Making Music on the Mac for Beginners

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The digital music production market is more vital than ever: the boundaries between Musicians, producers and DJs are blurring and productions from the home studio have long dominated social online networks, Youtube – and even the charts. In the center of most hits: the Mac and a complete recording studio in the computer.

A significant portion of the triumph of home productions has Apple’s music software GarageBand. First released in 2004 as part of the iLife package on the Mac, the iPhone and iPad versions also made the music production suite fit for mobile use. From the functional range has always been focused more on beginners and amateur musicians, the software is now also suitable for professional productions. This is reflected not least in the charts: The drums in Rihanna’s hit “Umbrella” and the beat from Kendrick Lamar’s “Pride” are from GarageBand. And even the seasoned Britpopper Oasis recorded the demos of their last studio album “Dig Out Your Soul” with the Apple standard solution. The professional interest is not even surprising: the software “substructure” of GarageBand comes after all from the makers of the professional recording solution Logic Pro X.

That’s how we tested

In order to give all candidates the same chances, we have exported a piece created in Logic and loaded them track by track into the respective programs. We did not use pre-editing with plug-ins and equalizers to examine the corresponding properties in the mix with each solution. For the control we used different USB controllers and MIDI devices.

You should pay attention to this when buying:

  • MIDI-in and -out : If you want to include external sound generators in your productions, you should make sure that your music software can control them using MIDI inputs and outputs.
  • Number of Tracks : Some introductory variations of established music programs reduce the number of available recording tracks – and thus limit your creativity.
  • Plug-ins : Some The best digital instruments are now available as VST and AU extensions. Mac users should take care that their software supports as much as possible both formats.
  • ReWire : Rewire has become the standard for communication between music programs. But not all programs bring this technology with them!
  • iPhone & iPad : Many programs have special iOS versions that allow you to gather inspiration while on the move or to continue ideas that have been started on the Mac.
  • Career opportunities : For many entry-level programs there are opportunities for advancement to the professional version.


The professional audio suite is available in three different versions for beginners, professional musicians and producers.

Web: Price: 99.99 Euro / 309 Euro / 559 Euro


A beauty is certainly not this free audio editor. In the scope of services, however, he can certainly keep up with many professional solutions.

Web: Price: free of charge

Sounds great, costs nothing!

A not to be underestimated reason for the great success of the audio workstation especially among newcomers: Apple kept the price of GarageBand always low – today it stands like the programs of iWork -Suite even for free download from the App Store ready.

Nevertheless, the program on the Mac is far from unrivaled: Established companies such as Propellerhead and Ableton offer – in the functional scope, however, reduced – entry-level versions of their popular programs Reason or Live low prices. And the free and shareware market has some free and professionally-made gems – such as the Ardoour music production workshop reminiscent of Pro Tools.

Test 1: Price Performance

You want to get a MIDI controller? Then chances are good that the intro version of Ableton Live is included right away. Although it is a much reduced to complete program version, but this also applies to Reason Essentials. The reduction, on the other hand, also offers the opportunity for clear and clear production.

The situation is different with GarageBand: while this uses the audio engine from Logic Pro, it is ultimately a completely different program. Particularly impressive is the donation-financed Ardor: It is based in its operation on the studio solution Pro Tools and is thus suitable for professional productions. Equally demanding is Reaper: Use it only for non-commercial projects, benefit from a four times lower purchase price.

Test 2: User-friendliness

With GarageBand, Apple deliberately turns to songwriters – for complex production, it’s more of a professional logic. Accordingly, even newcomers to music production get their first results. This also applies to Ableton Live: With its loop-based approach, it invites you to improvise in the studio and on stage – even DJs appreciate the possibilities for clock-accurate setting of clips. The intro version is often enough for them. Reason, on the other hand, is like a huge creative playground for sound developers who want to spend hours in front of their software. Ardour and Reaper demand plenty of time to get used to their approaches, which are based on the professional models Pro Tools and Logic Pro. However, they reward the learning effort with absolutely high-quality results.

Test 3: Features

Although GarageBand also offers easy ways to post-process your productions, first and foremost it wants to help capture your ideas quickly and easily. The advantage: If you later switch to the “big brother” Logic Pro X, you can easily import and process your songs created in GarageBand.

Ableton Live Intro offers an almost playful approach to music loops, but with its Limitation limited to 16 tracks. The Essentials version of Reason knows no limitations in the track equipment and also offers many opportunities for creative romp. Ardor, Mulab and Reaper, on the other hand, represent fully expanded production environments – without any creative limitations, which may be overwhelming in the beginning.

Test 4: Extensibility

With the basic versions of every music software you quickly reach creative limits. Important is the support for plug-ins, external hardware and the possibility of promotion to professional versions. GarageBand is great with Logic Pro and its versions for iPad and iPhone, but only accepts extensions and effects in Apple’s own audio unit format. As with GarageBand, the Reason Essentials MIDI channel also turns out to be a one-way street. Like Mulab, it supports plug-ins in the popular VST format and via Rewire. Ardour is familiar with VSTs and AUs and boasts of hosting one of the industry’s most comprehensive MIDI supports. Ableton Live understands all interface formats and can even remotely control compatible iOS and Mac apps.


Which music program is right for you decides above all on your approach. If you prefer to capture your own ideas and get musical results quickly, GarageBand is a great start – even if you already own or plan to buy Logic Pro X and later professionally batch your works.

The intro version of Ableton Live could already be enough for you, especially if you are work with loops and on-board tools or want to include additional clips in your DJ performance. For extensive productions, however, it is simply too limited. Ardor, Mulab, and Reaper have a lot more options here that can compete with professional solutions like Cubase, Logic, and Pro Tools. Reason has a very own, rack-bound approach – and even the cheap Essential version invites you to “frumble” on sounds and loops. However, one has to get involved with it.

Thomas Raukamp

“Do you love Ableton Live? Then try out Bitwig Studio – developed by a group of former Ableton staff, it follows a very similar concept. ”

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