Apple GarageBand '09
Entering into the world of computer-based recording is neither as expensive or as difficult as it used to be. Today’s entry-level DAWs (digital audio workstations) are not only more powerful than previous generations, they’re also far easier to use. Here’s MusicRadar’s guide to the best of them.
If you’ve got a Mac, your search for an application that will enable you to easily produce complete songs should stretch no further than the software that came installed on your computer when you bought it. Shipping with a selection of decent-sounding software instruments and, as of the ’09 version, a suite of virtual guitar amps and effects, GarageBand sets the standard for entry-level DAWs.
Avid Pro Tools M-Powered Essential
A Pro Tools system for £79? You better believe it. Although the software is very much trimmed down (you can only use 16 audio tracks and eight virtual instrument tracks per project), it’s certainly not dumbed down, and the supplied Structure Essential plug-in gives you 60+ sounds to play with. £79 gets you the app and a Fast Track audio interface, KeyStudio keyboard or USB mic.
Cockos Reaper 3
Reaper is a cult favourite among those in the know: in many respects, it adheres to standard DAW conventions but has a ‘single screen’ approach that appeals to beginners. More unusually, it weighs in at just a few megabytes and can even be booted from a USB stick. And with a demo version that’s fully-functional and won’t expire, trying it is a no-brainer.
Cakewalk Music Creator 5
Cakewalk has been offering affordable versions of its recording software for years, but Music Creator 5 is arguably the most user-friendly release in its history. Based on Sonar technology but bearing more than a passing resemblance to GarageBand, it ticks all the boxes for Windows-users who want plenty of functionality at a low, low price.
Steinberg Cubase Essential 5
This is a direct descendent of the full Cubase 5 software, and as such comes with the same interface and audio engine. New features for this version include HALion One, which contains almost 240 instrument sounds, the PitchCorrect plug-in and the Beat Designer. This may be an entry-level application, but you’re unlikely to outgrow it in a hurry.
Ableton Live Intro
Replacing Live LE in the Ableton product line, Intro is a 21st century, performance-friendly recording solution at a knockdown price. You can use up to 64 audio and unlimited MIDI tracks, and audio of up to 32-bit/192kHz quality is supported. A 7GB library of sounds comes included, and new users will appreciate the step-by-step tutorials and song templates.
Propellerhead Software Record
For years, Propellerhead’s Reason software studio has been seen as a fine choice for anyone who makes all of their music ‘in the box’, and in 2009, the company finally released a product that allows you to record audio. And guess what? Record is brilliant, being the perfect tool for songwriters and guitarists who want a ‘real’ looking mixer and logical workflow. Shop around and you’ll be able to pick it up for less than £200.
Apple Logic Express 9
If, as a GarageBand user, you start to feel that you’ve outgrown your software, there’s a ready-made ‘next step’ in the shape of this ‘lite’ version of Logic. Pleasingly, though, it’s very similar to the Logic Pro 9 that ships as part of the Logic Studio bundle, giving you features such as Flex Time, Amp Designer and Pedalboard. Make no mistake: this is a serious DAW.