Intro to Music Software

Music is one of those subjects in development that are often not wanted as much as things like GFX, UI, etc. Music theory takes a lot of practice and patience to learn. I’ve seen a lot of people, both on discord and the forum, who have asked about a good software to make music.

In this tutorial, I’ll be going over some VSTs on the market that are worth checking out, different software, and the basics of plugins.

Vocabulary

DAW - The abbreviation for digital audio workstation. A software made for musicians and producers to make music on.

VST - The file format for extra plugins for your DAW. These can be effects, or virtual instruments.


The software

You may be saying “I don’t want to spend money on something of this nature.” There are very few DAWs you can use that are free.

For Mac users, use GarageBand. I myself started on GarageBand back in 2015-2016. Some things to be aware of:

  • The quality of their virtual instruments isn’t amazing.

  • When exporting, it will sound very quiet, depending on your volume levels.

  • GarageBand is more for songwriting, putting together a basic idea of a song, or to learn more about production. I wouldn’t recommend it for professional work (such as commissions) due to its bad quality.

Don’t get me wrong, GarageBand is an amazing DAW to get started on. Looking back on when I used GarageBand to now, my music’s quality is 100x better. I don’t mean in the sense of me learning stuff. I’m talking about how nice the sound’s actually are.

Another free software for all operating systems is Audacity. Some stuff you should be aware of:

  • This is not for composing a song like GarageBand. Audacity is made simply for audio work. You can try to make a full song using it, but is very hard to.

  • Audacity features some pretty nifty effects. They feature a wah-wah effect which is basically a digital crybaby guitar pedal.

Now, companies like Ableton or Image Line offer trial versions of their programs.

Ableton is my go-to program. I use it for everything. EDM music, acoustic music, editing samples, etc. The Ableton trial is access to their Suite version for 30 days. They do have something in the program that doesn’t allow you to use the trial after it runs out. Basically, use your 30 days wisely because you don’t get another trial.

FL Studios is a very popular software for the rap musicians out there. Image Line offers access to FL Studio for as long as you want, but you cannot save your file, or export the song. Sort of a raw deal.

There are programs that are better for making one genre over another.

GarageBand is very good for singer songwriter type stuff. This program is also free if you have a Mac.

Logic Pro X is very good for more pop sounding stuff. This software is only available for Macs. It costs $200.

Ableton is very good for anything in the electronic area. EDM, dubstep, drum and bass, house, etc. The starting license costs $100.

As mentioned, FL Studio is the heart and soul of the rap related genres. The starting license is $100.

A not-so-expensive-yet-still-fairly-reasonable option is Reaper. Now, I personally haven’t used Reaper. I’ve heard good things about it though.

Since I haven’t used it myself, I’m not able to give a full in-depth opinion on it. I don’t know what sort of music it’s best used for. The starting price is $50.

After Finding a DAW

Once you get access to a DAW, you’ll notice there’s an option to add plugins. These are known as VSTs. VSTs are vital for making music. Most cost money, though there are a few that are free.

My main VSTs are Melodyne (for audio control), and Serum (probably the most complex synth on the market, can make almost any sound). These cost money.

Melodyne has 3 different licenses. It’s sort of funny actually. I’m in this program called the Class of 808 run by Producer Dojo. I said I was thinking of buying it but some dude said “I have like 3 different copies of the intro version. Here, have one.” Yeah, I’m still shocked to this day. The starting price is $100. It basically records the audio within your selected track, and renders the notes played in semitones. You’re able to edit the semitones so it’s the exact pitch of a natural note.

Now Serum is a one time purchase. It’s a good investment if you’re sure music is something you want to pick up. The cost is $140. The company who made this have also made other amazing plugins. I can’t really give you an in-depth analysis of this plugin since there’s so much it can do. It takes a little practice to learn, but once you do you’re good.

Here are some plugins I’d recommend buying, or taking a look into.

  • Serum (of course)
  • Izotope
  • If you use Ableton, buy their Sampler add-on
  • Melodyne
  • Massive
  • Spire

Massive, serum, and spire are synths. Melodyne, and izotope are for audio work.

Your Built-In Plugins

Every single saw known to existence has some sort of built in VSTs. You should probably get to know the basics of each plugin.

EQ: This is basically another type of filter. You’re able to control the low, mid, and high frequencies.

Compressor: This turns up the volume without it sounding too distorted. (It can sound distorted if you crank it too high)

Reverb: Not really sure how to describe this. So you know when you’re in a empty room and whenever you speak it sort of sounds like spacey? That’s what you can do with reverb. It’s very nice to add on snares and vocals.

Delay: Basically whenever you go in an empty room and shout “ECHOOO” and you hear it come back to you is what delay does.


Now I’m not going over any type of music theory or whatever. That’s a story for another day. I hope this has solved some questions that are always stuck in the back of your mind. If there’s anything you’d like to know, shoot me a message here on the forums.

If you have an idea of something else I should cover that’s similar to this, once again, shoot me a message.

I hope this has been a very educational 5-15 minutes of reading.

