The Best Music Production Software of 2017

For any musician or producer hoping to turn their musical dreams into recorded reality, recording software is a must have tool. Sure, you could get a vintage 8 track or reel-to-reel recording machines, but those are expensive and require a lot of analog recording skill. Instead, software recording programs have become industry standard and are accessible by anyone. Choosing the best music production software is a very important and time consuming task, but with the right research, you will eventually arrive at a choice.

To help you sort through the tech specs and reviews, we’ve collected all the best music production software options into this concise overview.

What Kind of Music Production Software Do You Need?

In their most basic form, the best music production software does the same thing – records music. What varies is price, the layout and menu options, and their built in effects and virtual instruments. Like all things music, opinions vary widely. What may be the best music production software for one person, someone else may thoroughly detest. Let’s take a look at the most important features and specifications when choosing a recording program.

  • Plugins and Virtual Instruments. Each recording program comes with thousands of plugins and virtual instruments. These range from simple reverb effects to studio-recorded drum sounds that you play with a MIDI keyboard. All of the best music production software comes with synthesizer, digital piano, drum, bass, and guitar plugins and virtual instruments. The key is to determine which ones sound the most realistic and match the style and music you’re hoping to achieve.
  • Unique Features. Every music production program is unique, otherwise, we’d all be using the same one. Some programs are known for the sequencer and beat making capabilities, while others are the industry standard for professional recording artists and producers. To explore unique features of each music production software, we recommend downloading free trials and watching tutorial videos before buying.
  • Subscription Fees and Free Updates. A shifting trend in music, video, and graphic production software is to charge users a monthly and or yearly subscription fee. For example, some products require an upfront cost which covers the user for a full year and for every year after that, you will be required to pay an additional monthly fee. Also, many of the best music production software companies offer free upgrades and updates.

Best Music Production Software Comparison Guide

PictureNamePriceRating (1-5)
PictureNamePriceRating (1-5)
1. Ableton Live 9 Suite Multi-Track Audio Recording with Sound Library$$$$$4.5
2. Image Line FL Studio 12 Producer Edition$$4.4
3. Steinberg Cubase Elements 8 Recording Software$4.3
4. Cakewalk Sonar X3 Studio Music Production Software$$$$4.2
5. Cakewalk Sonar Professional Music Production Software$$3.6
6. Avid Pro Tools Software with Annual Upgrade and Support Plan$$$3.3
7. Ableton Live 9 Standard Multi-Track Audio Recording with Sound Library$$$$3.3
8. Steinberg Cubase Pro 8 Retail$$$3.2

Reviews of the Top Rated Music Production Software

1. Ableton Live 9 Suite

For years, amateurs and pros have relied on Ableton Live to create the music of their dreams. From Tame Impala to Skrillex, Ableton Live is capable of capturing any style of music and is highly regarded as one the best music production software. Ableton Live 9 Suite is packed full of exclusive features, sounds, and plugins. Just a few of its standout specs include:

  • 32-bit, 192 kHz sample rate
  • 9 virtual instruments, 41 effects, and 54 GBs of sound
  • Hundreds of analog synths, pianos, guitar amp simulators, and drum kits
  • Latin Percussion VST
  • Orchestral brass, mallets, strings, and woodwinds VSTs

One of Ableton’s most legendary features is its Session view, which is small and compact, making it the perfect choice for DJs that use laptops and electronic artists playing live gigs. With Ableton’s Arrangement View, you’ll be able to easily move, edit, mix, and master your tracks.

Ableton is available in three versions – Intro, Standard, and Suite. The Suite version is the most expensive yet offers the most instruments and effects. Several critical features are missing from Ableton Intro, so we don’t recommend going that route (you’ll end up upgrading later). Unlike other music software companies, Ableton doesn’t do free upgrades, but instead offers upgrades at a discount.

