
You may have some experience with music production in the past. But if you’re looking for the right tool to really kickstart your career as a producer, what should you go with?
The answer depends on what you need in your software. You may find that you need a software with options for MIDI sequencing to help you craft creative instrument tracks. Or, you may discover you need something that supports live modifications on the fly so you can get that studio sound even in a show environment. Whatever the need you have, make sure your music software of choice comes from a proven developer and that it has a learning curve you adjust to quickly.
When you look over a software’s list of features, can you get the gist of it? If the answer is yes, the included manuals and support information could help carry you the rest of the way.
You should also make sure your software works with the plugins and effects that you plan on using. Nothing is worse than having a high-end DAW that just won’t agree with your preferred VST.
Music production software is something every producer needs. But if you’re the type of producer looking to really kick your career into high gear, go with one of the proven models from a company like the ones mentioned above, or those similar to them. And remember – the software that lets you create the music you want is the best software, no matter its price tag or list of features.