Best Music Production Software: Essential DAWs & VST Plugins - Careers in Music
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If you’re like me, you’re producing music in a non-ideal space with a non-ideal budget.

Sometimes you have to work with what you’ve got. But just because you’re a bedroom Producer doesn’t mean you can’t use some of the best music production software possible.

And good software can be anywhere from affordable to free. Read on to discover our favorite plugins for the home Producer!

Our picks for the best music production software:

  • Reaper
  • GarageBand
  • Logic Pro X
  • Pro Tools First
  • Ableton Live
  • FL Studio
  • Cubase

Read on to discover even more of our favorite plugins for the home Producer!

What Is a DAW and Why Is It So Important?

The main piece of production software you’ll need is a digital audio workstation (DAW). This is the program that allows you to actually record music and then edit and mix it.

Before the recording industry became so digitized, Audio Engineers would work with a physical audio workstation – the big board you see in studios with all the dials, knobs, buttons, and lights. All of that has now been made available electronically in a DAW.

DAWs make it possible for bedroom Producers to make music just like studio Producers. Today’s software has leveled the playing field quite a bit.

Choosing the Right DAW

We’ll get to the top DAWs in a second, but first, we should talk about how to choose the right DAW for yourself.

One thing to remember is that each DAW has its pros, cons, and unique features. And each DAW will have a slightly different workflow and interface.

It’s all about what you need and how a piece of software can meet that need. All of them will help you produce music, but some of them will have designs that work better with certain styles of music.

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The Best Music Production Software (DAWs)

All of these DAWs work with MIDI and live instruments and they have different capability levels when it comes to recording, editing, and mixing. So I’d recommend checking out each description and then trying the free trials for the DAWs that you think could work for you.

These 7 DAWs are ordered by my recommendation for home Producers:

Reaper (Windows / macOS)

I wanted to start with my DAW of choice, Reaper. It’s easy to use and can do pretty much anything the well-known programs can do.

I like that it’s good for beginners because of its simplicity, but it’s a program you can dive deeper into as you become a better Engineer and Producer.

And here’s the kicker: you get a 60-day free trial of the full version. Then a license is just $60, which is probably the best price-quality ratio on the market.

GarageBand (macOS)

Another DAW with a simple interface and high-quality tools is GarageBand. If you currently have or soon will have an Apple computer, know that it comes preloaded with the program.

When Apple started releasing its earliest versions, it was actually pretty revolutionary for bedroom Producers. These types of tools, sounds, and professionally recorded loops had not been so easily available to people.

It’s so efficient that stars like Usher, Rihanna, and Kendrick Lamar have used it to create music.

Logic Pro X (macOS)

If you want a more robust version of GarageBand with more capabilities, Logic Pro X is your answer. It’s Apple’s “pro-level” DAW and is in most full-service recording studios. But it has a simple enough design that newbies can pick it up quickly.

It has a ton of superb plugins, a smooth interface, and the same huge loop library you have access to with GarageBand. If you’re relatively new to home production and have a bit of a DAW budget, Logic Pro X is a solid choice.

Pro Tools First (Windows / macOS)

Another great beginner DAW is Pro Tools First. Its older and wiser sibling, Pro Tools, is the industry standard. So First is a reliable program to start out with.

Pro Tools First allows only 16 tracks, but that’s enough to make a professional-sounding song. Also, I should mention that Pro Tools projects won’t open in a Pro Tools First project, which can make collaborations difficult.

But don’t be mistaken: First is a solid first option if you’re new to home production.

Ableton Live (Windows / macOS)

Ableton Live lives up to the fact that they’re one of the most famous DAWs. It’s got an interface that’s easy to understand and users seem to like the workflow of it — its name comes from how smooth it works for live performances.

Electronic Producers gravitate toward it because it offers special sampling plugins, and Ableton continues to drop new sample packs.

Plus, huge names like Chance The Rapper, Childish Gambino, and Elton John have used Ableton Live for songs that became huge hits.

FL Studio (Windows / macOS)

FL Studio’s former name, “Fruity Loops,” explains its original aim – to help Producers make dope beats quickly. And it’s still good at it. The interface is simple and the built-in virtual instrument plugins can give you a solid foundation to stand on.

Plus, the parent company, Image-Line, continues to put out updates, which are freely available to anyone who has purchased a license for the DAW.

Cubase (Windows / macOS)

Cubase is one of the longest-running DAWs, originally starting as a MIDI app. So the MIDI editing capabilities are top-notch, plus Steinberg (the parent company) has improved its audio editing and mixing skills.

