How can I compose if I don't have a Mac?
July 30, 2010 2:13 PM   Subscribe

Are there any halfway decent equivalents to Garageband that would work with a Microsoft computer?

Yes, I know, in an ideal world I would have a Mac. But I have what I have. I need to start composing and doing demos and recording, yadda yadda yadda. Long story short, when I went to see my worship pastor and ask about options he showed me Garageband. On his Mac. I went home, googled Mac prices and about choked. So hive mind, help a gal out here. Anything out there I could mess with that would work on a not Mac computer? Free or cheap would be a plus altho other recommendations are welcome since I will want to upgrade as quickly as possible. Assume I don't know much (but it helps my husband is a computer nerd along with his other sterling attributes.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies to Computers & Internet (31 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I have not used it, but I've read good things about Myna.
posted by The World Famous at 2:18 PM on July 30, 2010

Oh, one more thing, I do own a keyboard and will presumably either be using it (with midi) or coughing up bucks for some kind of keyboard interface (the pastor had one and it looked okay.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:23 PM on July 30, 2010

Piano keyboard, that is. ;-)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:23 PM on July 30, 2010

How much money do you have? There's Cakewalk SONAR, there's ProTools, there's a handful of others that require an investment (in software and, in some cases, hardware) but can do amazing things from a DAW (digital audio workstation) perspective. Expect a learning curve.

Can't help with free/cheap, if you want midi sound support as well, sorry.
posted by davejay at 2:26 PM on July 30, 2010

You might want to take a look at Reaper.
posted by malocchio at 2:34 PM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Quality over cheap, folks. I'm in this for the long haul.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:34 PM on July 30, 2010

Also, ease of use would be a plus, or at least access to tutorials.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:35 PM on July 30, 2010

It won't record Midi or act as a software synthesizer, but if you can get around that then Audacity is generally what my friends use before they invest in more specialized tools. It's free, with lots of online support since it's open-source.
posted by muddgirl at 2:37 PM on July 30, 2010

Rereading your question, if you're interested in the Midi and virtual instruments part of GarageBand then I don't think Audacity will work for you - it is geared more towards musicians who have instruments or other electronic hardware already.

This Sony product is reasonably priced and will fit your bill although I've never used it.
posted by muddgirl at 2:42 PM on July 30, 2010

Your best bet might be to try a trail of anything you can get your hands on and see what works for you. Ableton Live might be something to look into, but I'm not that familiar with it.
posted by reductiondesign at 2:47 PM on July 30, 2010

Okay, I have a keyboard -a Yamaha DGX 505-which is what I play at home. I want to record what I do on it-ideally I'd like at least 8 tracks. I understand that one can compose music just by using one's computer but I'd really rather use my keyboard. I do have a lot of patches on it to include tons of drum patches, synth patches, instrumental patches, etc. I want something I can use when I hook my keyboard up to the computer.

Sorry this seems all over the place but my strength is in the music not the technology and I really need to get up to speed with the technology as soon as possible.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:02 PM on July 30, 2010

GarageBand is one of the things I miss most about not having a Mac anymore. I've spent a lot of time looking for a decent equivalent, and settled on Mixcraft -- not a perfect GB substitute but AFAIK it's the nearest thing on Windows you can get. (Now if I could just find a substitute for Scrivener...)
posted by Noah at 3:04 PM on July 30, 2010

If you are really in this for the long haul, and you are going to be doing all sorts of different music work, and quality is more important than cheap BUT you can't switch to Mac, you should suck it up and get Pro Tools.

Probably, to start out, you are going to want to buy some sort of M-Audio-brand audio/MIDI interface and get Pro Tools.

The thing is, there is no real equivalent to GarageBand on Windows. Also, all these suggestions people have above are like...each only relevant to a part of what you want to do. Pro Tools can do all the things you want to do. Pro Tools M-Powered is pretty affordable IIRC (I am not a habitual Windows or Pro Tools user).

