That depends on what you mean by the term “musicians,” which is another way of saying that the music recording software best suited for your needs depends entirely on what your needs are. Are you a professional-caliber musician or aspiring recording artist? Your needs are different than a weekend musician who’s an enthusiast or serious hobbyist, but not a professional. And both of those types of folks have different digital audio workstation needs than an aspiring sound engineer.
So we’ll look at it from the standpoint of how you intend to use your music recording software.
Software for the music recording and production neophyte
If you’re looking to get your toes wet in the music writing, recording, and production pool, we’d strongly suggest starting at the shallow end. Because serious music recording and production lives at the confluence of artistry, musicianship, high-powered computing, and seriously geeky audio engineering, it’s easy to jump in over your head if you’re not careful.
For that reason, we recommend starting your music composition and recording career with an entry
level offering such as Apple’s GarageBand. In a very user-friendly way (at a very user-friendly price, too), it will introduce you to the basic concepts you’ll need to master in order to produce more complicated tracks later on. And you’ll figure out if you like the actual mechanics of audio recording as much as you might like the idea of recording your music, which is an important thing to figure out before you spend any serious money on a higher-end music recording setup. GarageBand comes with an impressive array of loops and software instruments to work with, and you can buy expansion packs for it as well.
Music recording software for the serious enthusiast
This is a fairly broad category of users, with a broad cross-section of budgets as well. We’ll focus here on the mid-level music recording software offerings, and narrow our discussion to the two major players on the scene: Logic and Pro Tools.
Apple Logic Express
One step up from Apple’s GarageBand is LogicExpress. A scaled-down derivative of their flagship
digital audio workstation software, Logic Pro 9, the Express version is perfect for those musicians who have basic familiarity with music recording, and want a rich set of features with lots of headroom. The user interface doesn’t require a degree in geekology (meaning that it’s musician-friendly), and the feature set is extensive enough to keep you busy for literally years. The major limitation of the Express variant is that it doesn’t let you record 3D sound; other than that, it will take you a while to outgrow the functionality.
Pro Tools LE
The other major player on the music recording is Avid, who produces Pro Tools. The mid-level variant
is called Pro Tools LE. It is a scaled-down version of their flagship offering, Pro Tools HD, which is the industry leading recording software and hardware suite.
The LE variant sports a terrific user interface, great expansion capacity, and an extremely rich feature list. You’ll dig the terrific software instruments and amplifier simulations as well. There’s enough packed into Pro Tools LE to keep you rocking for a very, very long time.
Because Pro Tools relies more heavily on audio interface units, or external interface devices to take instrument and microphone signals and turn them into 1′s and 0′s, you’ll need to pick up some additional hardware. One option is an MBox audio interface; it has the significant advantage of being designed specifically for use with Pro Tools software. In fact, many MBox deals come with Pro Tools LE software included.
Music recording software for commercial use or wide distribution
While you can certainly record and produce high quality music with Pro Tools LE and Logic Express, if your aim is to produce music for sale on iTunes, on the web, or through another distribution channel, you should consider the upper end of music recording functionality.
While you can spend thousands of dollars on a high-end music recording setup, you don’t have to. There’s a lot of quality available at relatively affordable prices.
Logic Pro 9 is Apple’s answer, as we mentioned earlier. It is the core of a software bundle called Logic Studio, which comes with extra goodies (a movie soundtrack editor and a sweet live performance engine are the two main ones). It’s outrageously functional, easy to use, and will help you produce commercial-quality recordings once you know what you’re doing. When you look at the feature list, the price is ridiculously low. Because it is professional grade, you should be prepared to spend some time learning the ropes.
There are a number of quality Logic audio interface options, as well, which will help you expand your studio.
If you’re a musician more than a sound engineer, but you want professional results, Logic is a great pick. And you can’t beat the price.
This is pretty much the top of the line in music recording software and hardware setups. There’s a very long and distinguished list of artists whose songs you know by heart whose music was produced using Pro Tools HD. It’ll probably work for you, too.
It’s important to understand that the recording software is the heart of the system, but Avid and other manufacturers produce a huge variety of hardware peripherals, interfaces, pre-amps, etc, that go along with the core software. Depending on how deep your pockets are, you can go with a basic interface unit that comes in under a thousand dollars, or you can spring for professional music studio-quality hardware. It’s entirely up to you.
While the same is obviously true for Logic, Pro Tools HD is much better at the expansion game, mostly because it was designed around a bespoke hardware/software construct. If you know that you’re in the music recording field for the long haul, and you have the cash to spend, you can’t beat Pro Tools HD.