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The constant drone of the question lingers on:

What is a cheap music software program to get started with?

My own answers have always been tortured and filled with with hems, haws, except-fors, caveats and emptors and the like. Well after months of keeping an eye out I’ve decided on a recommendation:

Cakewalk’s Home Studio (For sale at $89.99 here and Guitar Center.)

Boring. I know. But when I go down my feature list and prioritize by price, functionality and learning curve that’s what comes out. This might come as a surprise to some friends and colleagues as I’ve spent a fair amount of energy bashing Cakewalk (and their flagship program Sonar) for years now. And there are major areas of concern, namely: stability and lack of VST/VSTi support.

VST (and VSTi) support is handled nicely for another $49 for Tonewise’s DirectiXer which has gotten extensive usage with Cakewalk products in the field. (There are free ones but they don’t do the job of playing and organizing that Tonewise does.)

On stability the best I can say is to hope for best and back up often. This is especially hard to remember when in the throes of divine inspiration but that’s when it’s especially important to keep hitting Control-S.

On the plus side, once you get a DirectiXer-like utility, you can interact with just about every plug-in out there, include the vast ocean of fantastic free VST and DirectX plug-in effects including the outstanding free Soundfont player sfz. Also available are huge array of free DXi/VSTi software synths, not to mention support for ReWired apps like Live, Reason, FL Studio, etc. Plus ACIDized loops, etc. etc.

In other words, when you get this package the answer to “Can you work with …?” is always “yes” whatever the end of the question is.

There were a lot of contenders and I’m happy to discuss my findings with anybody on a “want to know” basis.