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Thank you for this! In your opinion, which VST is the best, out of the rest?hehehe I rhymed

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Nice tutorial, I learnt a few things from it.
I recommend Cakewalk as a DAW though, I’ve been using it for a few days now and it’s fantastic.
It even has a choice to install Melodyne when installing Cakewalk.

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Very useful, thanks a bunch! I appreciate you listing the pricing here, makes it easier for myself to find out about stuff.

This is an incredible resource that anyone would be lucky to find. When I started I didn’t know anything, and walked into a guitar center like an idiot without knowing what I needed. This should be a huge boost for anyone looking to get started in music.

As a side note, I personally use cubase, and it’s an incredibly powerful software with excellent VSTs as standard. It is expensive, I’ll admit, but most of what I work with comes off cubase.

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Hey there! Thank you for sharing this! I used to use GarageBand ,but I used it on my phone, and my computer isn’t an Apple device so I couldn’t transfer the music I created to my computer. Do you know any free programs for Windows 10? Thank you in advance.

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I personally use Musescore to create music and Audacity to edit the music. both free!

Musescore id really simple to understand, and there are many YouTube tutorials that help you if you don’t. It also gives you over 50 intruments to chose from, from teh classical piano, to the synths! Musescore is more of a note composition style, unlike FL studio and others, where they use more of a synthesia style. But, if you want, there is a feature, where you can make music with synthesia on musescore, although I’ve never used it. Musescore is free, but it comes with a cost: the sound quality is not that great (except for the piano).

This is where Audacity comes in. Simply export the song you created with Musescore as an mp3 and import it to audacity, where you can add effects like REVERB(my favourite!). You can also adjust speed and even add more “custom” instruments. I like to burp into the microphone and re-pitch the burp to make it fit into the music.

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You could definitely check out this website. Heard good things. Also have used it myself once.

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@ReturnedTrue

I recommend Cakewalk as a DAW though.

Cakewalk is really amazing with audio work.

@CaptLincoln I’ve personally never used Cubase much. I’ll have to look into it.

@ScytheSlayin Serum. (Of course) I can’t live without it. Literally…

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This is a really great tutorial!

When I’m producing music, I’m almost always using LMMS, which is a free, open-source DAW. It has a little bit of a learning curve and the default sounds are kinda buns but overall it’s pretty good for a free alternative.

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LOL WTF? FL Studio is used for all sorts of music, not just rap. Especially EDM.

That is like the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard in my life.

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Yes but FL is most popular for trap artists.

Trap isn’t rap lol. If that’s a typo you should fix it :stuck_out_tongue:

also, a lot of trap is EDM…

Reverb is something I abuse consistently in order to create a roomy feeling.

Here’s a cut from my latest works using Logic Pro X.


Reverb is far noticeable at the end of sounds played, as if they were tails of the main sound.

I plan on obtaining more VST if possible.

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I currently have FL Studio Mobile. Wich isn’t the best but I was able to afford it but I have playback quality issues but it can really make sounds though when you render and export.

I need to learn music theory again tho any good YouTube channels that goes through it. I am a percussionist so I know my rhythm I just need to know how to do things like chord progressions or Melody’s that don’t sound percussive.

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Oh boy music theory. I’ve been thinking about making a tutorial that covers the basics of music theory.

Ok think of it like this. You have your C major scale right? Which consists of C D E F G A B C. Every major scale is part of the circle of 5ths. The 5th note in every scale is the next scale in the circle of fifths. So the next one would be G major. Aka G A B C D E F# G. I highly suggest looking into this. Learning the circle of fifths and all of your major scales for starters. I know this by heart.

Every major scale follows the same type of diatonic chords. Major, minor, minor, major, major, minor, diminished.

Take the C major scale for example. Musicians use Roman numerals to identify diatonic chords and notes. One very popular chord progressions consist of:

VI I IV I. Aka the 5 chord, the 1 chord, the 4 chord, then the one.

I know this is very confusing lol. I suggest looking into this.

If you ever want to collab on that music theory post, I’d be willing to help. I currently direct three different ensembles in my local area. I’ve had to teach them music from scratch.

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Would love to. :slight_smile: Message me on here or search through my previous posts for my discord.

It’s not confusing is just applying it sometimes is not the funnest for me atleast. I do know scales it’s pratically the first things I’ve learned years ago. Just when ever I try to make something nowadays it either sounds scary or smooth and calm wich is not what I was wanting but oh well.

Yeah chord progressions was usually the thing that would catch my off guard I’ll check out more stuff about it to maybe memorize good ones.

For now I’m probably going to be good at sound design for effects until you know I get my style.
I get a good sound but don’t know really how to transition well so just got to work on that and chord progression to make it proper.

Also thanks for the video :slight_smile: and when my collage quarter is done I will be able to do music theory in collage also.

None of my schools 4th - 12th grade taught music theory in a class setting but when performing they on did like little references. In 4th they taught the basics of reading music and what to play and what crescendos were and things like that to be able to play.

My last and only questions is how long have you been making music. I’ve been doing it for 1 year occasionally on like a weekend for maybe like a hour. Also know any good orchestral/symphonic samples that are royalty free/commercial use and copyright free

I own fl studio producer pack, if anybody needs to produce beats and stuff like that I think fl studio is the best.