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Tutorial: Choosing a Digital Audio Sequencer

By moosers on 01/23/2010 - (Beginner)

Introduction

In this tutorial, I'll go through some methods and ideas for those who are having trouble choosing a digital audio sequencer/work space.  I'll outline some of the basics that go along with this decision and go through some of the top choices available...

Step 1

The most important thing to know when choosing a piece of software is to know what you want to do with it!  What kind of hardware will you be running with it?  What type of computer do you have and will it be able to support the software to its fullest potential? Will you be using it for primarily audio or MIDI?  How experienced are you with audio software?  These are the types of questions that you need to consider when choosing audio and/or MIDI software.  Different people will want different things from their software, so the most important thing when determining which software to choose is figuring out what you goal with the software is.

Step 2

Of all these questions, probably the most relative of them is if you will be using the software primarily for MIDI or for audio.  While many sequencers now will support both, most will either do one or the other significantly better.  For example, since I primarily work with audio, my primary piece of software is Pro Tools, although Pro Tools 8 does offer up a lot of new MIDI features.  However, I use Propellerhead Reason for most of my MIDI based ideas and songs, since it is more suitable for this type of use.  It all goes back to the question of what you're looking to do with the software, but either way that you go, make sure that you do the research for each sequencer so you know exactly what each one does.

Step 3

Now, let's go through a few of the most popular audio based sequencers that are available.  While I can't go through a detailed review of each, feel free to check out my individual reviews of many of the pieces of software that I will mention.  First, let's talk about the industry standard, which is of course Pro Tools.  This is my main sequencer for recording, editing, and mixing, as I find it easy to use and can do it all.  Another main consideration for me was that since most of the major commercial recording studios have Pro Tools systems, it makes it easy for me to go back and forth between my own home Pro Tools rig and any studios.  Using it has also made me prepared for working in commercial studios.  You should also keep in mind that you need a piece of hardware to run any version of Pro Tools, which is not something that you encounter with any other software.  Beyond Pro Tools however, there are a ton of options out there for recording, mixing, and editing.  A few other options include Steinberg Cubase, Cakewalk Sonar, and Sony Sound Forge.  All of these have different levels of software at different prices, and each more or less does the same thing within a different interface.  All also have demo versions that you can check out.  Each of the sequencers that I mentioned have options for MIDI, but I'll talk more about true MIDI sequencers in the next section.

Step 4

Of course the world of sequencers isn't limited to audio based software, as there are a ton of option for those who work primarily in MIDI.  The two that I have the most experience with are Apple Logic and Propellerhead Reason.  Logic is probably the most in depth and also has a good amount of options for recording, editing, and mixing audio as well (although not as in depth as Pro Tools).  Logic is growing more and more popular and is available in a few different versions.  Reason is also a very popular piece of software, and is one that is only for use with MIDI, meaning you can't record any sort of audio in Reason.  Reason is great for making drum patterns and beyond, but isn't as detailed as Logic.  A few other MIDI based sequencers include Ableton Live, Digital Performer, and Fruity Loops.  Again, all of these have their own niches, so it is important to do your research and see what will work best for you.

Step 5

In addition to audio and MIDI software that you must pay for, there are also some basic options out there that you can get for free.  As far as audio goes, the one that sticks out to me is Audacity.  However, there is a ton of software out there that will get the job done for basic audio and MIDI use.  I'd really only recommend this route if you're looking to just see what it is all about, as these programs are usually quite limited...

Conclusion

Choosing the best piece of software that will work for you isn't always easy, but as long as you do your research and try out different programs, you should be able to find software that suits your needs perfectly!