User Friendly Recording Software

Brandon Drury —  June 11, 2008

While I’ve touched on this topic, I want to hit it head on in this brief article. I see a ton of newbies in the recording world asking about “user friendly software”. If you are looking for user friendly software, this article is for you.

What recording software is user friendly? Easy! All of them! Okay, maybe not ALL of them, but all of them that are successful. Recording software must be easy to use. Why? Because in the heat of battle when creative juices are flowing, you can not be fighting your recording setup. No songs will ever get finished if this is the case. So take a look around and see what people are using. You’ll find that Pro Tools, Cubase (the most popular here at Recording Review), Logic, Sonar, Digital Performer, etc are all popular and are all being used on home recordings.

This is kind of like saying “Which car is easy to drive?”. While driving a semi might be difficult, there really isn’t that much difference between a F-150, a Honda Civic, and a Porsche. You would have to get used to all of them and every person has their preferences, but the actual “easy to use” thing is about the same. The gas makes you go. The break makes you stop.

Let’s take a different slant on this.

What recording software is user friendly? Easy! The one you know how to work! This may sound like smart ass statement, but I think it leads to a much bigger issue that we’ll discuss here in a moment. If you were to ask me what language is easiest to speak, I’d have to say English because it’s the only language I know. I hear that Spanish is one of the simpler languages and that German and Russian are supposed to be quite a bit more difficult to master. Of course, Russia, Germany, and English speaking countries have been first world countries while simpler languages have had less economic success. What does that mean? Nothing really. The point is that I doubt if any country would improve their economic success if they all just switched to Russian or Spanish and I don’t think better recordings would be achieved by simply switching from whatever you use now.

Is “Easy” The Most Important Criteria For You?
Let’s assume you can’t speak a language. Which one do you speak? I would speak whatever language is going to give me the most success. Here in Missouri, I wouldn’t get too far with Pig Latin. English was a good choice even if it took a few more classes to learn in school and even if this blog is full of grammatical errors.

If you are new to home recording, don’t get overwhelmed by the learning curve. It isn’t that bad! Tons of idiots make great recordings. Trust me! Instead, focus on what is going to allow you to be most “successful” at your musical recording endeavor. This brings up a bunch of other questions about your needs and all of that jive. That’s beyond the scope of this little blog. I just wanted to get you think.

The Casual User
I’ve edited like 2 hours of video in my life. I don’t have time to be a real video guy even though I wish I did. If I needed to edit a video tomorrow, I guess I wouldn’t have the time to master a full blown mega video editing software program. I would want something fairly easily to grasp simply because I’m a casual user and not looking to make a life long commitment to video editing.

If this is similar to your experience with audio, I really don’t know what to tell you. While does cater to the beginner in music and audio recording, the people that stick around are music people. They are not the casual user. The typical member isn’t going to be purchasing recording software from Best Buy. Good luck in your quest.

All recording software has a learning curve. If you really want to record music, buck up and start looking for recording software that will allow you to be as musically successful as possible. Start looking for the right recording software for you instead of focusing on the fact that software A takes 8 hours to be proficient, but software B takes 7.5 hours to be proficient. If music is your “thing”, put the time in to learn the well thought out tools. Easy has nothing to do with it.

…and if you are not a music guy, good luck. I wish I could help out.

Brandon Drury

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Brandon Drury quit counting at 1,200 recorded songs in his busy home recording studio. He is the creator of and is the author of the Killer Home Recording series.

17 responses to User Friendly Recording Software

  1. I guess it depends on how much power you want out of your DAW. Garageband is real easy to use, but it also doesn’t give you many options. If you are looking for a pro application thats easy to pick up, I suggest Cubase or Logic 8 (NOT Logic 7 or below).

  2. I’d like to add to Barry’s “Conclusion” statement.
    Everyone here is most likely some type of musician, plays some musical instrument. So I ask, when you decided to play an instrument or started getting into music, did you ask yourself, “Which instrument is the easiest to play and most user friendly?” No, you chose the one that spoke to you or suited you. You took the time and made the effort to learn that instrument. Like Barry says, take the same approach with the software. Pick the one that suits you and learn it.

