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Music Software 101: Non-DAW programs to
make your own music with...

This Music Software 101 article gives you a quick introduction to the music production software you'll most likely use when you make your own music.

Computer music production makes it possible for you to write, record and produce your own music to a high standard at a much lower cost than used to be the case before the personal computer arrived on the scene.

Music production software now allows you to create music "in the box" without the space, compatibility and mobility issues presented by music hardware.

You may however be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of programs available to the home studio musician and producer and for this reason I decided to write this Music Software 101 article to assist you in your decision making.

This article does not deal with full music production suites such as Cubase and Sonar as this has been covered on the music creation software page which you'll see the link to at the bottom of this page.

This Music Software 101 article looks at the other types music software you'll most likely use as an independent music artist and producer.

You can group non-DAW music production software into the following categories...

#1 Standalone Audio Editors

Most audio editors allow you to record, edit, arrange, process and mix multiple audio tracks.

You can think of standalone music editing software such as Adobe Audition, Wavelab or Sound Forge as scaled-down versions of the the Full Production Suites mentioned above.  You won't find MIDI capability in these programs though they will have advanced audio editing tools and the ability to host plug-ins for audio processing.

A decent free audio editor is Audacity which,  although not being as feature-rich or well-supported as the above commercial editors,  still does the job.

You'll find most of the main features included in standalone audio editors in the Full Production Suites though many producers like to work on their final stereo mix in a standalone editor before burning to disk or converting to mp3.

You'll find a decent list of audio editors on Wikipedia.

#2 Loop Based Music Programs

Sony ACID, Image Line FL Studio (formerly Fruity Loops), Propellerhead Reason and Ableton Live focus on a loop-based music production style which is often used in dance music production and has been creeping more into other genres.

You won't have the amount of features found in Full Music Production Suites in most loop-based music programs.  Most producers use loop-based programs to create grooves and loops which they then import into or trigger from Cubase, Logic, Sonar or Pro Tools to create full productions.

You can load certain of the loop-based music programs as virtual instruments inside Full Music Production Suites.  You can for example load FL Studio in Cubase which means FL Studio will be triggered and controlled by your settings and actions inside your Cubase project.

#3 Software Samplers

Soft Samplers allow you to map a collection of audio sample files to a MIDI controller device,  such as MIDI keyboard.  You can then trigger each assigned sample using the keys on the keyboard.

Emu Emulator X,  Tascam GigaStudio and Native Instruments Kontakt are some of the most used and well-known soft samplers on the market.

Soft samplers such as those I mentioned above also provide you with a range of tools you can use to modify and sculpt your samples as they play back.  You can also load soft samplers as virtual instruments inside your chosen host such as Cubase or Logic.

You'll usually be provided with a library of sounds which come with your soft sampler and each soft sampler will also be able to import external sample libraries.

You'll find specialized sample libraries on the market which range from cheap and nasty to expensive high-end full symphonic libraries,  and sample packs galore in between.  Spend your cash wisely here because you get what you pay for when it comes to sample libraries.

#4 Software Synthesizers

Soft synths are computer programs which usually emulate their hardware synth ancestors in that they allow you to generate and blend audio signals of different frequencies and shape the sound with the various parameters you set.  Soft synths are tools of the trade for many Electronica and dance music producers although the use has bled into many other styles and genres such as Rock, Metal and various Fusion styles.

Well known soft synths incude Native Instruments Masssive, FM7, Pro-53, Arturia's Minimoog V and the Korg Legacy Series.  You'll also discover sample-based soft synths and various synths you can use for specific instruments such as bass, leads symphonic instruments.

I will not cover soft synths in detail in this Music Software 101 article because book volumes can and have already been written on this vast subject.

You can, should you be interested in synth programming,  find out more in this great little introduction to soft synths on one of my favorite music production sites.

#5 Audio Processing & Effects Plug-Ins

Audio plug-ins are software programs which you can plug-in to the inserts or sends of your audio tracks in your sequencer in order to effect or process your audio tracks.  The types of plug-ins you'll find can range from the high-end quality packages such as bundles produced by Universal Audio and Waves,  to cheap and sometimes nasty free downloads available online.

The most common audio plug-ins are used for delay, compression, distortion, reverb, phasing and gating though you'll also discover a whole range of more whacky effects plug-ins to mangle your sounds.

A good site to hunt for audio plug-ins is the kvraudio.com plug-ins database.

Audio plug-ins come in various standards and you need to check which of the plug-in standards your DAW sequencer software supports before you purchase or download plug-ins.  The most well-known standards include VST, Core Audio, TDM, DirectX, AudioSuite, MAS and RTAS.

I hope this Music Software 101 article has helped make your choices easier.

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