Are you a Windows user who’s been tempted by talk of GarageBand? There are great Windows compatible programs and apps which can do as much, if not more. Here are the best alternatives to Apple’s music production software that you can run on your PC.
Open-source production software with a bevy of built-in samples and instruments.
The LMMS project is the work of a volunteer development team committed to making an open-source, cross-platform music production suite. It is a flexible and powerful tool that will get you up and running in no time at all. All at the bargain price of free.
LMMS sports a good variety of software instruments. Samples and effects are pre-loaded, which allows you to get up and running straight away. The interface could be clearer. Even then, it’s easy to use the instruments and make beats by experimenting.
Synthesizers are played via musical typing, mapping the computer keyboard to notes on the instrument. Drum sequencing is made easy with a visual mapping tool. While live recording isn’t possible, LMMS comes loaded with an impressive array of samples. External samples are also supported. So if you are using your phone to make recordings, you can import them into LMMS and use them.
Building tracks piece by piece is where LMMS shines, and Fruityloops/FL Studio users will find it very familiar. LMMS has an online forum with an active community and a yearly “Best of LMMS” competition!
Loop-based software that’s a great first step for budding music producers.
One of GarageBand’s most popular features is its large and diverse library of loops. Users can quickly and easily build a song that sounds good, simply by layering loops of different instruments over one another in a way that sounds pleasing to them. It might be something of a shortcut, but it’s a great way for the uninitiated to dip their toe in the waters of digital music production.
Mixcraft offers a comparable broad selection of loops in an intuitive environment that makes it easy to get up to speed quickly. On top of this, live recording is also possible making this a real direct competitor to GarageBand.
The caveat is that the home edition is limited to just 16 tracks and a reduced set of instruments and samples. Mixcraft 8 Home is perfect for musicians just starting out, though the reduced feature set might be something you outgrow in time.
Download: Mixcraft 8 Home ($40)
An entertaining but limited music production app.
While there are certainly plenty of musicians who use GarageBand as a tool, many users enjoy the software as a fun way to play around with music. If you’re more interested in that sort of experience rather than full-on music production, Music Maker Jam will have you creating no time.
Unlike the other software covered here, Music Maker Jam is an app that you can download from the Windows App Store. It is also available for Android and iOS, joining an ever increasing list of music making tools for smartphones.
The workflow begins by selecting loops by genre, before transferring them into an arrangement to create a song. BPM and volume levels can be tweaked on the fly, and FX applied as you see fit.
Compared to others on this list, the app is limited in what you can do. More a fun way to share music with friends than a fully fledged DAW, it has some unique features aimed at casual musicians. The ability to record vocal tracks over quickly built loops make it perfect for budding MCs and singers.
Star DJs and musicians contribute sound packs to the app, along with stems from popular tunes for users to remix. Winners of remix competitions and trending songs feature on the official Music Maker Jam YouTube channel.
Download: Music Maker Jam (Free, with In-App Purchases)
Intuitive and straightforward software on multiple platforms.
Much like Music Maker Jam, Stagelight comes in the form of an Android app for music creation alongside Mac and Windows programs.
Stagelight takes a slightly different approach to digital music production than other similar packages, with a focus on the interface typically known as a live mode. It’s a way of testing out different loops and audio clips together to see what meshes well, used by some electronic artists in their live performances.
The free version has the same unlimited tracks as the upgraded “Unlock” versions and some limitations. The drum machine and instruments are cut back basic versions, and you get fewer effects and presets overall.
Stagelight brings a unique way of working to the table, and the free version will be more than enough for many users.
Download: Stagelight (Free, with Paid Upgrades)
5. FL Studio
Broad package suitable for all experience levels that benefit from a clean and straightforward design.
Now in its 20th year, FL Studio is one of the most widely used digital audio workstations available. It’s an excellent intermediate choice for anyone who might have cut their teeth on something like GarageBand, but now wants a package with a bit more depth.
FL Studio sets itself apart from other comparable software in the way that it balances broad functionality with a very straightforward workflow. Whether you want to tweak the specifics of a synth or customize your recording technique to suit the sort of instrumentation and style you’re going for, you’re given plenty of options that make it easy to personalize your experience.
Another major selling point for FL Studio is simply that it’s fun to use. Experimenting with beats using its pattern feature is fast and responsive. making it easy for you to get the results that you want without any unnecessary hassle.
FL-Studio is easy to pick up and trusted by thousands and is likely the best value product you are going to find at this price.
Complex production software that works particularly well with live instrumentation.
There are plenty of apps and programs out there that attempt to make music creation approachable for anyone. But the highest levels of production require complex software. Reaper is a package that gives the expert user a lot of options. Though, it won’t hold your hand through the process. A certain level of knowledge is assumed when you open up the program.
The advantage that Reaper has over the big names in the field of digital audio workstations is its price. Whereas competitors like Cubase, Ableton and Pro Tools typically cost hundreds of dollars, the basic license for Reaper is just $60 for personal use.
While Reaper has an impressive library of VST effects, they require a high level of skill to use. Reaper is also lacking in VST instruments that work “straight out of the box”. Use of external VSTs gets around this problem, but if you already have this knowledge you likely aren’t looking for some simple GarageBand fun anyway!
This is professional-grade equipment for musicians looking to get real work done, and it does an excellent job if you’re willing to learn the ropes.
Download: Reaper ($60 with free trial)
Music Production on Windows Is Possible
There are many great options for Windows users who like the idea of GarageBand. Something on this list will appeal to any budding musician. None of them can compete with the excellent features provided by Ableton Live, but at these prices, they don’t need to.