  3. “Insane” Shane Mckane December 15, 2008 at 10:43 pm

    Yeah…all those clever analogies to “Learning a language” don’t mean squat!~ Sure, whatever instrument you choose takes time to learn…I get it. The problem is that ALL of the musical software programs that I’ve seen feel like they were designed by technically proficient computer geeks NOT by musicians who simply want to manifest there conceptual ideas quicky, before the spark of inspiration is passed. Wow, they make the computer screen look like a mixing console…gee that makes it soooooo easy. Pro Tools, the industry standard has a manual the size of a phonebook and I know some very intelligent musicians that have worked with the program for over a year and are just starting to feel like they’re over the hump (still learning ofcourse).

    Bottom line…somebody should strive to design a program that is so easy to figure out that when you look at it, it’s self explanatory…you don’t feel the need to stop and search for the tutorial…or feel overwhelmed and intimidated. It should invite and facilitate the musical process instead of boasting bells & whistles in a format that is cluttered & chaotic.

    Here’s another meaningless analogy…if every car had 21 speeds like a mountain bike, should we pick whichever vehicle we happen to fancy and learn to shift gears until we feel like we’re getting post traumatic stress disorder OR should somebody perhaps innovate the industry and come up with with something completely radical…like the “Automatic Transmission”?? Me, I hired an engineer and a producer. LOL

  4. The problem is that ALL of the musical software programs that I’ve seen feel like they were designed by technically proficient computer geeks NOT by musicians who simply want to manifest there conceptual ideas quicky, before the spark of inspiration is passed.

    I can come up with a melody in my head right now, walk into my control, and have the idea down with rough drums, bass, and piano in 5 minutes. That’s not a big deal at all with Cubase SX3.

    Wow, they make the computer screen look like a mixing console…gee that makes it soooooo easy.

    So what do you suggest? I realize that not everyone has a degree in physics, but the mixing console has been the tool of choice for audio mixers for decades. The people who really want control of their audio simply take the time to learn these. The people who don’t want to mess with it either pay the nerds who did take the time to learn it or they do without.

    I know VERY unintelligent people who can work a mixing console. Minus a few hiccups, a mixing console is a very simple device when you take it a channel at a time.

    Pro Tools, the industry standard has a manual the size of a phonebook
    True. I don’t know about Pro Tools, but Cubase SX3 has a huge manual. Then they have a Getting Started guide/tutorial that can be easily covered in an after noon. The manual wasn’t designed to be read straight through. It’s there in case you need to use the more detailed features.

    I know some very intelligent musicians that have worked with the program for over a year and are just starting to feel like they’re over the hump (still learning ofcourse).

    I’m not a Pro Tools user, but I find this shocking. I went through the getting started guide for Cubase SX3 and booked a session the next day. It wasn’t the most efficient session in the world, but we got through it.

    Bottom line…somebody should strive to design a program that is so easy to figure out that when you look at it, it’s self explanatory.

    This is a nice goal. You are looking for something fairly “automatic”. I don’t blame you. The problem with anything automatic is it isn’t flexible. With Windows Sound Recorder, you can definitely jump right in and just press record. It’s supposed to work right out of the gate and I think it does with your stock soundcard.

    However, Cubase allows for multiple tracks, so we need to create an audio track. Cubase allows you to use from any of your available inputs. For some guys it’s 2. For other guys it’s 8. I’ve got 18 inputs. I can’t see any way around this one if you want to record more than one track at a time.

    Once you’ve selected the right input, you can simply record in Cubase without a hitch. It couldn’t be simpler, once you understand your own needs. For most people just getting started it takes a couple of hours of tinkering to get their system setup so they can go in and record an acoustic guitar part instantly.

    OR should somebody perhaps innovate the industry and come up with with something completely radical…like the “Automatic Transmission”?
    The Automatic Transmission works because in car there are very specific criteria that are met all the time. You always start with Gear #1. You always end up in the top gear on the interstate.

    If “always” ever worked in recording land, a person would find a way to automate it.

    Me, I hired an engineer and a producer. LOL

    I think you made the right choice for you.

    You may not like my “meaningless” analogies. I can live with that. If you are looking for the magical piece of software that requires no effort on your part that will still be all things to all people, the only thing I can tell you is that it doesn’t exist. Unless there are radical changes that reduce the flexibility (and therefor creative musical potential) or signficant improvements in the way hardware and software interact, it won’t happen any time soon.

