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I hope I am not rehashing an age-old question about which software to buy

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Sorry if the regulars here are tired of this question. I will see by the responses, and that is fine, I totally understand.

I thought I would share a bit about my thought process about which recording software I think I want to use and then folks here can weigh in with questions and information I may not have thought of.

I'm buying a new DAW, my last one was not a DAW but MIDI sequencing on an Atari sync'd to a PortaStudio. So, it's time I upgraded!

I'm a songwriter-singer and guitar player. I don't need complexity even if it might be the best software in the world; that can come later. Proficient one-hand-at-a-time on keyboards.

I'm thinking of buying a Mac for Garageband. The iOS version does not seem fully-featured enough "yet" to consider it. Maybe once the iOS Garageband can take advantage of the 64-bit A7 chip - I don't know. And really, by the time you pay for an iPad, I might as well just pony up the rest for a mac mini or iMac.

My reasoning:

1. It's simple but powerful. It's easy to use.

2. It's not going away anytime soon. I think it will be well-supported for a long time.

3. It comes with content I think I need, such as drums, virtual instruments and guitar amplifier sims and effects.

4. Large user base, which should mean well-supported in the marketplace, a variety educational materials on youtube and elsewhere, 3rd party drum and instrument libraries.

Cost did not come into play here, as I do not already own a mac. Some of the competing software like Cubase Sequel and Cakewalks entry-level Sonar and Music Creator offerings are inexpensive enough, and "generally" a PC/laptop costs less than the Mac equivalent, so it's kind of a wash. I kind of think it would be quite cool running Sonar on a Surface Pro 2 (or similar Dell) using touch, mouse, and keyboard.

Reaper - great reviews, inexpensive, seems well-supported, but is there no content for it, like drum loops, amp sims, virtual bass guitars and Hammond B3's and pianos? Sure, I can buy them externally, but then the cost can go way up. Plus, I'd have to put the two together myself. I want good integration.

I just feel that Garageband will outlast software like Sequel and Sonar/Music Creator. I could be dead-wrong, and I do know that Cubase and Cakewalk and Digital Performer and Ableton are not going away anytime soon. Is the content up to snuff with the competition as compared to Garageband?

Pro Tools - industry-standard, but hard for a newbie? Doesn't the price kind of go way up once you want to have more drums and instruments. The entry-level software seems limited.

Ableton Live - I don't need software geared for live-performance, which it seems like Live is.

Anything I'm missing or haven't considered?

Thanks everyone.

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I don't know. I'm not a Mac guy but from everyone I've heard post on Garage band, its a super simple program for those recording audio and that's about it. Maybe the program has advanced, but I see it as a beginners DAW that has a simple GUI, but is lacking in advanced technical aspects. This is fine for amateurs who only want to track some simple audio and mix a demo quality song but for someone into midi and virtual instruments, I'm not sure its the best choice.

Like I said, maybe I've heard biased feedback, maybe my own investigation is flawed, and maybe its advanced allot since I've last checked but It wouldn't be my first choice for midi. You do have experience with hardware so you may be more advanced than you think you are and can forgo the most basic DAW to get going. I don't use allot of midi but I have worked with several programs and narrowed down my choices fairly quickly. I began way back using a program called Midi Soft. It was note based midi which was pretty cool stuff back in its day. It worked with a normal windows card which was cool too. Midi was connected through the joy stick adaptor and you could compose music from a keyboard, have the notes show up on tracks, modify them, change instruments etc.

Since then programs like Forte, Sibelius and others have grown in power and are used allot composing orchestrations in film scores and such.  http://music-notation-software-review.toptenreviews.com/

From my own experience, I wanted audio tracking for the most part. I use Sonar for that because the basic stuff is super simple. The program runs much like Microsoft does so when you right click on things, you have the kinds of menus you'd expect. Plus you can modify any menu based on the work you do and hide things you don't need in the way. 

Its not my first choice for midi though. I jacked with the thing for days and never succeeded in getting the midi to work the way I wanted it to. It doesn't have the same architecture hardware has so I'm at a loss getting to to work the way I want. I know others can make it work but I have other option and don't waste my time having to adapt.

I find Cubase to be a breeze for both midi setup and getting virtual instruments to work properly. After all they invented the VST & VSTI standard all the other DAW manufactures now use. There's a reason for that. Its because noone has come up with a better/simpler way of doing it, plus there are tens of thousands of plugins that use the standard now. Other DAW manufacturers used VST adaptors to get them to work within their DAWs. Cubase didn't need that additional step because it was their actual engine.

