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Recording Studio Software Buying Guide

By
Sean Peek
,
business.com writer
| Updated
Nov 26, 2019
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> Technology
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Whether you're a budding audio engineer or an experienced music producer, using the right recording studio software is essential. This software includes a suite of powerful tools to create, record, edit, and export audio that professionals, from sound engineers and musicians to amateur DJs and business owners, use for their various audio projects.

However, there are several different types of recording studio software, and the best one for you depends largely on what your needs are. An entrepreneur who just wants to record and edit their own podcasts has vastly different requirements than an aspiring musician or DJ who wants to create, mix, and edit audio tracks.

No matter what you're looking to do with your audio, having the right software for the job is essential. In this guide, you'll learn the basics of recording studio software and how to choose a software program that's right for you.

What Does Recording Studio Software Do?

Until recently, musicians had to invest in expensive hardware to create a clean, professional-sounding track. Today, all you need is some basic outbound gear, your instrument of choice and a laptop loaded with the software to create audio tracks that sound like they came from a professional studio. 

Recording studio software has several business applications – you can use it to produce a podcast or create sound clips for a marketing campaign. If you're interested in creating your own recordings for your business, whether for a podcast, video or song, a digital audio workstation (DAW) is the best place to start. 

Every DAW can be used to record, create, and edit audio – they are all capable of producing a chart-topping single or recording a popular podcast. With the right software capabilities and plugins, your DAW becomes a powerful sound editing tool that can perform most or all of the following functions: 

  • Record live instruments or voices: When you pair recording studio software with an audio interface, you can record live instruments and/or a singer. You can wire your microphones a number of different ways, such as through the interface or directly to the instrument, to capture sounds that you then slice and edit in the DAW.

  • Record virtual instruments: If you want to record music but don't have access to instruments, you can create sounds digitally with recording studio software. Most DAWs have built-in virtual instruments that you can play using your mouse, keyboard or, better yet, a musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) controller.

  • Loop, edit and mix existing audio tracks: Many DAWs include a digital library of audio loops of instruments, such as drums, strings, and horns, that you can edit and drop into your song. You can create your own audio loops, and copy and paste it as many times as you need. Additionally, a good recording studio app makes it easy to slice, move and crossfade audio elements as you see fit before mixing – or polishing – the track.

  • Add audio effects to sound files: Nearly all DAWs include effects plugins that you can use to create reverbs, chorus, delays, autotune, etc. Audio effects are added during the mixing stage to take your songs to the next level.

Do I Need Equipment to Use Recording Studio Software?

DAWs typically need to be paired with other equipment, so there is some additional hardware your business needs before you can start recording. 

Regardless of how you plan to incorporate audio into your business, you'll need a quality, external microphone. While all modern computers come with an internal microphone, these are often small, inexpensive components that create grainy, amateur sounds. The best way to elevate your audio is to invest in a high-quality mic. 

Additionally, you'll need an audio interface, especially if you plan to do a lot of live audio recordings. Essentially, this piece of hardware expands and improves the sound quality of your computer's sound card. Some interfaces allow you to connect a number of inputs, such as microphones and instruments, and output a variety of signals as well. 

If you plan on creating virtual music, you'll need a MIDI controller to create and edit MIDI files. While you can create and manipulate MIDI files with a mouse and keyboard, a MIDI controller is a specialized piece of hardware that adds an endless variety of sounds to your projects.

How Much Does Recording Studio Software Cost?

There are free DAWs that have sleek but basic interfaces that you can use to dip your toe into audio editing. However, free software rarely has the full functionality or user experience that paid recording studio software apps offer. 

Midrange DAWs range in price from $100 to $200 and include more advanced functionality, such as pitch shifting or time stretching. High-end recording studio software exceeds $600 but comes with advanced editing technology, and a vast array of sounds and instruments to add to your projects.

What to Look for in Recording Studio Software

The first place to start when deciding on the right DAW for your business is how you'll use the software. Producing a podcast requires a completely different setup than, say, producing musical compositions. Here are a few questions to ask yourself before investing in recording studio software: 

  • Is your primary use of the software to record audio or produce synth sounds?
  • Will you create more studio recordings or live recordings?
  • How much control do you need over audio or MIDI editing?
  • Do you need to print music sheets? 

If your primary goal is to create synthetic music, look for software that has a vast library of MIDI files and a comprehensive editing system. If you want to record live audio, this feature isn't as important.

Your Operating System

The recording studio software you invest in for your business largely depends on whether your computer runs Mac or PC. There is a lot of debate on professional audio forums as to which operating system is better; the truth is, you can pretty much produce the same sounds on a Mac as you can on a PC and vice versa. 

If you will be collaborating with musicians, audio engineers or podcasters, consider a DAW that works on both Windows and Mac. Otherwise, look for compatible software for the OS you prefer.

Audio Plugin Compatibility

You'll also want to consider audio plugin compatibility before purchasing a DAW. The most common plugin formats fall into two different camps: native PC plugins and native Mac plugins. Virtual studio technology (VST) is the most widely used plugin format that works on both Mac and PC. The native format for Mac OS X is audio units (AU).

Pricing and Features

DAW pricing varies widely between free options and high-end powerhouses, but be wary of added costs. Paid DAW should come with a large sound library, numerous plugins and a solid sound editor. If you opt for free software, consider the cost of adding sounds and extensions.

Support

Consider the level of support you can expect from the company. Do they offer useful guides, videos and articles? Is there a frequently asked questions page? More popular DAWs also have a large community forum where you can connect with other users, pose questions and find solutions to problems you run into.

Recording Studio Software FAQs

Q: Do I need a license to edit and play audio tracks?

A: If you're planning to use audio tracks for your business, you'll probably need a music license. Learn more about music licensing requirements

Q: Is a free DAW worth it? 

A: A free DAW allows you to learn about and get started with audio production, but if you want to incorporate audio into your business, skip the free software and invest in a robust DAW. 

Q: Do more features mean a DAW is better than software apps with fewer features? 

A: Not necessarily. For budding audio engineers, less is more. Learn to master the basic tools and features before diving in the deep end. 

Q: Do I really need professionally recorded audio for my marketing videos? 

A: Many small businesses focus on video quality, but they overlook sound. A marketing video with great visuals but poor audio won't win over new clients.

Community Questions & Answers

Have a recording studio software question of your own?
Ask an Expert

How do I produce professional looking videos for my business?

16 responses
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(I haven't read other answers and sorry for the short answer here but ... ) If you want "professional looking" videos, you have to hire a professional video crew. Producing a professional video is more than a camera on a stick. If you need more details or help in finding a crew, please message me.

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