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Music Production can be many things.

The best software for Music Production 2022 includes:

  • PreSonus Studio One 5
  • Steinberg Cubase Pro 12
  • Image Line FL Studio 20
  • Ableton Live 11
  • Bitwig Studio 4
  • Reason Studios Reason 12
  • Apple Logic Pro
  • AVID Pro Tools

The process of music producing has never been more accessible. Whether at home as a hobby, as a professional artist, or working in a studio, you’re likely to be using the same software tools. Software for music production goes by the unhelpful name of Digital Audio Workstation or DAW but has come to provide so much more than dealing with audio.

Your typical DAW can run on any Apple Mac or Windows PC; some can also run on Linux. All you need is the DAW software and an audio interface that will provide the physical audio inputs for recording and the outputs for connection of high-quality sound to your speakers. Your computer becomes a functioning studio for music production, composing, sound design, and recording with these two things.

Most DAWs offer a very similar feature set. Along with the recording and mixing of multi-channel audio, you’ll find sound processing effects, MIDI sequencing, score writing, virtual instruments and synthesizers, drum machines and performance looping tools. It can be an entire virtual studio under the control of your mouse. However, DAWs can also integrate with hardware gear from external synths to instruments, effects processors and outboard. Just because the DAW is based on the computer doesn’t mean your whole studio and all the creative tools we like to use have to be.

Competition between DAWs is fierce, and there are many flavors, looks and approaches. Some have entry-level versions that let you get the hang of the workflow before upgrading to the more professional features. With others, you have to jump straight in and see how it goes.

The price can vary from free to hundreds of dollars and ongoing subscriptions. So choosing the right one for you can be difficult and expensive. The critical thing to know is that you can produce music with all of them, so whichever way you go will work to a degree. What’s best for you is a different matter, but hopefully, our guide to the best music production software will give you some clues as to which ones have the features that resonate with your creative endeavours.

Best Music Production Software FAQ

Which software is best for music production?

Robin Vincent

In my view PreSonus Studio One is the most comprehensive piece of music production software. It ticks all the boxes of providing a professional recording environment while having a clean and uncluttered workflow. It comes with a suite of high quality audio plugins, superb mixing and routing options and includes a complete mastering solution. Studio One has numerous creative tools for songwriters, sound designers, beat makers and performers. It’s not just a blank canvas it works with you in your artistic process. It has free, cheap and professional versions it can grow as your skills develop. Nothing else has the scope or fluidity of Studio One.


What is the easiest software to make music?

Robin Vincent

DAWs can be complex and take time to understand so if you are looking for quick and easy music making then you should check out some of the fun music making phone and tablet apps. Check out apps like Blocs Wave, Moog Animoog, Propellerhead Figure and Music Maker Jam. Then, when you’re ready to step up into music production you should try PreSonus Studio One, Propellerhead Reason or Bitwig Studio as great places to start.


Is Ableton Live better than FL Studio?

Robin Vincent

These are two very different DAWs although both find themselves favoured by electronic music producers. Ableton’s focus is on loop production and granular manipulation of parameters. It excels at reworking sequences, automating devices and creative sound generation. FL Studio is a powerhouse of synths and sampling where the focus is on generating huge sounds and big beats. Neither is really better as they work very differently and don’t really lack anything.

Best Music production software 2022

PreSonus Studio One 5

Commonly you’ll find Avid Pro Tools at the top of “best music production software” lists. While you will find it in top studios and it is used by many professionals I believe that Studio One beats it in all the most important respects. Studio One is cleaner, more compatible, easy to understand, fluid, fun and creative. It has diverse song writing tools, clever sequencing devices and rock solid audio editing. Pro Tools is one of the hardest DAWs to learn and while it shows its quality in experienced and knowledgeable professional environments it should never be considered the best for anyone who is not trained for it.

On the other hand Studio One is like a breath of fresh air. It’s an openly creative space that invites you to play with sound, fool around with step-sequencing and randomisation. It can help you work with chords as you’re writing songs, provide tones for your guitar, tuning for your voice and multi layered audio editing and arranging. It has scratch pads for messing with ideas and instrument builders for putting together configurations of software and hardware synthesizers. Where Pro Tools focuses on doing a job, Studio One helps you release your creativity.

