Recording Software

What software will you need in order to start recording your songs?

Your DAW

DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation, and it means the software you use for music production. There are lots of DAWs out there -- Protools, Ableton, Fruity Loops, GarageBand, Studio One, and more.

What do I recommend?

Reaper. Hands down. There's a caveat, though. Two, actually. Maybe three.

Do You Have A Mentor?

If there's somebody who knows more about recording than you do, and you can call them up with questions, use whatever software they use. You'll be able to follow along much more easily, if you're using the same software.

Live Looping

Ableton is the boss, here. If your main musical goal is to do live looping, that might be the way to go.

Do You Have Something That Meets Your Needs & You're Already Using It?

Stick with it, if it's working for you.

Why Reaper?

DAWs sound the same, as far as recording and playing back files. There's not a quality difference in the sounds themselves, between Reaper and say, Protools. Plus, Reaper does everything you need it to do, and it's cheap. 

Pluses . . .

  • $60 for a license which will take you through 2 major versions (I've had Reaper for maybe 7 years, and have been through one paid upgrade)
  • They add new features constantly
  • The evaluation version has a reminder screen and no limitations. You can start for free, and pay for it when you can (please pay for it)
  • It has tons of included FX -- EQs, compressors etc. -- and many more free plugins and additional functionality available for free, via download
  • Reaper is stable
  • Reaper is a small download and easy on your CPU. It will even run on a Raspberry Pi.
  • Reaper can run both 32 and 64 bit plugins natively
  • Reaper is super customizable in terms of skins, colors and you can ever create your own themes. But you can also just run it straight off the standard configuration
  • Reaper has a stash of plugins coded especially for Reaper, in a very efficient coding language. They're called JSFX, and they're free
  • Reaper runs on Windows, Mac, & Linux


  • Reaper doesn't come with a virtual instrument library, like GarageBand does. If you want virtual drums, bass, percussion, or other instruments, you'll have to buy them, or find free plugins.

Virtual Instruments (VSTIs)

Back in the day, if you wanted orchestral sounds, you had to hire an orchestra. With the advent of sampling and sophisticated software, we can now have really good sounding pianos, orchestras, drums, percussion, Hammond B3 organs, guitars, and just about any other instrument you can think of.

Your needs may vary, but here's what I use regularly. Resource links below.


  • Addictive Drums by XLN Audio
  • SR5 Rockbass, by Prominy
  • Synthmaster by KV331 Audio
  • Miroslav Philharmonik CE by IK Multimedia (but I'm about the try Spitfire Audio — BBC Symphony Orchestra, which you can currently get for free)
  • MDA Piano by Maxim Digital Audio

I Don't Use These, But I've Heard Good Things About These VSTIs

  • Get Good Drums 
  • Superior Drummer
  • Steven Slate Drums
  • Addictive Keys

Free VSTI Resources

In this section, I'll focus on libraries that provide multiple instruments. If you're on a budget, I'd suggest picking one of these resources, and using it for most of your instruments.

  • Cakewalk, by Bandlab has a set of decent sounding VSTIs -- SI Bass, SI, Drums, SI Strings, & SI Piano. If you install the free Cakewalk, you'll be able to access those plugins in Reaper, as well.
  • Spitfire Audio LABS: guitars, pianos, basses, and other acoustic instruments, along with some synth stuff.
  • Native Instruments Komplete Start: includes e-guitars, basses, acoustic drum-kits, an organ, e-pianos, flutes, reed instruments, bagpipes, plucked instruments, and percussion. Lots of synths and loops, too.

Effects (FX)

If you follow my advice, and go with Reaper, you won't need to buy any EQs, compressors, reverbs, choruses, delays, mastering limiters, or metering plugins to start with. Reaper has good quality plugins built-in. I'd suggest you use those. Thy ain't pretty, but they get the job done.

If you have another DAW, and it doesn't have these basic effects and processors built-in, you can head over and grab the Reaper stock plugins, and use them.

Here's what's going to happen to you. Or, at least it's happened to almost everyone I know, who's into recording. At some point, you're going to start buying FX and instrument plugins based on marketing hype.

Plugins are a bit like exercise machines. After you buy them, in many cases, they sit in the corner and gather dust. They don't get used.

I've developed a decision tree/action list on order to avid spending unnecessary money on plugins I'm not going to use.

  1. 1
    Ask if there's a way to perform whatever function the plugin performs, natively, in Reaper. If you can't figure it out, ask in the Reaper forum, here, or in a Reaper Facebook group.
  2. 2
    If there's no way to do it natively, be honest with yourself about how much you might use the plugin. Is it worth $39.95  for the special space swirl effect, for one song?
  3. 3
    If you can do the effect natively in Reaper, ask yourself if the paid plugin will improve your workflow. If so, and you're going to use the plugin regularly, it might be worth it.

These days, I mostly buy plugins if they improve workflow. In other words, using the plugin will solve a problem I have, in a quick and easy manner.

Amp Sims

Amp sims-- also called amp modelers -- are designed to take a raw guitar or bass sound (plugged directly into your audio interface, mixer, or direct box), and make it sound like it's coming through an amp. The advantages over recording an amplifier are these . . .

  • If you have the unprocessed guitar recorded, you can change the sound later. 
  • You won't wake up your pet hamster, by recording a loud guitar amp at 3 A.M.
  • You can buy a modeler that has several amp models in it. It would cost a lot more to buy all those amps.

This is one example of workflow improvement via a plugin. I can slap my PRS Supermodels amp simulation plugin on a track and have a guitar sound dialed in within a few minutes. My CLA guitars, does a clean, shimmering, chorused guitar very well. It takes 45 seconds to get it set up.

I also use Vermillion, by Kuassa (very low CPU load), and Humble, by ML Sound Labs. Neural DSP plugin demos sound incredible for metal. I don't think I'll be able to resist the next sale 🙂

I use an old PodFarm bass sim for bass.

Neural Amp Modeler is the bomb for guitar sounds and it's free. It's not as flexible as some of the commercially available amp SIMs, but it sounds great. Did I mention free?

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