What is Music Production Software?

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Ever wonder what the music producers and DJs are looking at on the screen as they make beats? It’s a tool vital to most contemporary DJs and music producers in the digital world – Music Production Software. 

What is Music Production Software? Applications used by DJs and producers to create their music may be referred to as DJ Software or Music Production Software. These programs mashup tracks, add effects, allow layering of sound, assign sounds, organize playlists and so much more. 

Whether you’re mixing live using DJ Software or in the studio using digital audio workstations (DAW) – the types of software are relevant. There are simply different versions based on what you need. It can be complicated. So, let’s take some time to break it down. 

First off, there are things to keep in mind when purchasing any of these products – things we won’t go into here, but definitely are worth your time, should you plan on grabbing a music production product in the future. 

This is an investment. As such, your budget is important. Make sure you choose wisely and then save up for what you really want and need. Your system (hardware and software) could last you for years. You can be producing your music and performing on free applications while saving up for the system that’s right for your career. 

Take into consideration your experience level before purchasing a DAW. Some software is very intuitive and easy to manipulate, while others have schooling and training programs associated with them. 

Your hardware is important – especially your choice of operating system. Whether you use a Mac or PC, your system needs to be powerful enough to support a DAW.

Will you be DJing (live performances) or mixing in-studio? If it’s live, you need to be sure your instruments perform well together. Some software is just optimal for this. You should really consider your future in either case – you might actually wind up doing both. So, choose a software based on that or that is versatile. 

How is Music Software Used?

I could spend my time writing out absolutely everything that the standard package of DJ software can do, and I will touch on some of the more important things. But I thought this video put together by Crossdfader (even though it’s old) would help.

And just in case you want to see a bit of a difference in the standard DJ situation and a studio situation – here is one of my faves – DJ Jazzy Jeff to help out.

Do I Need to Use Music Production Software?

You can DJ old school without the use of software, but even a lot of the higher-end analog mixers come with digital components and use software of some kind to store your music on, manipulate the music, and translate it from one component to the next. Even though most DJ software can be used to create directly on a computer or laptop, it works best in conjunction with actual DJ hardware – you know controllers and CDJ decks with a mixer.

You also need to take into consideration the use of instruments and control surfaces and MIDI controllers. Mixes can be produced pre-show and even during the show using these types of software and with the right equipment, can be recorded on the fly.

Just remember that each component usually comes with its own software, so the first thing a DJ needs to do is make sure all of the software is compatible!  And when it comes to DJ controllers, most will come with a version of the ideal software, so you don’t need to worry about buying it separately. Upgrade paths are usually the best way to go as your controller will be ideally suited to a specific program and come bundled with it.

What are the Most Used & Recommended DJ Software?

rekordbox: It is made by Pioneer, the same company that makes DJ mixers and CD players for clubs. Therefore, Rekordbox is more common because the industry-standard CDJs are from Pioneer and Rekordbox is their software and allows all of the technological components to connect seamlessly!

Traktor: Traktor is DJ software developed by Native Instruments and also used by many DJs. – Traktor Pro 3 usually is compatible with CDJs in clubs as well. But another pro for Traktor Pro is that it works very well with controllers. 

Serato DJ: This software is similar to the above two but more used by HipHop DJs due to the integration of vinyl accurate scratch possibilities. It gives the best experience for turntable-based DJs. Serato usually is compatible with CDJs in clubs as well. 

Honorable mention for being popular goes to Virtual DJ. A lot of users say it’s great for training yourself. However, some find it less than intuitive and the quality that the others on the list have just isn’t reached using it.

What is Digital Audio Workstations (DAW) & Productions Software?

So, this is where the terminology gets a bit convoluted. For years, I have seen the actual hardware and software combined called DAW – the digital audio workstation. However, more contemporary artists often will refer to the in-studio or even on-laptop music production software as a DAW. That is “their” DAW. After all, it’s used for the exact same thing as all of the components in a studio would be used for.  As Wikipedia states: 

A digital audio workstation (DAW) is an electronic device or application software used for recording, editing and producing audio files. DAWs come in a wide variety of configurations from a single software program on a laptop, to an integrated stand-alone unit, all the way to a highly complex configuration of numerous components controlled by a central computer. Regardless of configuration, modern DAWs have a central interface that allows the user to alter and mix multiple recordings and tracks into a final produced piece. DAWs are used for producing and recording music, songs, speech, radio, television, soundtracks, podcasts, sound effects and nearly any other situation where complex recorded audio is needed.

Now, let’s focus on producers who make music on their own DAWs: Digital Audio Workstations. Let’s assume they can use a server and monitors, mixers, keyboards, midis, and any number of hardware components in their studio, or they might simply be on the road and mixing music using their laptop and quality headphones. MIDI recording, editing, and playback is increasingly incorporated into modern DAWs of all types, as is synchronization with other audio or video tools.

No matter the scenario, they need damn good software to make the best quality sound. These are software programs in contrast to the above DJ Software, offer more possibility and control in actually making your own music from start to finish.

What are the Most Used & Recommended Music Production Software for Studios?

These two applications are widely used and are known for being user-friendly enough to be considered great for beginners. Those are:

GarageBand for iOS –  If you want an easier interface that’s geared more towards beginners, you can try Apple’s more simple digital audio workstation. And that means it’s Mac only. Some professionals still use this software because of its simplicity. The user-friendly interface helps you visualize what you’re making. 