2. Image Line FL Studio 12 Producer Edition

Once known as Fruity Loops because of its simple and revolutionary looping abilities, Image Line’s FL Studio has evolved into a music making powerhouse capable of transcending the boundaries of hip hop and electronic music. Simple, clean, and easy to use, FL Studio 12 Producer Edition may be the best music production software for home studio musicians. FL Studio’s layout was completely revamped for version 12, featuring a new channel rack, browser, piano roll, and mixer. FL Studio 12 Producer Edition also includes:

  • 32-bit, 192 kHz sample rate
  • 32 synthesizer plugins (some are demo versions)
  • Hundreds of effects
  • Real-time time-stretching and pitch-shifting
  • Easy to use step sequencer for creating beats FAST!
  • Lifetime of free updates and upgrades

One con of FL Studio 12 is its lack of instruments. Unlike Ableton Live 9 and most other music producing programs, FL Studio 12 doesn’t have a guitar or drum simulator, nor does it have orchestral instruments. The demo versions of some plugins can also be a letdown, especially if you find one you really like but don’t want to pay for it. Another negative is that FL Studio is only available for Windows, but an Apple OS version is in the works.

3. Steinberg Cubase Elements 8

Steinberg Cubase is one of the best DAWs (Digital Audio Workstation) and has been an industry leader for years. Cubase Elements 8 is a simplified version of Cubase Artist and Cubase Pro, and features only the bare bone essentials.

  • 32-bit, 192 kHz sample rate
  • 3 virtual instruments – HALion Sonic SE 2 (sound library), Groove Agent SE 4 (drum machine), Prologue (synthesizer)
  • 43 audio effects
  • Amp Rack guitar tone simulator
  • Real-time time-stretching and pitch-shifting

Cubase Elements 8 may not be the best music production software for producers hoping to make it big, but for the basic home recording artist, it’s the perfect choice. And at it’s more than reasonable price point, you really can’t beat it.

4. Cakewalk Sonar X3

Cakewalk’s SONAR prides itself on being easy enough to learn for the amateur producer, but powerful enough to be used by the pros. Featuring a visually pleasing layout and interface, updated plugins and instruments, and an incredibly smooth, glitch free experience, Sonar X3 Producer Edition is well worth the cost. Notable features include:

  • 32-bit, 192 kHz sample rate
  • 23 virtual instruments and 57 effects
  • Melodyne pitch manipulation
  • Bundled with full version of Addictive Drums 2 and Session Drummer 3
  • VST3 support
  • Exclusive Nomad Factory effects
  • Strum Acoustic Session acoustic guitar simulator and Overloud TH2 amplifier simulator

SONAR X3 Producer Edition is just that – a powerful tool for producers who want an alternative to Pro Tools, Logic, or Cubase. SONAR X3 Studio version is a few hundred dollars cheaper but doesn’t feature all of the world class virtual instruments and effects found in the Producer Edition. Unfortunately for Apple users, SONAR is available only for Microsoft Windows.

Honorable Mention: Avid Pro Tools

Pro Tools is the industry standard for music recording, and almost every song you hear on the radio was probably made with Pro Tools. So why don’t users like it as much as some of the other music production software packages? Pro Tools is a complicated mammoth of a program that requires years of experience. Heck, there’s college certificate programs just to learn Pro Tools. In other words, this isn’t a program you’ll learn in a week, and its uses extend far beyond the “average” home musician or producer.

Another reason musicians and producers aren’t happy with Avid’s Pro Tools is their subscription model, which can drive costs up quickly. Some of Pro Tools famous features include:

  • 32-bit, 192kHz sample rate
  • 75 bundled effects and plugins
  • Over 60 virtual instruments
  • Beat Detective tool for quickly fixing timing issues
  • Easily finished songs to iTunes and SoundCloud

Want to see what the Pro Tools hype is all about? Pro Tools has developed a free version called Pro Tools First. While it’s light on features and instruments, this will allow you to explore the Pro Tools interface, which is often the main hurdle in learning a new recording program.

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