People say Reaper is shockingly good for how cheap it is though.
posted by jeb at 3:05 PM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Okay, I know I'm going to get flamed for this, but you should take a look at FL Studio. Hey, hey, calm down, I like it, okay? Support for your keyboard, support for audio recording, VST plugins, a tiered feature set (ie. there is a free Demo version, then four levels, "Express", "Fruity", "Producer","Signature", ranging in price from $49 to $299, which include extra features). Try the demo. You'll need a hardware MIDI interface to plug your keyboard in, but they aren't that expensive.
posted by Jimbob at 3:37 PM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Adobe's Soundbooth isn't bad. I use it as an intro to messing around with audio before we get to ProTools.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:28 PM on July 30, 2010

FPP: "halfway decent"
Followup: "quality over cheap"


Taking your followup as a cue, the Propellerhead Software program called "Record" (the new big brother to "Reason") is like six Garagebands put together. You can compose with MIDI on the many virtual instruments and several samplers, it comes with buckets of loops & samples (way more than Garageband), and you can also record and edit audio as well.

It's what Garageband is trying to be the entry-level version of. Runs around $400 US right now for the Reason/Record package, which is a screaming deal.

Your computer will need to be pretty fast to make it all work. Check the system requirements carefully.
posted by Aquaman at 5:14 PM on July 30, 2010

I've never used it, but Steinberg's Sequel is meant to be quite good.

I have used Tracktion, several versions ago, and it was very good.

The current state of the art is probably Ableton Live, and that comes in all sorts of versions.

Pro Tools, in it's horribleness, is the industry standard in audio workstations, but it does require specific hardware, and is Not Cheap.

Basically, in the "Pro" realm, you have Pro Tools, Ableton Live, Logic, Cubase, and a couple of other more esoteric packages, like Nuendo and Digital Performer, and maybe Reason.

In the enthusiast market there's a lot more room for the quirkier stuff, like the aforementioned programs, Reaper, the Propellerheads programs, and many others.

A lot of the variety and actual sound generation in electronic-based music comes from software plugins. These can be software synthesisers and samplers of all crazy shapes and sizes, as well as extremely high quality effects. Native Instruments make some amazing synths, and there are many fx companies, ranging from the respectable Waves to the rather more feisty Audio Damage.

But coming back to the original question, I'd say give a few of them a go and see how they fit.

Good luck!
posted by Magnakai at 5:27 PM on July 30, 2010

Mixcraft looks interesting.

Thanks everyone-my husband and I will be looking over these and checking them out....if any of y'all have any more suggestions please keep em coming.

My main purpose for this stuff is to make demos and stuff-I do have access to some more professional recording if it comes to that (I know sound people and folks with studios) but I want to be able to do a considerable amount of work from the house-I need decent but not top of the line demos. I'm sure eventually I will wind up with something like Protools. But one step at a time, and all that.

(I have had stuff recorded before but I want to record what I want and not what someone else picked....*grin)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:06 PM on July 30, 2010

How about this: go out and buy a simple M-Audio audio interface ($100-150) that will allow you to plug in at least one mic-level and one line-level input. Specifically, buy one that comes with a copy of M-Powered ProTools 8 -- the light version. Here's a link to the one I have, which isn't fantastically capable but does the job (you'll get one mono audio in and one mono mic in) -- other interfaces have more inputs, but this one's only $92 or so. Tack on a MIDI interface like this one for $37, so you can attach your keyboard.

Now, you've spent $150 or so, and you have a "light" copy of ProTools that requires M-Audio hardware (which you've just bought) to run. The light version is extremely feature-limited, so you won't be distracted by all the bling -- allowing you to focus on the fundamentals. There are tons of software tutorials out there to help you.

If it sticks, and you decide to take it more seriously, you have a choice: abandon ProTools and use your M-Audio hardware with some other software package you've decided you might like better, or drop $250 on the full version of M-Powered ProTools 8 and get all the crazy features.
posted by davejay at 10:40 PM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ah, note: the M-Powered ProTools 8 light version is called "Pro Tools M-Powered 8 Essential".
posted by davejay at 10:41 PM on July 30, 2010

I'd second Tracktion by Mackie.

