Missing Garageband? If you’ve moved to Windows from macOS, you’ll miss out on one of the most popular music production software suites. Garageband is a great option on macOS for budding musicians not only because it’s free but also how easy it’s to use. However, once you start using music production software on Windows, there’s no looking back. Whether it’s multi-part orchestral compositions with Finale or Skrillex remixes on Ableton, Windows has a huge number of options when it comes to music production. Let’s go through the top five in this list.
1. Pro Tools First
Who’s this for: Ideal for singers who are new to recording
Pro Tools First is the younger brother to Pro Tools, one of the industry-standard DAW (short for Digital Audio Workstation) out there. However, like Garageband, Pro tool first is also free and yet retain most of the features of it paid elder brother with few limitations. Another major advantage of Pro Tools First is since it’s popular DAW, you can find it’s tutorial and troubleshooting guides all over the internet, including YouTube.
There are few limitations though, for instance, in the free version you can only have 16 simultaneous tracks and you can only have 3 projects at a time. Overal, if you are beginner, Pro Tools First probably has all the features you need.
- Easy to use
- Only support 3 songs at a time
- Max number of instrument tracks is limited to 16
Download it here
Who it’s for: Classical musicians who want to write multi-part sheet music
Although Garageband was built as an all-round music creation suite, it places a strong emphasis on mainstream pop and dance music. What if you’re more interested in making classical or fantasy music? Want to make your own orchestral piece that’d put Game of Thrones’ Ramin Djawadi to shame? Finale is what you want to use.
The latest version, Finale v26 is built with multiple classical instruments in mind. Unlike Garageband and some of the other options on this list, it makes use of sheet music notation. You’ll need to know how to read sheet music to make use of it but if you do, using Finale quite literally feels like writing music into existence—the software is smart enough to recognize dynamics like slurs, trills, and crescendos, incorporating these into playback.
The optional Garritan instrument plugin gives you some incredibly realistic acoustic instruments to play with, from rumbling baritones and tubas to piercing, emotive violins. As a professional music production suite, Finale is quite expensive. It retails for $600, although you can snag it for much less if you’re a student or academician.
- Powerful suite with playback support for complex dynamics
- Optional Garritan instrument plugin offers very realistic music playback
- You need to know how to read sheet notation
Download it here
3. FL Studio
Who it’s for: Beginner EDM and Hip-hop artists
If you’ve heard songs by Martin Garrix, Avicii, or Afrojack, chances are you’ve listened to something produced in FL Studio. While it has seen use by mainstream professionals, FL Studio has a range of functionality built in that specific targets beginner artists and people without traditional musical training. These include the easy, quick-setup templates that get you into the music without overwhelming you. The program also has an active online community, making it easy to just ask for help if you’re confused about a particular function.
FL Studio has plenty of free and premium effects plugins that can really broaden your repertoire—FL Studio has one of the widest selection of effects plugins in this list. This is again a great accessibility feature if you just want to get into making music without the extra time and effort that creating your own digital instruments and effects would take. FL Studio has several editions at different price-points. At $99.99, the Fruity Edition is a great option if you want to get right into music creation. While the All Plugins bundle comes in at an eye-watering $899.99, the other options—Producer and Signature—are at more reasonable price-points and include plenty of plugins on their own.
- Very accessible for new musicians
- Templates make it easy to jumpstart music production
- Huge assortment of plugins, especially in the premium editions
- Not as feature-complete as Ableton
- Plugins and plugin bundles can be expensive
Download it here
Who it’s for: Professional EDM and Hip-hop producers and artists
If FL Studio is the cheery beginner-friendly option for music creation, Ableton is its feature-packed professional big brother. Ableton’s seen extensive use with many of the biggest names in EDM and Hip-hop using it to create some of the most recognizable riffs. One undeniable advantage Ableton offers over FL Studio is its unique Session View. This is a modified interface that can be called up when you’re performing a live set, allowing you to handle multiple tracks with ease in real-time.
All this comes at a price, though: While the Intro version at $99 competes with FL Studio Fruity Edition on price, it’s limited in many ways—you only get 16 audio and MIDI tracks and 8 input and output channels each, which limits the scope of creating complex pieces. Ableton’s higher-tier offerings, Standard and Suite are much more costly–$449 and $749 respectively. There is a very basic free version, though called Ableton Live Lite, but it’s missing so much functionality we’d be hard-pressed to recommend it. Plugin support is a bit of a tossup. FL Studio boasts more effects right out of the box. However, Ableton and FL Studio are both compatible with VST plugin format—most plugins for FL Studio work with Ableton and vice versa.
- Advanced functions make it easier to create complex pieces
- Session view is great for playing live sets
- Higher-tier offerings are very expensive
- Steeper learning curve than FL Studio
Download it here
Who it’s for: Users who want a completely free and open-source music production suite
The items on this list vary widely, both in terms of their featuresets and their audiences. However, they all have one thing in common: They’re commercially licensed solutions which can get very expensive. The community behind LMMS wants to fix that. This is a free and open-source competitor to FL Studio and Ableton that, surprisingly actually outdoes these paid options in some areas. For starters, VST plugin support is great. Almost all plugins that work with Ableton and FL Studio work with LMMS.
Early versions frequently crashed with many common VSTs, but this has been rectified since the release of LMMS 1.2. LMMS also supports open-source LADSPA plugins—something Ableton and FL Studio can’t do. If you’ve used FL Studio, transitioning to LMMS (or the other way around) is quite easy because of how similar LMMS’ interface is to FL Studio. LMMS is even able to open up FL Studio projects. However, the built-in plugins in both Ableton and FL Studio are of significantly higher quality than what’s available in LMMS by default. All in all, if you’re on a very tight budget or generally want to experiment with music production without breaking the bank, LMMS is the way to go.
- It’s free and open source
- Supports LADSPA plugins
- A similar interface to FL Studio makes it easy to transition
- The quality of the default plugins leaves much to be desired
Download it here
6. Music Maker Jam:
Best for: Casual and mobile users who want to experiment with music production
The last item in our list is arguably the most limited from a functionality perspective. However, in a field as complex as music production, a simple, limited option might be better if you’re just experimenting with some tunes. Music Maker Jam is cross-platform app—it’s available on Android and iOS as well as the Windows Store for desktop users. This makes it particularly convenient if you want to create something on Windows and later fiddle with it on your phone. Music Maker Jam takes much of the pain of professional production out by limiting you to a selection of pre-produced music loops: You can use the touch-friendly interface to arrange them, as well modifying effects, tempo and other functions. While it most certainly won’t allow you to create a professional recording, it can come in handy if you just want to get a riff down and then later produce with dedicated software.
- Cross-platform: Works on your Windows PC and mobile
- Free to use
- Very simple—pre-recorded loops make it creating quick productions a breeze
- Limited feature set
That’s it for this list. The truth about Garageband Alternatives on Windows is that there is no best one, only one that works best for you. Each of these items has its own advantages and drawbacks.
Finale’s a great option if you’re a classical music producer and are looking to write sheet music. It can get very expensive if purchased with the Garritan plugins. And besides, you’ll need musical training to be able to read the notation. LMMS is a great open-source alternative to the big players like FL Studio and Ableton. However, its default selection of plugins just don’t sound that great, and if you’re planning on spending money to buy plugins, why not just get hold of one of the commercial options? Lastly, both Ableton and FL Studio are solid professional production suites. Their widespread use by big names in the hip hop and EDM industries says everything. While FL Studio has a gentler learning curve, Ableton’s got greater flexibility for complex functions and its Session View makes it the default option for performing live sets.