Q. What software do I need to make professional recordings?

When you are setting up a digital recording studio, the first question is to choose the Digital Audio Workstation software that you will base your studio around. That will drive the choice of the computer. A DAW combines recording of audio and MIDI sequences, with editing multiple tracks of audio, MIDI and software instruments and effects together.

The choice of software is critical, because the DAW is the hub of your whole studio. Each program sets up the interface and recording procedures in its own way, and learning to use the program is a significant investment in time. It’s a matter of personal preference whether you like the way the program organizes things and some DAW software bundles have specific features you may want, so you need to study reviews of the programs and try them in person if possible before committing to one.

If you are working with other people / studios it is important to consider whether you want to use the same software they do. Ask the people you are likely to collaborate with.  They’ll also give you their own feedback on the programs they use. If you are planning to work for the television or movie industry then Digidesign ProTools is almost mandatory, or Steinberg Nuendo.

Commercial DAW programs are available from:
Adobe: Audtion (Win only)
Ableton: Live! (Mac, Win)
Avid/Digidesign: ProTools, ProTools LE, ProTools M-Powered or Protools HD (Mac, Win)
FL Studio (Win only)
PG Music: RealBand (Win only)
Presonus: Studio One (Mac, Win)
Propellerhead: Reason and Record (Mac, Win)
Roland/Cakewalk: Sonar (Win only)
Sony Acid (Win only)
Yamaha/Steinberg Cubase and Nuendo (Mac, Win), Sequel (Win)
and others

For Mac only
Apple: Logic Pro, Logic Express, GarageBand (free with Macs and available for iPad), SoundTrack Pro
Mark of the Unicorn (Digital Performer)

Often, entry level versions of these programs are bundled with recording hardware like audio interfaces and MIDI keyboard controllers. These simplified versions allow you to try the interface, and then upgrade later to the full version.

Hit the library and read up in back issues of magazines, or subscribe – they have hundreds of how-to articles and comparative reviews of software, mics and interfaces.

Sound on Sound,
Electronic Musician /EQ,
Computer Music

You will also need to have a quality audio interface for getting the sound in and out of the computer (see this article on latency) , and good microphones and outboard electronics for recording acoustic instruments and voice. A good monitoring setup allows you to listen to your mixes critically and adjust them. See the companion article on digital recording hardware

There are guitar -specific programs and interfaces for recording electric guitar, and plug-in effects, software instruments, sample libraries and loop libraries which integrate with your DAW for constructing recordings.

Pay attention to your recording environment as well – if you are recording acoustic instruments or voice, the results are only going to be as good as your room sounds. A crummy sound in a room cannot be massaged into a great recording, Get the acoustic sound happening first.

And remember – no amount of software or hardware can ‘make’ you sound professional.  There isn’t a ‘turn mediocre into stunning’ button that you can push. Good sounding recordings are the result of talent, performance, imagination and hard work – having the musical vision and learning to use the tools at hand to realize your vision.

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3 Responses to Q. What software do I need to make professional recordings?

  1. Pingback: Q. What hardware do I need to make professional recordings? | CanadaRAM: Memory and Computer Q&A

  2. Pingback: Q. What is a USB microphone? | CanadaRAM: Memory and Computer Q&A

  3. Pingback: Q. Can I plug my guitar into the computer? | CanadaRAM: Memory and Computer Q&A

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