How can I get into making music on PC?

I have tried Magix Music maker 17, and Sony Acid studio, they’re ok I guess, but where can I go from here?

Not to semi-hijack right off the bat, but what did you think of those two programs?

I ask, because either one of them can be had a Best Buy for about $40, and I was thinking of picking one, or both up. But the more I read about them, the more limited they seemed.

My band-mate is doing some pretty good home recording using a discount version of Sonar and he raves about it. That’s the one I think I’m holding out for – got get that one over the innerwebs, though. I hate not having that instant gratification thing.

More information would help:

What kind of music are you interested in making? What instruments do you play? What sorts of equipment/instruments do you have access to?

Try Propellerhead Reason/Record.

It’s the easiest program IMO to just start up and begin making music. You get sample playback devices, synths, loops, and drum machines, plus the ability to record multitrack audio and it all gets nicely laid out on a mixer. You can also “Rewire” it to your existing sequencers if they are rewire compatible. Sony Acid is rewire-able, for instance.

I’m a huge Reason/Record user as well. It’s good for starting out (if you have the cash - it’s a little expensive) but it will also grow with you as you become more knowledgable. I’ve been using Reason for years and I still haven’t tapped it’s full potential. And it’s not just for the hobbyist either. I use Reason/Record for almost all of my freelance scoring work.

But Crown Prince is asking the right questions. Certain apps are better for certain types of music, workflows, and set ups.
You also have to think about hardware. What kind of computer do you have? Mac or PC? You’ll need a decent audio interface/soundcard as well to get signals into your computer if you want to record audio. Your computer’s built in mic and soundcard aren’t going to cut it. You’ll probably want a good set of near-field monitors (speakers). Mixing on headphones is a no-no…

I have an embarrassing newbie question about this. Years ago I was interested in making music on the PC like Crab007, so I downloaded a trial of ACID. It’s a beautiful piece of software but what I didn’t understand and couldn’t discover on my own was how to, well, change instruments.

What I mean is, let’s say for a given piece of software, I painstakingly input The 1812 Overture. I want the flute parts to sound like flutes, the tubas to sound like tubas. I could never figure that out and that embarrassed me to the extent that I gave up.

At the time, I remember reading about “sound fonts”, which sort of sounded like the right thing. I was hoping to see “Trombone #2” so that whatever musical notes I had entered would sound like a trombone. But I don’t think sound fonts did that.

Are “loops” the thing that I should have looked for?

The answer there really depends on whether you actually play a musical instrument or not.

Assuming you do, the first thing you need is an interface. The best kind of interface to get is one that has all the different kinds of inputs you might end up using: midi interface, microphone preamps, 48V phantom power (for condenser mics), digital inputs, hi-Z/instrument inputs. You also want it to have 24 bit AD converters, and 96KhZ sample rate is nice too (although I’ve never found any reason to actually use that myself).

The good thing about decent interfaces is that they’ll often come packaged with good software – Protools, Cubase LE, Studio One, EnergyXT. Any of those software packages are better than MMM and Acid Music Studio. (MMM won’t let you use VSTs, and Music Studio only records 16 bit).

The other good thing about a decent interface is that it gives you a good platform to upgrade your home studio, without itself becoming redundant. A good interface will work with whatever microphone, preamp, or hardware controller you might want to buy in the future. It’s the best possible thing you can invest in, if you want to get sounds from the real world into your computer. (If you’re just doing electronic music, constructing things out of premade loops or something like that, it might not be so essential. But even so, if it came to choice between buying a computer sound card or an interface, I’d still choose the interface.)

The next thing I’d buy after an interface is a controller. You can go for one of those things with the pads (e.g. Maschine), but I think the kind with the piano keys is better. One of the best things about doing music on the computer is VST instruments. The best way to use VST instruments is to play them through the controller – arranging parts note by note with the piano-roll editor is a huge pain in the neck. It’s true that you’ll need to brush up on your piano playing, if you want to do it well, but that’s okay. Contrary to what the kewl kidz think, it doesn’t actually hurt to learn a real skill.

The third thing I’d buy, if I was going to be recording actual instruments, is probably a Shure SM57 microphone.

I own both of those myself. (I went out and bought them when I got sick of trying to record in Audacity.)

They’re both quite decent entry level programs, and not a bad place to start. But at the same time, they only exist to persuade you to upgrade to the pro-level packages (Music Studio --> Acid Pro; Magix Music Maker --> Samplitude). Both of those packages deliberately leave out features that you would really want to use. You can’t use plug-ins with MMM. You can’t record in 24 bit with Acid Music Studio.

I would suggest you go here and download Reaper. That is a fully featured program that you can use for free. If you like it, the full license will only set you back $60. That’s a much better deal.

“Loops” are what Sony Acid is really good at. That is, constructing music out of short samples of other music. But that doesn’t sound like what you wanted to do.

It sounds to me like you wanted to use the piano roll editor to enter midi notes, and have those midi notes play instruments. You can do this on Acid Music Studio 7.0 and later. It’s not pleasant, but it’s possible. Which is to say, if I had a choice between doing an entire orchestral score in Acid and kicking myself repeatedly in the head until I lost consciousness, I’d have to think about it.

