Though the Sage Audio music mastering blog has previously discussed DAWs, much of that article focused on top recording software like Pro Tools and Ableton Live. But odds are, if you’re just starting out in home recording, you won’t drop hundreds of dollars on your first program; so we wanted to take a look at the best recording software for beginners.
The Beginning: Free Recording Software
Getting started in home studio recording is easier today than ever, and it’s also far less expensive. We recommend starting out on some of the great free software that is available today, though which you choose will depend in part on your operating system of choice.
If you’ve bought an Apple computer, GarageBand is included, and it is a great program to learn the basics of recording, so there’s no need to add any additional software.
Pros: GarageBand is designed to provide an intuitive recording process, which probably makes it the easiest program to use. Newer versions even come with features that intuitively (and sometimes automatically) even fix tempo inaccuracies in your tracks. Additionally, the software has great effects like reverb, compressors built in, and even includes a slew of awesome guitar and amp modelers.
Cons: The software’s ease of use is something of a blessing and a curse, because all the intuitiveness eventually begins to get in the way of your overall recording knowledge. While great to begin your road to recording, when you eventually want more control over your tracks, you’ll find that you have to work around what GarageBand automatically wants to do to “help” your tracks.
Windows and GNU/Linux: Audacity
Audacity is a free, open source recording program that functions closer to DAWs like Pro Tools and Logic more so than GarageBand.
Pros: Audacity doesn’t provide the intuitive learning experience GarageBand is designed for, but learning on the software will better prepare you when you move up to more of a high-end recording software. The basic functions of the program are similar to any of the more expensive DAWs, and it comes with all the basic effects and other features you’ll need to get started. Additionally, you can access other open source plugins to add a wider scope of effects.
Cons: Being open source, Audacity doesn’t have the money invested to provide the cutting edge functionality of other software.
*Note: Audacity is also available for Mac (and you can use the Audio Unit system plugins that come with Macs as plugins in Audacity). The program may make a great second step after trying GarageBand, and can be used as an alternative to GarageBand altogether.
The Next Step
Whichever software you decide to use, be sure to explore all features available to learn not only how the software works, but how you can make use of all resources to make your tracks sound the best they can. This is particularly true on GarageBand, as the program likes to present its many manual presets, and while they can be a good starting point, the deeper you go into the program’s options, the more you’ll learn.
Next up in the Home Recording Academy series, we’ll present the best options for choosing your second recording software after you’re ready to graduate from the free options.