What Are the Best Music Production Programs for Beginners?
Whether you feel like music is your future or you just love it as a passionate hobby, digital music production is a talent worth exploring. An unbelievable amount of music is created today by newbies with no professional training or academic learning who create magic on laptops or even mobile devices. Relying solely on their love of music — and perhaps some natural talent — they channel their intense burning desire to create something new and learn to master simple recording equipment.
With all the technology available, it has never been easier to start transitioning all that music in your head into digital recorded form. We rounded up some of the best music production programs for beginners, but keep in mind that the self-taught process isn’t the same for everyone. Before you pay for any music production software, look for free trials — most offer them — and check out the software for at least a few days before deciding on the option that works best for you.
Digital Audio Workstation
To get started, you’re going to need a laptop, desktop computer or tablet equipped with enough speed and RAM to process digital recordings. The software you choose will come with its own digital audio workstation (DAW), which is the type of technology professionals use to record and edit music. A DAW provides you with a screen interface that allows you to visualize the audio tracks you’re putting together.
From the visual interface, you can create sounds, add library-enabled sounds — drums, horns, violins, etc. — copy tracks together and blend them into a "mix" for your audio project. Digital audio workstation controls also help you add sound effects like echoes and reverbs, duplicate a random sound throughout a track, and much more.
Pro Tools by Avid
Avid Pro Tools is the software package that literally launched the digital music production era. Before Pro Tools, producers and musicians only had access to old school production boards, which required a lot of trial and error to create the desired effect. Today, all the other music production programs out there owe their very existence to Pro Tools.
Although Pro Tools is the most renowned audio program on the market, it can be tricky to learn, and it often takes users months to master the intricacies. Beginners are encouraged to start with Avid’s basic software package called Pro Tools First, which they can use free of charge. It comes with limited features, but it’s a great way to take the first baby steps toward mastering the skills necessary for digital audio production. When you’re ready, the more feature-rich paid Pro Tools versions come with free trials.
GarageBand (Apple Mac)
GarageBand for Mac/iOS is one of the most popular recording tools for beginners. The software features an easy-to-learn screen programming interface for recording and is loaded with powerful features that can even make your bedroom guitar strums sound professional. Even better, the application is available for free on iPads, iPhones and Mac computers.
It comes with built-in tutorials to help beginners learn the basics and start producing their own digital music. If you play an instrument yourself, you can plug your piano or guitar into a recording box to interface with your GarageBand set up, or you can access hundreds of pre-programmed virtual instrument sounds that are available and free to use in the app. Once you start to master the basics of GarageBand, more advanced recording tips can help you flawlessly clean up your customized recordings and mixes and do so much more.
Audacity is an open-source digital audio recording software. If you’re not familiar with the concept of open-source software, it means you can use it absolutely free on Windows, Mac iOS and other compatible operating systems — no strings attached. The full software suite never costs a penny to use, yet it still includes powerful multi-track audio recording and editing software tools.
Use the Audacity software to plug in any recorded file in all the major audio formats and then edit, cut or duplicate the music in any way you want. A key benefit of the program’s open-source nature is that it allows you to create and add effects and plug-ins almost at will.
Cakewalk by Bandlab
Cakewalk by BandLab is one of the top music production tools for professional and amateur music makers alike. Built for Windows users, Cakewalk lets you compose songs and tracks using some of the program’s built-in songwriting tools. It also offers multiple audio track capabilities that allow you to cut, edit, add parts, change the pitch, change the timing and mix sounds to achieve a near-professional finish.
Another nice touch offered by Cakewalk is the chance to master the mixes you’ve created and then directly export the songs to music sites and social media destinations like SoundCloud, Bandcamp and YouTube, all within the Cakewalk DAW. It takes a while to learn how to use the software, but Cakewalk has an abundant supply of helpful tutorials, and discussion forums are filled with helpful tips from other users to help you learn more about specific recording and editing techniques.
Mixcraft by Acoustica
Mixcraft by Acoustica may be one of the easiest digital audio workstations to learn, thanks to a full complement of recording, instrumentation, mixing and other tools that are extremely intuitive. You can easily learn to cut, paste, edit, change and alter recorded or virtual music using this program. The company released Mixcraft 9 in early 2020, and the fully-loaded program includes all the latest bells and whistles to maximize your potential in the audio kingdom.
Acoustica notes that Mixcraft 9 is its most comprehensive music production interface to date. The suite gives you a large collection of effects and plug-ins, a larger drum and instrument loop library, and mixing and mastering tools to ensure your songs sound fantastic before you share them with the world.