As far as the audio portion, there's a few things that are bass ackwards but for the most part, driving on the left side of the road using a German engine isn't too hard to navigate. All the tools are there, you just have to find them. The built in help files work well which is what you need to learn any daw well.

Programs like Pro Tools, Logic and others weren't so hot at working with midi. I have an old version of logic that worked on a PC before they went 100% Mac and I'd have to say it was the hardest program of them all to learn. It seemed written by some computer geek who knew nothing about a real studio and what an actual engineer uses. Its GUI was screwed up. The buttons didn't make sense for someone coming from an analog background and just recording a single audio track and getting it to play back was torture. I must have read the manual from front to back a dozen times and it didn't describe things from an audio perspective so figuring things out was often trial and error.

As you can guess, I dumped it long ago and never looked back. I hear the program is much like pro tools is today. Since its Mac only I can only go by what others have posted. I had an early PC version of pro tools, then I had the M-Audio version when I bought my M-Audio cards. It was limited to 8 tracks and wouldn't work when I bought my second card and had 16 tracks. I dumped it as well. I was already well versed using other programs and couldn't justify the cost of the upgrades and high dollar plugins unique to the program.

As far as advising you on which way to go, you may want to check out what other pro keyboard players use. For me I still use my older version of Cubase. I plug in the midi cables, it instantly recognizes the midi signal, I can stick a virtual instrument in the effects bus and it adapts to that virtual instrument without having to dig around and flip a bunch of switches to wire it in. I can just open the virtual instrument plugin and tweak the parameters for different sounds the same way as I would on a hardware unit. I hit record and it records that virtual instrument. That's all I need to know. I don't want to have to jack around with the technical stuff much just to record what I hear live.

The good part is, if you are advanced in midi you have all the tools there with a simple click to rewire anything you need to, if you need to. Bouncing a midi track to an audio wave track is dirt simple as well.  That kind of stuff makes for high production because you can learn the program quickly and be focused more on making music then figuring out which buttons to push.

I'm sure most other DAW programs will give you midi options as well. They all have different ways of going things that make the programs unique. Like I said, Sonar has it but its so bass ackwards, it doesn't make sense to me. In Cuibase, you have practically no setup and can tweak everything mixing. Sonar seems to require you set up all your midi parameters before you track.

I suggest you compare specs in details, visit review sites, check the manufacturers forums and get the best info you can before making a purchase. Try out all the demo versions and free daws you can too. Here's a few.


Oh and most importantly**** Be sure to check the DAW specs against the computer specs. If the daw program says it requires X amount of memory, a specific processor speed, dual/quad processor, second hard drive for writing wave files, and works best with certain interfaces, you better pay attention to those specs first before you spend a dime.

This may limit your options but many people dont figure this kind of stuff out untill they buy the stuff and wonder why it doesnt work right is at all. Make a list of items that will work together including the drivers fro the audio interface, and make a choice based on that list. you could always bump one item for another to get the best match before you buy. Dont screw yourself by making an uneducated decision here. The specs are readily available and its just a matter of digging a little.


Most of these specs are minimum requirements, and most are 32 bit, not 64 bit like most computers are moving to. 32 bit apps may run on a 64 bit computer in 32 bit mode but A buddy of mine had all kinds of problems getting the drivers for his interface to work on a 64 bit laptop and since presonus only had beta drivers for win 64 that kept dropping out and crashing. He even brought it to me and I discovered when he opened a 64 bit program it would crash the 32 bit audio drivers and he had conflicts with the built in sound card. He basically gave up trying to record on his $3000 setup because he didn't follow my advice on what he needed and it was all based on his impulse buying instead of using a thorough background check on what would work.

Don't make his mistakes and get stuck like he did, do your research and know it will work before you buy it. People post here all the time who make bad decisions and learn the hard way. You can avoid that from the beginning. Check the interface and program specs against the computer before you buy it, or buy a DAW program and interface that will work with the computer you chose. Both can have technical limitations. You can't foresee whets coming down the pike, but you can look ahead. For Mac stuff, using a Thunderbolt interface may be a better option than USB or Firewire. Don't forget to invest in real studio monitors too. You can have the best computer gear available and it will all suck if you are deaf and can't hear the sound  properly without coloration.

Here's a few quick references I goggled. There are hundreds more you want to cover before you buy. Be sure to look for the dirt and bad reviews on them as well as the hyped up sales poop designed to make you buy their product. Weight the facts and leave your emotions out of it. You can enjoy it later when you're actually using the product trouble free and not kicking yourself in the ass for making an impulse buy at the first thing that seemed cool.









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Thank you, I appreciate the detailed response.

One of the points you bring up about compatibilty is one of the reasons I'm leaning towards Garageband. The hardware and software were made and tested by the same company. 

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