  5. I got Sony Acid a few years back and hated it because it seemed like you could only do loop stuff with it. But from what I’ve read about Acid 7 it’s more of a real recorder/mixer. It’s got everything I think I want: Rewire, Unlimited Tracks, high sampling rates, etc… I’m trying to figure out why it’s so much cheaper than the others when I don’t see any abilities that the others have that Acid 7 doesn’t? Is there a difference in audio quality for some reason?

  6. I respect your attempt at helping people but this article is false because some software is wayyy easier for a specific style of music making then others.

    and there’s no way you can argue something like samplitude or cubase is just as user friendly as garageband (who’s limitations suck big time)

    but it is much more user friendly then alot of software.

    Thing is, software can definetly get in the way, even if you know it well, if it’s not intuitive to your way of thinking.

  7. and there’s no way you can argue something like samplitude or cubase is just as user friendly as garageband (who’s limitations suck big time)

    I think this is my point. If Garageband’s limitations “suck big time” than any CAPABLE recording software (which I’ll loosely define as programs that don’t suck big time) are going to have a learning curve. There is absolutely no way around it.

    If a person really wanted to fully learn 12 different recording programs, I’m sure there would be 1 or 2 that stood out as easier. The only problem with this is it means giving up a year of your live and doing nothing but learning recording software to find it. No thanks. With a little effort Cubase is piece of cake. I’ll stick with it. It doesn’t ever bother me that maybe out there something is easier. What do I care?

    Thing is, software can definetly get in the way, even if you know it well, if it’s not intuitive to your way of thinking.

    I don’t disagree. However, I consider the entire recording process to be one big hurdle in the way. Everything from scheduling the bands, getting them to show up on time, setting up mics, audio engineering, getting headphone mixes, bla bla bla is all a big hinderance to the creative process. It’s all a big annoyance that keeps us from focusing on what matters. That’s okay. Progress will work it out. In the mean time we could all be focusing on something more productive than a lack of usability in 2009. The truth is EVERY recording made up to this point has dealt with this lack of user friendliness.

  8. well i read all the comments and i understand all the points but as a musician to be honest all i’m lookin to do is get the sounds down on tape ..oops .. no more tape .. down then .. and it can be quite overwhelming .. i understand the learn the software and live with it approach but i’m sure there’s some software thats a bit more intuitive than others .. i remember back a few years ago i had a program for digital photos from adobe photo deluxe and it worked great for what i wanted to do which was to edit photos as far as color and contrast and light and dark or density .. and crop .. and i could read different formats like tiff or bitmaps or jpegs and then i upgraded to xp and it wouldn’t work with that os . so i upgraded to adobe photoshop elements and i absolutely hated it .. hated it .. i mean hated it .. they threw everything in there includin the kitchen sink and try as i might it now took me 17 steps to do what i used to do in 2 or less .. it actually gave me a headache to use it .. so with all that said i’d like some software that works well and won’t give me an ulcer .. i’ll admit i’m not an engineer nor do i want to be one .. i just want to get the sounds down . another case in point .. i had a ridin lawnmower repaired and it broke again right after the guy dropped it off so i called them to tell them its not fixed and the guy said well look at your choke and then check the spring over on the bottom and then tip it over and tighten up those 4 bolts that connect to the dohickey on that thitamajig on the side but not too tight or you’ll strip them and then you’ll really have a problem and then ..i stopped the guy right there and said look i’m 50 years old .. if i wanted a job fixin lawnmowers i woulda got one doin just that years ago .. i’m not lookin for a career change right about now which is why i paid you .. so get your ass back over and and pick this pos up and fix it right like you were paid to do the first time .. i hope those analogies were understandable enough to get my musician minded point across.. most of what i’ve heard about software is generalities .. why is garageband so easy and whats so limiting about it ?? and why is protools so damm hard and have a phone book sized manuel ?? what is it you can do with protools that you can’t with garageband ?? i just got a behringer mixer and it came with software energyxt2 .. which you can use to record to your computer but you only get 8 tracks .. i haven’t used it or even installed it yet as i’m still unsure if its worth the time if i have to upgrade later .. i just wanna scream .. eeeeeeeeeee.. i wish this was easier ..

