Recording software creates a digital sound studio for recording and manipulating one or more sound tracks. Tracks can be edited, changed by applying effects, compiled or mixed, matched to video, converted to export formats, or burned to CD or DVD, depending on the program.
Originally, recording software packaged with operating systems had very few options, allowing for recording off the standard Line-In port on any sound card. Plugging a microphone, for example, would allow the user to create a voice recording and save it to a sound file format like WAV on PCs, or AIFF on Macs. Some effects and editing options were included, but today’s recording software — even free programs like Audacity® — have become quite sophisticated.
Audacity®, created by Dominic Mazzoni, is a cross-platform open source program. It’s ability to run on Windows®, Apple®, Linux® and BSD Unix has made it extremely popular. Along with an import feature that supports a generous number of music formats, one can record and mix tracks, apply many types of digital effects, remove noise from a track, and even adjust the tempo without affecting the pitch, handy when matching a track to video. This recording software can also change the pitch of a track without changing its speed.
Another feature found in some recording software, (included in Audacity®), is the ability to automatically create separate files when copying full-length cassettes or vinyl albums. The software separates songs based on the inserted silences between tracks, saving time and hassle when converting music libraries to digital format.
GarageBand® is a highly popular recording software bundled free with Apple® computer systems. Not only does this software support recording and editing, it also includes music lessons by popular artists. Let rock stars like Sting, John Fogerty and Norah Jones teach you how to play one of your favorite songs, then record your own rendition.
Advanced recording software is often bundled with hardware that augments the program. The hardware might be a patch bay, sound card, or both. The patch bay or card commonly features ports for headphones, microphone, and other types of inputs for digital and analog instruments.
Arguably, the most popular commercial program is Pro Tools® by Digidesign®, used extensively in the recording and motion picture industry. This editing and recording software runs on both Mac and PC platforms and comes in three flavors: Pro Tools LE, Pro Tools HD and Pro Tools M-Powered. The LE version is the home version.
All three variations of Pro Tools® use proprietary hardware, without which the software will not function. The high-end versions, HD and M-Powered, use rack-mounted hardware that contain Digital Signal Processing (DSP) chips to facilitate processing of applied digital effects, editing and other functions, along with input for microphones and instruments, both digital and analog. The home version, Pro Tools LE, lacks the rack mount hardware and DSP chips, but does require a proprietary sound card, also used for inputs.
The functionality of recording software like Pro Tools® is probably beyond the needs of the average consumer who wants to edit sound files or record tracks for casual enjoyment. However, for those interested in recording and producing music professionally, in movie scoring or in professional sound editing, a program like Pro Tools® will fit the bill. Check system requirements before purchasing.
Many popular types of recording software are also available in several other packages that fall somewhere between the robust-but-free Audacity®, the fun-loving GarageBand®, and the proprietary Pro Tools. Several programs are available as shareware so you can play with them before deciding. Look for an intuitive interface and the functionality required, without getting a lot of features you’ll never use.