Then, once you’ve finished your track you can take it into the mastering suite and prepare it for release. Or you can pull it into the Show Page to build your new song into your set list for live performance. Studio One can be your band, part of your band or manage the flow of music to your fellow musicians.

With every version PreSonus comes up with new and innovative ideas to take us forward and bring out the best in your music. And there’s a whole online Sphere of collaboration and content that you can hook into. Don’t be fooled by Pro Tools; give Studio One a try.

Studio One is available in Prime, Artist and Professional versions for every budget and ability.

Prime – Free
Artist – $99.95
Professional – $399.95

Pros & Cons

  • Clear and tidy approach
  • Smooth workflow with audio and instruments
  • Exceptional mixing console
  • Professional effects and software instruments
  • Innovative song writing and editing tools
  • Show Page for managing live performance
  • Interface is a bit plain
  • Icons and elements can get very small
  • Fewer included instruments
  • Tends to use different terms to other DAWs for same functions

presonus.com

Steinberg Cubase Pro 12

Cubase has been around for almost as long as computers have been involved in making music. It pretty much invented the DAW format and all the protocols and features that go with it. Plugins and Virtual Studio Technology all came from Steinberg along with the “ASIO” technology that’s enabled low latency multi-channel audio recording, monitoring and virtual instrument response. These achievements don’t make it a great DAW but they certainly laid the foundations for what is undoubtedly a fine piece of music production software.

The layout of Cubase is not unlike Studio One where it offers a cleaner and more streamlined approach to previous versions that makes for a relaxed experience. It has superb audio editing with warping tools for quantization, fine detail automation and vocal comping. You can do spectral editing, pitch correction and audio alignment with quick strokes of the mouse. The inbuilt sampler is excellent where you can drop in any audio files for instant beat creation or melodic inspirations.

For sequencing there’s the helpful chord track, and chord extraction from audio along with scale assistance and intuitive editing on individual note expression. The drum editor is unbeatable with different drum maps, tempo detection and in-place editing. You can get down and dirty with MIDI by accessing the List Editor and create complex functions in the Logical Editor.

The mixing console is like working in a professional studio with advanced channel strips, side-chaining and EQ with spectral comparison. The mixer holds a complete undo history so you can step back in time or you can take snapshots to move between different mixes. A full suite of audio analyzing tools will help visualise your mix and make the best decisions.

Cubase is competent, deep and detailed while remaining easy to use and fun to work with. Comes with a lot of good plugins and virtual instruments to get your started and is ready to expand. There are a number of versions but the main three are Elements, Artist and Pro depending on your budget and feature requirements.

Cubase Elements – $99.99
Cubase Artist – $329.99
Cubase Pro – $579.99

Pros & Cons

  • Been around a very long time
  • Excellent included instruments
  • Great channel strip
  • Fantastic integrated sampler
  • Solid and dependable
  • Interface can get crowded
  • Feels a bit big and bloated
  • Not as innovative as other DAWs

Street Price: $579
steinberg.net

ImageLine FL Studio

Sometimes FL Studio can fly a bit under the radar. It doesn’t seem to have the pedigree or smooth aesthetic of some of the other DAWs. Maybe because it began life a fun piece of shareware called Fruity Loops but it also enabled a whole generation of bedroom musicians to write banging electronic dance music. These days FL Studio has all the trimmings of professional DAW but at the centre is a pumping heart of beats, loops and huge synth sounds.

FL Studio works differently. It sees tracks as interchangeably MIDI or audio, samples or instruments. Whatever you want to do can be arranged in the Playlist editor. Each slice of the action can hold notes, audio, sounds, automation and you have free reign to pull things about, reorder, move, loop and flow your music. All your data is represented in the Browser so you don’t need to keep everything on the page. It’s a very fast and intuitive way of working.

For MIDI FL Studio has one of the best piano rolls in the business. You can generate notes and automation, MIDI controls and expression and you have a wide range of tools to manipulate them. This couples with the classic step sequencer interface that’s been there from day one where you can drop in the quickest beats and rhythms. The audio mixer console is also quite unique with a useful way of visualising audio and a completely modular way of routing.

The selection of virtual instruments and plugins is vast. No other software comes with as many. You’ll find some of the fattest synths, basslines and weird noises. There are tools for do all sorts of crazy stuff to your tracks. It is simply dripping in creativity.

