Computer recording software is perhaps the most difficult part of home recording. There are so many audio recording programs available. They all do the same thing, or do they? And how do they work - how to use them?(Further down on this page.) Don't worry, we're about to find out. This page is designed to help you figure out what you need.
In short, computer recording software translates between you and your audio. It lets you do stuff with it. It mixes it. It applies processing to the audio. The audio recording program will work between you (with the screen, keyboard, and mouse) and your audio recording interface. It takes the sound from your audio inputs and records it to hard disk.
There are many ways for music recording software to look, or design the user interface. Various programs aim for different functions. Some are designed for maximum midi integration. Others work well with loops or creating music through small samples that are repeated. When you look at the big players, they do it all.
In my opinion, if you are serious about recording, and want something that will serve you well, you will eventually go with a bigger computer recording software package. It's not worth it to keep trying to limp along on something that limits your creativity and makes you spend time on non-musical things.
But because you must get started somewhere, here are my free recording software suggestions. My advice? Use them to get a feel for things, then move on to a demo of a better product.
The gold standard in the music recording software industry is Pro Tools. Simply put, it is the most popular program available, and does it all. At my college, they taught Pro Tools to all the music tech people.
One that I use extensively is Digital Performer. It is a Mac only program, and it works very well. I find it easy to use and logical.
Steinberg Cubase includes both a Mac and PC offering. It is also in the top league of computer recording software programs. It offers all the normal - midi, recording, processing, you name it.
A unique offering is Ableton Live Intro. It is a limited version of their full level software, and is at a very attractive price point compared to the others listed here. This recording program is geared to the process a musician might have. It covers song writing and composing as well as recording and mixing.
In the end, you need to make a decision. Which of all the audio recording programs will work best for me? For myself, the decision was rather easy. I had already bought into the MOTU hardware audio interfaces (the same company who makes Digital Performer), and they offered an upgrade version of Digital Performer. But I did try other demos and options. That's what you must do. See what's there, and make an educated decision. Check out the options I listed above. Get the demo and give it a test drive. Then come back here, click through and order!
Don't forget about audio plugins for your software. Plugins work on the sound after you record it, giving you all sorts of interesting effects.
It's all well and good to have the right program, but you have to know how to use it in order to get results. Recording studio software is often complicated to figure out, but I'll de-mystify it in short order here.
The basic building block for all audio recording programs is the track. A track can hold audio or midi data, and when there is more than one track, the software will mix things down. This is the beauty of recording software - it can hold as many tracks as you want. It's easy to start using a lot of tracks.
Various computer recording software programs present the options and the user interface differently, but they will all have tracks. Remember, tracks are fundamental.
To understand a particular program, try to find the flow of a track. For instance, in Digital Performer, I crreate the track, and set the input and output of it. The input allows me to record from my audio recording interface. The output gives me control over making sure the sound comes through my monitors. This needs to be chosen because there are several ways to route sound through the software.
Once the track (or tracks) are setup properly, you can then record onto them with the following steps.
It really is that simple. In fact, it is quite addicting and fun.
Once you have the audio recorded into the tracks, the fun of editing can begin. You can cut the audio up into sections, record over some of those, move them around, and generally have a lot of fun with them. Then you can apply processing with audio plugins like EQ and compression. This process is known as mixing.
From there, all computer recording software programs will have a way to export the mixdown as a single audio file that you can burn to a CD or import to iTunes. Some will burn the CD directly from the program itself.
So this is what computer recording software does in a nutshell. Did I miss anything? I invite you to join in the conversation, and share what recording programs work well for you. How can this page be made more user friendly? Please add your comments to a special page below.
Lee started his career in recording with an auspicious goal - record tracks of his own voice singing in harmony. As a hobby project, it didn't have the funding to go to a studio and pay for someone to do it for him. Like many of you, he pulled himself up by the bootstraps to learn the art of recording.