To have more than one instrument, you have to have more than one track. You set up one instrument per track.

Thank you very much for that excellent explanation Kim, for both my question and for your answers to the others’ questions.

You’re a riot. :smiley:

So what software can do this less painfully?

I’m a Windows guy, and my go-to bit of recording software is Zynewave Podium. That’s got slightly better midi editing stuff than Acid. There’s a free version, but no Mac version.

But having said that, I mostly use midi as a backing track for real instruments. Here’s an example of one of my original songs. I don’t often use midi for entire tracks. There could well be better programs out there for that, but I haven’t been looking for them. But for a total outlay of zero dollars and zero cents for Zynewave Podium Free, it’s as good a place as any to start.

While I’m talking about free stuff, check out DSK Virtuoso if you want to do the orchestral thing. It’s a VST instrument that does brass, strings, and woodwind, and lets you put together ensemble stuff. It’s a good alternative to pro-level stuff that costs a whole bunch of money and takes up dozens of gigabytes of hard drive space.

Cool–I will check those out. Thanks!

Producer/audio engineer checking in. Basically, you get what you pay for with entry level software. While most of my professional experience is Pro Tools and Logic, I’m familiar with the most of the major packages out there.

Reason/Record is a decent package. I use Reason to handle sequencing of synth and midi stuff occasionally - running in slave mode to either PT or Logic. It’s a nice all-in-one solution for home production. Record is fairly new, and I don’t have much experience with it. But Propellerhead makes good stuff and they stand behind it. The only issue with Reason is that it’s designed to emulate rack and sequential (and non-linear) patching. It’s awesome and you can do amazing things, but it can also get really confusing when you’re tracing signal paths.

I recommend Logic if you’re a Mac person. Garageband, which comes native on OSX, is basically baby Logic. Logic Express is an order of magnitude better in all respects, with great MIDI handling (Logic’s forte) and an intuitive platform for most common tasks. Logic Studio is the pro platform, and is significantly more powerful in every aspect. It’s my platform of choice for production and composition. I use Pro Tools for all editing, mixing and most tracking.

The main DAWs out there are: Pro Tools, Logic Studio, Ableton Live, and Cubase. All top notch, most offer limited or express versions at significantly discounted pricing.

Pro Tools is the industry standard, has a steep learning curve and is incredibly powerful. Expensive, and overkill for your needs.

Logic and it’s brethren are great, and you can move up the platform as you get more skilled in production. Far and away the best integrated MIDI/audio package. You can make MIDI do anything in Logic. The audio is pretty amazing too but not as workflow oriented as PT. mac only.

Cubase is a good program. My third choice for general all-in-one platform. Nice workflow, great midi, but not sold on the audio engine. offers an LE version cheap.

Ableton: amazing, intuitive and geared to live performance. Not too much experience with it, but I’ve heard from multiple pro sources that 1) it’s fantastic and 2) it’s utterly unlike all the other pro or prosumer DAWs.

Below these (the main contenders at the top of the market) are several cheaper/more consumer level platforms. Not to be confused with a whole bunch of branded recording packages that get bundled with hardware (some of those are ok, most are crap)

Among these and worth investigating:

Audacity: Open Source (free!) audio editor. If you know your way around a DAW, Audacity is great. Otherwise, RTFM or forget about it. But, it’s powerful and well, free…

Sonar: People love Sonar or they’re massively indifferent. It’s a reasonably priced, solid DAW with a devoted following. Probably the most powerful DAW in it’s class. Ranging from $80 (express) to $350 - compared to Logic’s $500 and pro tools 9 (not HD) at $549. Pro Tools HD is only $749, but the HD minimum hardware set starts at $3400 for the cheapies.

Reaper: utterly unlike any DAW on the market. cheap, effiicient, small, responsive manufacturer with really active message boards. Free for 30 days, something like $70 after that (but no crippling or loss of functionality if you don’t buy.) 8 MB footprint and incredibly efficient re: memory. can run off a flash drive. I use this for live tracking for critical situation, either standalone or as my backup system.

Avoid Vegas and Audition. Expensive and they sound like shit. esp. vegas.

Lotsa options. I recommend either Garageband to start (if you’re mac) or Reaper for cost vs. functionality vs. learning curve.

Any questions, feel free; I’ll be happy to help.


Logic Pro Certified Trainer
Pro Tools HD9 certified operator
B.A. Jazz Performance/Music Theory
A.A. Music Production & Recording Tech

Well, yeah, but I was trying to point to some things that wouldn’t cost serious money. :wink:

Reaper is a pretty good deal though. You can try it for free, and the full license doesn’t cost very much. It’s got more functionality than Zynewave Podium, but Podium’s got the better interface.

Of the full-priced packages I’ve tried, Sonar looks the best to me. They’ve cleaned up the UI for the latest version, which is a step in the right direction. PreSonus Studio One also looks pretty good to me.

I’m not a fan of Protools at all. They make their money from Protools HD installs in commercial recording studios. For anyone else in any other circumstance, it’s not that good a deal.