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I am trying to start making music, and although it's a bit confusing, I'm learning. I have a Mac, and so my first thought was to start using GarageBand, as it was already downloaded (and because of that, it was free). Among other things, I have had difficulty finding instruments in GarageBand that sound the way I want them to (note, I'm not talking about the final song, I mean the instrument itself).

I learned that GarageBand is actually not all that common, and one of the more popular applications is FL Studio, which I know next to nothing about.

I have a few questions to ask:

  1. What is FL Studio exactly?
  2. Is it easy to learn/use, or will I spend excessive amounts of time trying to understand the basics of how it works?
  3. Is it easy to get instruments to sound the way you want?
  4. Is is worth the time/money to switch from GarageBand?

(Note: If anyone who has used GarageBand before has a suggestion for another program, I'd be happy to hear it. FL Studio is just the one I've heard about the most.)

Thank you, and I apologize in advance if this sounds like a dumb question. I feel slightly lost right now, and I'm not sure how much is my inexperience at making music, and how much is because I need a better program.

EDIT: I'd like to thank all of you for being extremely supportive. If I had asked a question like this (no previous research) on stack overflow, I would have gotten 5 downvotes before I could say "public static void main." You've all been extremely kind, and I appreciate that.

  • Note that FL Studio is Windows only and GarageBand is macOS or iOS only. Ableton Live (available on both macOS and Windows) might be a better comparison to FL Studio. – Todd Wilcox Jul 19 '16 at 23:26
  • Apparently FL Studio for "OS X" (the old name for macOS) is in alpha testing: support.image-line.com/knowledgebase/… – Todd Wilcox Jul 19 '16 at 23:28
  • Do you pay for the account or the download? – RobotKarel314 Jul 19 '16 at 23:55
  • If you have the money, definitely go Ableton Live 9 or Cubase 8. – jazzboy Jul 20 '16 at 4:47
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If you were to compare music creation programs with video editing programs, it would go something like this:

You could think about Garage Band as the equivalent to iMovie. A simple consumer-grade program that produces good sounding music without much effort. It's not a program professionals use for music creation, though, since it's very limited compared to professional software.

Logic Pro X would be the equivalent to Final Cut Pro X. Apple's own music creation software for pros. It's a step up from Garage Band and iMovie; here you can build your music from the ground up and tweak every bit of the sound.

FL Studio is like Sony Vegas. A very popular 3rd party program, which has about the same functionality as Logic Pro X. The same goes for Cubase, another option. Another great alternative is Ableton Live, which according to this Quora page is better for the creative process of making music. Otherwise about the same as the other.

So which one is the one for you? I have not tested all of them, but I think that all of them offer about the same features, and you would be able to create amazing music with any of them. Ableton Live might have a slight edge in the brainstorming side of things, but it comes down to this:

  • You are on a mac, which makes FL Studio a tougher sell over, for example, Logic Pro X, since FL Studio isn't officially on mac as sova pointed out in an earlier answer. There are of course workarounds, but a program that runs native on mac should be a bit less trouble.
  • What program feels right for you. If you find a great tutorial series on a specific program - go for it! All of them as a steeper learning curve than Garage Band, but the time will be well invested if you are serious about creating music, since you are going to have to use one of the "pro" programs at a later stage anyway.
  • All of them cost a significant amount of money. That's why Garage Band is a good beginner program before you decide that this really is what you want to do.

Keep in mind that before you have learned the basics of an advanced program, many things are going to be hard. Getting an instrument to sound exactly the way you want is possible in every of the above mentioned programs, but it is going to take time to get familiar with it, and much experimentation.

I hope this answer gives you a slightly clearer view on the available options and I wish you the best of luck in trying out the different (but similar) programs!

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I've tried lots of DAWS and Fl studio was the easiest to understand at first use. So that is what I use till date. Here are the benefits Fl studio has over other software:

  • Free life time updates.
  • It has the most video tutorials online
  • You can set it to act like any other software because of its very flexible workflow.

The Mac version of Fl studio is not that great but if you want to stick to Mac i recommend you use Ableton Live.

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Keep in mind that though there are a ton of different programs out there for this sort of things, they have many things in common -- virtual instruments, tracks, piano rolls/midi editing, audio effects chains... Much of the difference between them could come down to personal preference on their workflow/layout instead, or as mentioned in another answer, whether they make the things you're interested in doing easier. Of course, that may require you to test them out. Many of them have free demos, so downloading and giving each of them a go might be helpful.

I will also mention another powerful program called Studio One 2. I use this. It has a free edition that has a ton of functionality, and I think there are no significant restrictions like being unable to save or time limits. I find its interface fairly easy to work with, and if you want to get more advanced with it, I think that functionality is a bit more tucked away.

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FL Studio is cool. It is fundamentally different from garage band because garage band is an arranging and composing tool for live feeds of instruments or making drum loops and adding samples.

FL Studio has a beat matrix (starts as 16 boxes each representing one beat) and you can build up custom drum loops this way.

It is also possible to arrange in FL Studio and to use the Piano Roll to adjust the pitch/note/sound of stuff.

I recommend you play with both. In my musician's eyes, garage band / logic pro x are the way to go professionally, but FL Studio can do lots of electronic and drum loopy things that Garage Band gets to indirectly.

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