You can use it to create sheet music, easily sequence virtual instruments, and give your songs a full mix.

Other Music Production Software

After you grab one of these DAWs, you can start checking out other music production software, namely plugins. Below are some of the best plugins I use regularly (except for iZotope Ozone 8 Standard, which I’ve heard fantastic things about and plan to get for myself).


Our absolute favorite beat making tools are:


This plugin gives you eight hip-hop kits, nine vintage kits, and a handful of other pop and RnB kits. You also have full ADSR control (Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release) as well as volume and reverb.

Not only is it super fun to play around with, but it also delivers high-quality sounds, especially for a free VST plugin.

Addictive Drums 2

AD2 samples real drums; they recorded a human drummer hitting a real drum in a professional recording studio, then sampled each hit and MIDI-ified it.

You can pick your drum kit by style — Soul And R&B, Funk, Modern Jazz, Indie, and a bunch of other options.


Regroover is a pretty nifty piece of software — it can take a drum loop and separate the different parts of the beat. So you drop a loop into the editor, let the software analyze it, then it will deliver to you four tracks with the different parts of the drumbeat.

From there, you can sample the individual parts and make your own beat with those sounds.

Keys, Synths, and Strings

Our picks for the best keys, synths, and strings include:

Addictive Keys

XLN Audio is the same company that makes Addictive Drums 2, and they approached Addictive Keys the same way. They sampled real piano so home Producers and the pros could get live piano sounds in their songs. This is great news for those of us who don’t own a real piano, which is probably most of us.


Dexed is a free synth plugin that has 30 sounds that vary from a smooth swelling sound to a harsher robotic sound. It also lets you adjust the settings and number of layers so you can refine the synth sound you want.

I prefer the softer synth sounds, so I find that a lot of the options are difficult to work with. But if you’re an EDM Producer, there are plenty of sounds that will get people’s ears perked up.

DSK Strings

DSK Strings is a plugin that gives you plenty of string sounds: cello, violin, viola, and contrabass, both with a bow and pizzicato (plucked) sounds. It also has sections with all of those instruments.

It’s a free plugin, so it takes a little tweaking to make the strings sound closer to realistic, but once you find your preferred setting, this plugin can give you nice background orchestral sounds.

Mixing and Mastering Plugins

Check out these picks for the best mixing and mastering plugins:

iZotope Stereo Imager

iZotope’s Stereo Imager plugin is a nifty little free tool to help widen your mixes. The bulk of work that goes into getting a wide mix starts with panning and delay, but a stereo widener can add extra width.

The trick is to use just enough that your ears experience the wideness, but not too much that it starts to cause phasing issues.

iZotope Ozone 8 Standard

Mastering is the stage of music production that most home Producers don’t understand. And for good reason. Fortunately, iZotope Ozone 8 Standard makes mastering a bit more manageable. It has seven built-in modules that will help polish up your mix into the master it deserves.

Its Master Assistant will analyze your audio in order to set your dials at a starting point that makes sense. From there, you have control over all the settings needed for mastering, like compression, saturation, stereo width, and more.


What is the best music production software for beginners?

Alison Stolpa (Careers in Music Staff)

Our picks for the best music production software for beginners include:

  • Audacity
  • GarageBand
  • Reaper
  • Pro Tools | First
  • FL Studio

If you want to know more about these software options, check out our blog on the best DAWs for beginners.

Can I teach myself music production?

Alison Stolpa (Careers in Music Staff)

Yes! Thousands of people have taught themselves music production by getting a cheap or free DAW and some free plugins and watching YouTube tutorials or taking courses.

If you want to go deep on your music production learning, there are lots of great online music production courses where you can learn from a Producer at the top of their game. These are convenient, do-at-your-own-pace courses that are often a little cheaper than enrolling at a music production school.

If you are interested in attending school for music production, you’ll not only get a well-rounded musical and technical education, you’ll also gain valuable connections in your local performance and music business communities.

Think about what you want from your music production education and what you want to achieve in your career and you should be able to figure out if you want to take classes online, enroll in school, or teach yourself via online tutorials.

Is it hard to produce music?

Alison Stolpa (Careers in Music Staff)

Like most things, when you’re just getting started it can be hard to produce music. As someone who has attempted to teach myself music production, I can attest to the amount of dedication and time it takes to learn music production. DAWs and recording gear are not always super intuitive if you don’t already have a technical music background.

However, once you’ve gotten into the groove, music production becomes less hard. You’ll eventually get into your flow once you’ve dedicated time and effort to regular music production practice. Eventually, producing tracks will be second nature and you can just focus on letting your creativity shine.

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