When I was looking for a recording product I installed the demos of 4 or 5 and just played around to see which made most sense to me.

The thing I liked about Tracktion is how plug and play it is, everything is on one page, rather than endless hidden menus.
posted by chrispy108 at 2:18 AM on July 31, 2010

For composing, I used Finale in the past and it came in both Windows and Mac flavors. I've heard good things about Sibelius and if I ever started again, I'd give it a good look over. It, too, has Mac and Windows versions.
posted by Brian Puccio at 5:35 AM on July 31, 2010

You're not going to be able to master ProTools and Ableton and the like quickly enough. Trust me. If you are starting from absolute zero and aren't particularly computer fluent, you're looking at weeks of slow study to familiarize yourself with the infinite array of functions in something like ProTools (not to mention that it requires dedicated hardware, and frankly any pc computer truly able to handle multi-track recording from live sources is going to be comparable in price to a Mac, sorry to say -- and a low-end Mac is barely up to the job).

You know what you need? It's way simple: a better recording keyboard. There are keyboards out there that have built in recording capacities 2, 6, 8, or 16 tracks (known as "sequencers"). The Yamaha YPG235 is about $400 and has 6 tracks, for example. There are dozens of other choices, up to and including a real piano with built in recording capacities like a Yamaha Disklavier. (I'm just in the middle of buying 30 Yamaha pianos for my employer, so I've got Yamaha on my mind).

Cheaper than a Windows laptop. does everything you actually want to do (unclear what you plan to do for vocals, however -- that's a whole other thing) and still works fine as a midi controller for computer input into any of the software tools discussed above. Spend a week with the manual open beside you and you'll master recording tracks on top of one another, output the whole thing as midi or dump it to a USB stick etc. There are probably units that have built in CD burners by now, although the CD is going away as a medium.

Or get a home portastudio. Alesis, Yamaha, Korg, M-Audio, Boss and TASCAM all make decent 4 and 8-channel all-in one home recorders that take the computer out of the equation and have decent vocal preamps and burn CDs (or now SD cards), starting at a few hundred bucks by now. And just record the analog output of your keyboard (forgetting about midi), if you plan to play "live" on each track anyway.

Also, I bet you can get away with 4 or 6 tracks, although 8 is sort of the sweet spot for home recording.

Much easier to use than a software based recording system for someone who just wants it to be simple so she can focus on the music. I say go with a sequencing keyboard and simple software on the computer.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:40 PM on August 3, 2010

By "play live," I mean not using programmed tracks, and/or not planning to do much post-processing on the tracks.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:42 PM on August 3, 2010

Ooooh, that sounds intriguing. I am definitely going to investigate those options!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:20 PM on August 3, 2010

Actually the keyboard I have has sequencers but since I piddled around, smart cards got to be obsolete. (As in 3.3v card.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:22 PM on August 3, 2010

This is what I presently own.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:28 PM on August 3, 2010

I think I may go in the direction of home portastudio....thank you all-I am sure I will continue to use this thread as a reference point. All suggestions were and are appreciated!!!!!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:35 PM on August 4, 2010

DGX505? What you have is more than fine -- it's a really nice deck. You have a 6 track sequencer and USB Midi out, meaning you can use that keyboard with any software that recognizes midi input without separate midi cables or controllers. Get a decent analog to digital converter with decent mic preamps, and a decent mic, and you can do what you want on a basic PC with that keyboard.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:01 PM on August 4, 2010

Wonderful! Thank you so much!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:51 PM on August 4, 2010

Someone recommended Cakewalk Sonar to me today....(our church sound man who has a PHD in this stuff) so I think that might be the software I go with as soon as I scrape up the change....onward and forward!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:58 PM on August 4, 2010

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