Recording Software for Guitarists

Reaper recording software

Survey Results – most popular audio and midi recording programs

by Metal Method Instructor Doug Marks

Reaper recording softwareMany guitarists have absolutely no interest in recording software (digital audio workstations).  I think that the reason for this is, fear of the unknown.  It is important to occasionally record your playing to identify weak areas of playing technique that aren’t obvious while performing “on the fly.”  Plus, it’s great to have a record of your progress.  These are the obvious reasons but only the basics of what can be done with a professional DAW program (recording software).

Even a beginner can use these tools to create professional sounding backing tracks for cover tunes and original material.  There are simple tools that can be used as building blocks to piece together some incredible sounding music that can be created by all levels of playing experience.

Here’s an example.  Everybody needs killer drum tracks for their recordings.  You can use a program like EZ Drummer to compose some amazing sounding stuff.  EZ Drummer includes midi performances created by professional drummers.  Midi doesn’t record sound it records the performance.  There is a difference.  Sensors and microphones are attached to a real drum set to collect information while a real drummer is playing that includes when each drum is hit and the volume of each hit.  The sound of the drums is not recorded just the performance information.  You take these midi performances and paste them into a DAW track then use this information to trigger real drum sounds.  You can mix and match fills and different beats to create completely original material.  Then use these midi performances to trigger drum sounds that were recorded in world class recording studios.  Your drum tracks can sound like a professional recording.  Add to this either real or midi bass (also triggering real sounds) and you’ve got a backing track that sounds like a professional band.

Recording Software – DAW survey results

Surveys were placed on three different sites: Michael Angelo Batio’s FB page, Metal Method’s FB page, and our Guitar Lesson Forum.  MAB uses Pro Tools and apparently many of his fans are aware of that.  On Michael’s Facebook page Pro Tools was more than twice as popular as any other DAW.  On Metal Method’s Facebook page Apple Logic Pro, Pro Tools, and Cubase were virtually tied at the top.  Cakewalk was twice as popular as any other DAW on Metal Method’s Forum.  I assume this is because I’ve used Cakewalk for twenty-five years and mentioned it in articles and lessons so many of my students use Cakewalk.  The following graph contains the results of all three surveys added together.

Recording software graph

Here are a few observations about these results.  Pro Tools has been the professional choice for many years.  Initially it was incredibly expensive and available as a complete system.  Later it was introduced on both Mac and the PC.  All of these programs are popular for different reasons.  I’m into Cakewalk because it’s a PC program and I’m a PC guy.  Initially Cakewalk and Cubase were the only choices for the PC.  I’ve used both and they’re both great.  DAW programs are somewhat complicated to learn so I haven’t done much experimenting with other programs.  I created this survey because I was considering changing to another program.  After seeing the results and considering the learning curve and advantages / disadvantages to changing, I’m currently planning to stay with Cakewalk.  My system is very stable and I like the results that I’m getting.

June 2018 update: Take a good look at Reaper.  Since this article was originally written Reaper has become much more popular with our Forum students.

If you’re getting ready to put together a recording system for your computer here are a few thoughts.  Pro Tools is number one but the company (Avid) is in a very challenging financial position.  The other top programs are excellent but they’re also expensive and quite complicated to learn.  Cockos Reaper would be a very good choice for many of you.  It’s inexpensive and I’ve heard very good things about the program on our Forum and elsewhere.  Here are a few things you should do before settling on a program:

  • Most of these programs have user Forums.  It’s important to learn what users are experiencing.  You’ll find many disgruntled users in most of these forums and part of the reason for this is hardware conflicts.  Macs are expensive but are the most likely systems to offer you “turnkey” recording with a minimum of hardware conflicts assuming that you choose the correct audio interface.
  • If you’re serious about recording in the PC world Windows 7 and a powerful computer are recommended.  I use an Intel i7 and the top users at Cakewalk do too.
  • This next one is EXTREMELY important.  Learn what audio interface(s) are popular with the program that you’re interested in purchasing.  For example, Rolland owns Cakewalk.  They also manufacture an interface that is used for software development and clinics.  Most problems associated with DAW’s are created by audio interface driver conflicts.  Use one that’s been thoroughly tested for best results.  You can learn about compatible interfaces on user forums.

by Metal Method Instructor Doug Marks