  9. yeah .. i forgot to check the box about notify about any followup comments so .. here i am again ..

  10. Hey Frenchy,

    I 100% hear your concerns. I, too, don’t want to fix lawnmowers. I get exactly what you are saying.

    Frankly, as a Cubase user, I get all kinds of people telling me that it’s “too complicated”. I have no idea what they are talking about. I started on it on a Saturday and ran a session on Sunday. Cubase has been AWESOME for me. I wouldn’t say I’ve had zero problems, but few home recorders who’ve done this for more than 10 minutes can say that. I think this “too complicated” thing is invented by people who refuse to accept a learning curve at all. Maybe this is the lawnmower example all over again, but I’m not aware of any software a person can use without learning how to use the software. The lawnmower example required you to do learn deep-level stuff, but no software I’ve ever seen ever required a person to re-write the code.

    I can’t comment about Pro Tools and Garageband because my experience with them has been limited. I can tell you about switching from Vegas to Cubase several years ago.

    1) Editing: Vegas could only allow me to slice a relatively HUGE chunk of audio. Many times this was not the ideal spot to cut the audio. Cubase lets me slice down to one sample.
    2) Overdubs/Punch Ins: Vegas didn’t have the ability to punch in and out during a performance. I simply had to record all the audio I needed and go back and edit it. In Cubase I don’t have to do anything other than punch in and then punch out if I don’t want to.
    3) Lanes: Cubase has a SUPER SMART feature that allows me to loop a guitar solo section so I can play my guitar solo 50 times if I want to. When I hit stop, each track is stacked on the screen in a way that makes it extremely easy for me to pick my favorite one. To do this in Vegas would have required me to hit stop after every take. Move the cursor back. Then start again. The workflow is outstanding in Cubase compared to Vegas.
    4) Editing multiple parts simultaneously: In Cubase, if I have 12 drum tracks and I need to cut some space out from a breakdown, I can use a folder track and just make one cut. It will remove the space from all 12 drum tracks. In Vegas, I had to do each track individually. Vegas was unacceptably inefficient in this regard.
    5) At that time, Vegas didn’t even have a sequencer for MIDI work.
    6) I hit the wrong button on my converter and ended up recording at a 48k sample rate even though Vegas was set to 44.1k. The end result was the audio playing back either in slow motion or chipmunk mode. Neither were acceptable. Vegas never made any concessions to fix this. It turned out that I had to reopen each file with a utility and change the “header” to 48k so Vegas could handle it properly. It took me about 15 hours of tedious labor. I goofed up and did the same thing again after I switched to Cubase. It turned out that Cubase recognized the flaw immediately and fixed the problem in like 30 seconds. I was BLOWN AWAY!
    7) Automation – In Cubase, I’m not sure if there is anything I can’t automate. In Vegas, there were tons of things I couldn’t automate. Cubase dramatically changed the way I work!

    The list goes on and on.

    BTW, none of these features added any complexity… different than driving a car is any more complex than riding a horse or walking. They just made my life WAY better. The time it takes to get used to driving (using Cubase) makes up the time it takes to learn Cubase or equivalent almost instantly.

    That’s my take. I hope that shed some light on the situation.


  11. I like Logic Studio personally, but it isn’t the easiest software to learn. The problem is the simpler the interface the less powerful. The more powerful the more confusing the interface. You cant have both user friendly and powerful at the same time.

  12. Ok I quit reading after a few paragraphs since its all bullshit anyway , so far I havent seen a single user friendly software and no its not like dribving a car , driving a car makes SOME sense you see a seat you think ok thats where I sit you see the steering wheel you think oh this controls direction and so forth , you experiment with the pedals you will see an immediate result to each action , every lame ass software on the market does NOT work like that , you start it you get a music sheet, you click on icons you have never seen before and fuck all happens you say Ill try this( like trying to input note in sibelius, play back and theres nothing wtf , click help, user manual , nothing ahppens agaqin so fuck off they already lost my business) a user friendly software would be easy to FIGURE OUT not easy once you spent 6 freaking years learning it , if I spend years learning it of course It ll be easy to use afterward. Same applies to this article, its not reader friendly because it tries to change the issue instead of answering a simple question , all you had to say was : NO THERE ARENT ANY USER FRIENDLY SOFTWARE TO CREATE MUSIC , there ya go saving us all the hassle of reading for half an hour to discover this, so instead of wasting my time with software Ill just stick to user friendly stuff , like good old hardware which has the appeal of not being virtual and of having the real nice deep accoustic sounds, from the costs Im seeing lately wont be that much more than the lame ass softwares anyway why throw my cash away on something that works half ass when I already know a tascam board will work wonderfully?