FL Studio in unusual, fast, creative and full of furious potential. Producer is the main version with some bundle offers to include more plugins and content. Or if you are all about synths and sequencing then start with the entry level Fruity version.

FL Studio Fruity – $99
FL Studio Producer – $199
FL Studio Signature – $299

Pros & Cons

  • Completely different feel to other DAWs
  • Fantastically open browser and playlist arrange page
  • Huge array of synths and effects
  • Loops and step sequencing
  • Fun and colorful
  • Doesn’t feel as serious as other DAWs
  • Simple audio editing
  • Windows only

ImageLine.com

Ableton Live 11

Ableton Live lacks some of the deeper audio editing and mixing that most DAWs demand but as this is a list about music production then there’s no doubt that Live is excellent at generating music. It was originally all about loops in live performance and that is still a focus but the Ableton Live system is so wonderfully open and experimental that it excels as a song writing tool.

Live doesn’t look or behave like anything else. The front end is all about loops, stacks of loops. Loops of audio, loops of MIDI, patterns, melodies and scene upon scene of inspirational sound generation. You can build your own instruments from tiny fragments of audio, piece together devices that generate and manipulate. Use extraordinary methods of sound generation through creative effects and granular processes.

Everything gets pulled in from the browser at the side into the loop engine in the middle where you mix and rearrange on the fly, crafting beats, scenes and possibilities. The detail happens along the bottom in the row of devices that are running your sounds. You can go down to miniscule levels of nuance or pull out with macro controls to shape your whole track with a flick.

From loops you can move to arranging, live performing and streaming those ideas along a time line. The audio editing is better than it’s ever been with proper vocal comping and linked editing. So it is happy to be a DAW, but it just wants to do so much more.

Live is available in Intro, Standard and Suite editions.

Live Intro – $99
Live Standard – $449
Live Suite – $749

Pros & Cons

  • Live performance clip and scene launching
  • Complex and precise devices engine
  • Large range of instruments and generators
  • Fast and fluid
  • Lots of hardware controllers designed for it
  • Doesn’t have all the audio tools
  • Can get complicated
  • Lacks many pro-audio tools

Ableton.com

Bitwig Studio

Bitwig feels like a modular environment where absolutely anything is possible. It has some similar vibes to Ableton Live but has gone in a much more visual and versatile direction. It has this strange ability to morph from loop launching to timeline recording so you never quite have to decide how you are going to play. Bitwig lets you do everything all at once.

Non-linear, modular, flexible, colourful and wonderfully creative, Bitwig can take you places you’ve never been before. It has deep touch control support, MPE note expression editing and modulation within modulators within modules. If you want something to move simply drop in another source of modulation from a wide range of possibilties. If you just want to record a band then Bitwig is not for you but if you are into mind bending sonic possiblities then this will definitely bake your noodle in the best possible way.

One standout feature is The Grid in which you can build entire modular synthesizers and audio processors. These can be integrated with external hardware via MIDI or Control Voltage. Internally you have 30 different modulators that will move parameters, mix sounds and ideas and push your music into unexpected places.

There are elements of the bizarre in Bitwig that no other DAW can equal but feels less complex than Ableton and less intense than FL Studio. It’s still catching up a bit on the audio editing and mixing side but it’s a wonderful place for experimental and creative music production.

Bitwig 16 Track – $99
Bitwig Studio – $399

Pros & Cons

  • Great live looping to arrangement morphing
  • Vast number of modulators
  • Powerful Grid for building synths and effects
  • Full of versatile and creative tools
  • Lacks some audio features
  • Needs a better mixer

Bitwig.com

Reason Studios Reason 12

In some ways Reason started off in a similar vein to FL Studio. It was all about synths and beats. Reason has taken it to a thoroughly integrated level where you can end up with an almost infinitely tall rack of interconnected music making gear. It’s a cascade of synthesizers, a waterfall of drum machines and an out pouring of samples and modulation. Reason is a fun place to play.

In terms of music production you have an array of sound sources to choose from. From basic subtractive synths to complex granular and wavetable machines you can build complex sounds and interwoven arrangements. Like a modular synth you can run sequencers and patterns within itself or, if you prefer, you can pull out and use the more common piano roll and arrangement page for focused composition.

The mixer console is unexpectedly spectacular with professional features, studio quality channel strips and audio processors that are a match for any other DAW. The audio editing side, like Bitwig and Live, is a little more on the basic side of things but still competent enough for most people’s needs.