It offers some quality presets, amps, and comes with a built-in lesson guide for pianos and guitars. It actually guides you to learn more about music theory. It comes with some loops and “Smart Controls” that visualize interactive controls such as knobs, buttons, and sliders for better control. Want anything else? You can get it ala carte via their app store. It works well with iPads and by the way – it’s free.

FL StudioThis software by Image-Line works with all kinds of hardware, Mac, PC, iOS for tablets and phones, Android… It’s recommended for the beginner all the way up. It has been around long enough for me to find YouTube tutorials dating back to over 7 years ago.  It comes with the standards: pitch shifting, correction, time-stretch, cut, paste, slice, etc.

But the interface is especially well-suited for the beginner. It just takes some reading and then you should be ready. It is extremely user-friendly. It adds some virtual instruments and plays them on MIDI. The latest version includes synths for immediate use. The software is definitely budget-friendly, you can try it for free, or purchase it in bundles ranging from $99 – $499. 

MAGIX Music Maker – This software is available for PC and is specifically built and marketed to absolute beginners wanting to try a hand at music production. You have a wide variety of Loops and VST instruments available for purchase and download into the software. If you are an absolute beginner then I would add this as one to the recommended list.

What Music Production Software Raises the Bar in Production Quality?

Ableton (Ableton Live) – It is compatible with both Mac and Windows. This system is recommended for both entry-level producers and experienced producers. It comes with sound libraries, easy MIDI mapping, cut/paste/splice features, and multi-track recording. It is also very versatile and can be used both in-studio and live. There is a beginner version and a more expensive version.

Logic Pro X (Apple) – Of course, this is all Mac. Even though you could get away with being a beginner and using Logic Pro X this program is not as easy to learn as the previously mentioned one. It will take some time. This software is filled with features, synths, plug-ins, and not to mention a great interface for easier learning. It includes track consolidation, instrument layering, an intuitive mixer for plug-in control, and a “score editor” to allow you to create your own MIDI. It comes with a sound library and loop collection with some effects as well. It’s only usually priced around $200

CubaseThis is the semi-pro to professional DAW by Steinberg. It can be used with both Windows and Mac.  It’s more difficult to learn, but once it is learned, it’s fine. There are online classes available through the company. Steinberg has their signature key, score and drum editors included in the workstation along with unlimited audio and MIDI tracks, reverb effects, incorporated VST’s, and more. The Key Editor lets you manually edit your MIDI track. Cubase has one of the biggest sound libraries (synths, loops, EDM samples and construction kits, drum kits, etc.) included with the purchase. If you buy it from Amazon you already get the eLicenser. It’s around $400 retail.

Pro Tools The software published by Avid is probably one of the most recognized. It’s used in some of the top music recording facilities in the world and therefore could be considered the “industry standard.”  It is compatible with both Windows and Mac. It is seen as a production tool for intermediate to expert professionals because of the learning curve. However it is easily navigable due to keyboard shortcuts and features like Quick Punch recording (it allows you to record with the touch of a button).  This DAW features loop recording, full mixing automation, MIDI and score editing, many virtual instruments, along with audio processors and plugins including EQs, reverbs, dynamics, and guitar amp simulators. The audio effects plugins that come with it are pretty good quality, too. And don’t forget the cloud collaboration and promotional app, AvidPlay that’s available.  The pricing varies depending upon what you get – Pro Tools First – free

Pro Tools – monthly subscription of $29.99 contract for the year or $34.99 monthly with no obligation. There are discounts for paying up-front ($299 for the year). Or there is the option to pay $599 for the perpetual subscription, wherein you get any updates free along with support and plugins.

Pro Tools Ultimate – monthly subscription of $79.99 contract for the year or $89.99 monthly with no obligation. There are discounts for paying up-front ($799 for the year).

You of course get any updates free along with support and plugins. Pro Tools also sells a lot of Add-Ons to their main software.

What About Free Music Production Software?

There are also several free and open-source software programs that perform DAW functions.

Audacity is a free and open-source digital audio editor that can run on Microsoft Windows, but also on OS X, Linux, and other Unix-like systems (OpenSolaris and TrueOS).  It is particularly popular in the podcast community, and also has a large following among the visually impaired due to its keyboard interface. MIDI playback is available (V 2.2.0 forward). Audacity has a focus more on sound manipulation and management than discrete events and sequencing. 

Rosegarden is a multi-featured audio application that includes audio mixing plugins, a notation editor, and MIDI. It is posted as a free alternative to Cubase.

Ardour is another well-known version, which is a hard disk recorder and digital audio workstation application that runs on Linux, macOS, FreeBSD, and Microsoft Windows. There are others out there, and each musician mixing their own tunes can decide what’s best for them. 

Keep in mind, no matter if you’re mixing as you DJ and you record the music using your DJ Software or if you’re in a studio using the full DAW and its software, the end results can be uploaded and shared on sites like Soundcloud and Mixcloud. If the music you use is yours and yours alone, post it as your own work wherever you can to get views and hopefully more success in the art you are passionate about. 

Rachel Adams

I would have previously thought of myself as an audiophile. But by gaming and listening to my children and their friends, I've been introduced to an entire realm of artists that are not on the radio.