  13. So it seems that no one here has a real answer. The question is, which audio software ( if they were to be ranked)are the easiest to use.

    This is coming from the perspective of someone who has never used a mixer board, never recorded anything before but is simply a musician…and wants to know the software that they could purchase that would allow them to record, use stored tracks to record over, transpose sound into note music and such without having to study the product as if for a law exam or a med exam.

    Just like a micro-soft office product is so user friendly that even if you don’t know much you can still use the basic parts of it and feel like you’re getting your money’s worth…but if you wished to do more you’d THEN have to learn more it would be nice to know of a product list that at least has an level playing field.

    If your learning curve is that you’ve used several other products before and therefore everything…seems kind of easy…then your perspective is not going to help out unless you can understand our perspective…and this perspective is from the user who spends 50- 200 dollars on an audio product only to find themselves only able to turn it on…and everything else requires you study…actually study and research through google! to figure it out.

    So once again, can someone with knowledge rank the most user friendly audio software available? From the easiest to the most difficult? Also, if this could include some sort of description of what limitations would come with each and subsequent benefits…

  14. The idea of tossing 30 people in a room with brand new software and seeing which one is most productive in the shortest amount of time sounds noble. You may even get a scientific study to do it sometime.

    The problem with asking a person who already knows their software in and out what their to list their favorite is it insinuates they haven’t already found it. It’s my belief that the various DAWs out there (Pro Tools, Logic, Cubase, Sonar, etc) are so damn close in their abilities that few people ever switch once unless they have reliability problems.

    I can relate to wanting a simple answer. I’ve been dabbling in web security lately for the server. Unfortunately, it took the guys who really know this stuff a college degree and years in the field to master it. It’s hard for them to relate to a guy who just wants to push four buttons and come out with a truly secure server. This really doesn’t exist because web security is actually an art and not an automated process.

    If all a person wants to do is record sound, those little handheld digital gadgets do it just fine. The second a person qualifies it, things get ugly. If you want to use an XLR microphone, it has to be accounted for. If you want to record 2 tracks at the same time, it has to be accounted for. If you want the ability to reverse a portion of a track, toss reverb on it, flip it back over, and then move it where you want to, it has to be accounted for.

    I think the typical beginner simply assumes that recording is a process like can smashing. In other words, put the can in, pull down on the lever, and bam. You have a smashed can. The task is over. This is not even close to what my style of recording is like. I need the ability to convert a transient track into MIDI data which can trigger a sample. I need quite a bit of fancy editing, including pitch correction and even timing correction. Basically, all those things I hadn’t bothered with when I started I use every day to make the clients happy. I guess a person could say that the second they actually care what the recording sounds like, they will need something more advanced.

    What I don’t get is this. When I’m recording a good ol’ live band, I don’t need ANY fancy features. I arm a track in Cubase and hit the red button. It really is very close to being that simple.


  15. I’m not convinced that analog is any simpler. Aligning a tape machine, soldering a patch bay, (just using a patch bay!!!), replacing bad capacitors, understanding the routing of a console, etc are not simple at all. I’d argue that learning Cubase is quite a bit easier.


  16. Lazy, lazy, lazy… Sorry, but I gotta bust balls a bit on this one. I truly mean no disrespect and I understand where it’s coming from. Merely a symptom of our society today. You can see this problem everywhere. People want something to do everything possible, exactly how they need it to, with a million different options with two buttons and one page of instructions with pictures. Sorry baby, it don’t work that way!

