Comment on Extremetech's music software shootout

I'm glad to see ExtremeTech doing some more pro-audio and music creation coverage. A surprising number of geeks are musically inclined (or think they are) so I think it's a good direction to go in. But I have two comments about this article:

  1. It's a very strange selection of software! The review seems to imply that these three products are all that's out there, and that they are even the dominant players. There are so many choices out there: Cakewalk has many other offerings, but there's also Cubase, Pro Tools (already mentioned by another poster), Fruity Loops, Logic (mac only), Garage Band (mac only), Ableton Live, Reason and.... Not to mention the fact that as a free, virtual multi-track device, Audacity is really, really good (and used by a lot of podcasters).
  2. You can't really talk about just the software when it comes to music. Do you get an Mbox? A Tascam us-122? A firewire device of some sort? An internal card? How many channels of audio? What are the real limits of using just a sound card? What about a mic? Or a USB mic like the Snowball?
Yes, I realize ExtremeTech is more consumer-oriented, and to get deep into this stuff you go to another site! (I used to subscribe to Electronic Musician and Keyboard Magazine to get really into this stuff). But even for a consumer, Fruity Loops is a great tool, and so is Ableton - both of them have very strong virtual instrument support and relatively easy to learn interfaces.

The way I see it there are basically two approaches for the beginner: buy a good A/D converter and a mic, and use something simple like Audacity. Just do all your takes live, and multitrack as needed. It's an easy process, and you can focus on your music not on the software. Of course, this is only possible if you sing or play a real instrument. Or, if you just want to make pretty sounds, you can play around with looping and virtual instrument software like Fruity Loops. Ableton Live is an interesting mix of the two approaches.

Now, the big problem that most people have with sequencers is that you actually have to have some training in music, composition, and arrangement to make things songs that good. In other words, to use Cakewalk, Protools, or even ACID/Magix sequencing effectively you really should have some training. Unfortunately, most people don't have the training, and yet most software companies delight in selling overkill software to laymen. (Of course the "oversell" phenomena is not limited to audio software!)

The other problem is that the act of playing music, composing music and sound recording engineering are all different. All three are arts in their own right, but they are different. Most people just want to play music.

My recommendation: stick with a good sound card, a good mic, simple recording software (Audacity), and play real instruments into the mic. Be happy - play music, don't worry about fiddling with software! If you really think you have a music score in you, go to music school and learn how to compose and arrange music first; and by the time you're done, you won't need to go to ExtremeTech to get music composition software advice, because you'll probably do a lot of the work on paper, and the recording into something at a friends studio. :)

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