Until recently Reason used it’s own plugin format to expand the sound palette but now it’s VST compatible to the point that you can run the tower of synths as a plugin in other DAWs. Its internal connections work on virtual Control Voltage giving it a vintage and tactile flavour that’s missing from most other DAWs.

Reason is lively, engaging, easy to get into and has a huge library of sounds and samples. It used to have various versions but now it’s a bit more all or nothing.

Reason Studio – $499

Pros & Cons

  • Just look at all those synths, samplers and drum machines
  • An awesome rack of stuff to play with
  • Interconnected CV style modulation
  • Huge mixing console
  • Can run as a plugin in other DAWs
  • Audio recording support feels lacklustre
  • The looks are not for everyone
  • Lacks some traditional tools

reasonstudios.com

Apple Logic Pro

Logic has a long history in innovative music making but since being acquired by Apple it seemed to lag behind as other DAWs moved forward in evolutionary steps. Recent versions have corrected those issues and it’s started to find creative applications across multiple Apple devices. Sometimes it’s seen as the destination for people who are bored with Pro Tools but actually it has it’s own thing going on.

Like Studio One it has a nice, clean and open interface that looks amazing in macOS. It follows a straight forward studio-like format where everything is exactly where it should be. You have tracks of audio, tracks of MIDI, a decent mixer that feels unchanged in 25 years and a bunch of sensible tools. It’s the sensible approach that makes it so popular with people who are looking to get the job done and don’t want the software to get in the way of their music making.

Recently flourishes such as the Live Loops function for dynamic composition and the drum machine inspired Step Sequencer are very welcome and offer an exciting level of creative engagement. You can also hook in via your iPad or iPhone to trigger loops, remote mix and control the DAW which can be very handy when recording your own vocals or playing instruments away from the computer.

Logic Pro is understated, precise, serious and spatially ready for Apple Music Dolby Atmos.

Logic Pro – $199.99

Pros & Cons

  • Streamlined and precise interface
  • Straightforward and solid workflow
  • Looping and step sequencing
  • Feels professional
  • Good value
  • Lacks innovation
  • Feels dated
  • macOS only

Apple.com

AVID Pro Tools

You can’t have a list of the best music production software and not include Pro Tools. It does tend to be the software used most often in studios and post production, but then that’s not what this list is about. If you want a blank page, or a blank tape then Pro Tools is what you need. It excels at being the space on which you make your music but has very little in terms of creative tools that might inspire or aid your exploration of music.

For audio editing you can’t beat it. Everything happens on the track and you can edit down to single cycles of waveforms crossfaded into other cycles with extraordinary precision. You can run huge projects over many hours of rock solid recording and zoom about wherever you need to be. If you are editing sound-to-picture there’s no piece of software I’d rather be in. The placing of sound effects, mixing music and dialogue is superb.

With Pro Tools you can plug in a band, hit record and then mix and process to a finished product ready for mastering. The plugins are top notch although they have a proprietary format. For MIDI and virtual instrument use things are a bit more steady, thoughtful and intentional. Pro Tools like to be a bit more free form and so doesn’t lend itself quite so much to the beat heavy rhythms of modern electronic music.

So, as a straight forward DAW Pro Tools is excellent, but for more creative composing and sonic manipulation you should look elsewhere.

Pro Tools is only available as a subscription which can be paid monthly or yearly.

Pro Tools Artist – from $9.99 pcm
Pro Tools Studio – from $31.99 pcm
Pro Tools Flex – from $99.99 pcm

Pros & Cons

  • You will find it in professional studios
  • Feels very serious
  • Immensely powerful and detailed editor
  • Undisturbed by innovation
  • Straight forward editor and mixer approach
  • Looks boring and complex
  • Lacks creative innovation
  • For best stability it needs a dedicated computer

avid.com

Conclusion

The music production software we have available to us is extraordinary. The range of creative tools is staggering, and you want to know which one to buy. Your best course of action is to try to focus in on the things that are important to you. For instance, if you want to do electronic dance music then FL Studio should be your first port of call. If sound design is your thing, then check out Bitwig, or if you are hoping to take your loops live, then Live is definitely the one. If you’re unsure but would like to build productions from virtual and real instruments, maybe a guitar, some vocals and banging electronic beats then Studio One is the best all-round DAW that is the perfect place to play.

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