    Stop for a moment and honestly ask yourself what you NEED to do, and what you WANT to do. Frenchy…if all you really NEED to do is get your sounds down on tape, buy a simple tape machine and be done with it. They are still available. The more you expect to be able to do, the more you can expect to be required to learn. WANT 4 tracks? Then you need a 4 track recorder which is more complicated and requires you to put EFFORT into learning how to use it. WANT 8,12,16 or more tracks? Now you have to LEARN how to bounce tracks. Analog or Digital, it’s the same thing. The more you expect something to do, the more control you expect to have over it and that means options and a learning curve. You gave the perfect example yourself. Adobe Photo Deluxe is alot like the Windows Wave Recorder built into every version of Windows since 3.1. It’s pretty basic and doesn’t let you do much but “get your sounds down”. That said it’s pretty easy for anyone to use, because it doesn’t do much! Photoshop Elements is the same as any current DAW’s lite, or LE version. They let you do all the amazing things you see the pro’s do, along with the basics. Because they are so powerful and able to do so much, they have a learning curve. You hated Photoshop because you didn’t need or want those options. Because both areas, music and graphic art, are expressive and all about variables and nuance, there is no “easy button”.

    Blablabla…creating music in software is nothing like driving a car and never will be thank God! A car has 6 tasks. Stop and Go, Left and Right, and Forward and Back. That’s it. Intuitive has nothing to do with it. If you expect anything close to that kind of simplicity you simply won’t be able to do much musically and you probably won’t be satisfied. You can’t write, edit and mix a symphony (or even a 4 man band) with a Speak and Spell. You’ve got to crack a manual and read it.

    Miles77…you have answered your own question with your complaint. “this perspective is from the user who spends 50- 200 dollars on an audio product only to find themselves only able to turn it on…and everything else requires you study…actually study and research through google! to figure it out.” Sorry to be harsh, but…No shit?! You bought an expensive piece of complex electronic equipment cable of doing all the groovy things you heard it could do and you’re shocked that you would actually have to LEARN how to operate it properly? Did you expect a “Nickelback” button on that custom amp? A “pretty” button on that reverb? Hardware or software, these are tools that allow you to do complex tasks a myriad of ways. To be creative with them you have to learn how to use them or your options will be limited. You say you don’t even know how to operate a mixer. Ok, that’s fine, but you must understand that before you can start recording. Your mixer is now in your software and operating it properly is necessary to record. You can’t put the cart before the horse. There is a basic level of understanding needed to use DAW’s and if you haven’t learned it yet, then no software, no matter how rudimentary it could be, would be usable. Go to Guitar Center or MF and pick up a book on the basics of sound and mixing and learn how the equipment and techniques you are going to use (even if it’s a digital representation)actually work. You used the example of MS Office, but you actually prove my point. You already got over the basic learning curve by learning how to use a computer. Finding your way through the very basics of Office is obvious to anyone who can use a computer because the tasks and actions are already in use in so many other programs we’ve already learned. Nothing in audio recording, aside from a few simple file actions ie: save, cut, paste…, is similiar to basic computer programs we use every day. It would be more like you having never used a computer before and expecting to understand Office basic. You learned to play your instrument in stages, starting with the basics and building up from there. It’s no different here. Now you want to record, so you must learn how the equipment and software works, what it does, and how you can adjust it to get the desired action from it. If you want to play Zepp you first have to know how to hold the pick, strum in time, finger technique, bar chords… you have to build a knowledge-base.

    Sorry if I was harsh guys, but we all as a society are guilty of this. We have so much of our life’s tasks simplified to the point of idiocy that we sometimes forget that some things just take learning. Music is creativity, and creativity demands flexibility, and that requires a level of complexity. If all you want to do is record a couple of tracks and not much else, a simple hardware recorder will give you all the simplicity you desire. Any more than that, either hardware or software, you simply have to take the time to learn how to do it. No other way.

  17. Phillip Reaney March 12, 2011 at 2:34 am

    You want to talk ‘user UN-friendly”.
    Try using a Roland VS-1680 Digital Workstation,that intimidated me so much that I’ve not completed a new song in about 5 years. After reading all the manual and ‘Quick Start’booklet at least 4 times,I gave up.
    I would record drum machine,2 guitar parts,bass and maybe 2 guitar harmonies,only to have something audibly vanish but it was still on the screen.
    So now I too just want ‘to get it down’ and record clearly and quickly before inspiration leaves.
    I am going for an Imac with built in Garage Band and advised to try Logic when I’ve made some progress.