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Best beat making software 2021

Best beat making software
(Image credit: Pinterest)

We’ve tried and tested the best beat making software currently available, with picks for pros and complete beginners. These programs all come with handy features, which make it easier to generate loops and create new sound clips. However, you’ll find some real variety in our picks below; while some programs focus on simply creating drum beats, others allow you to plug in MIDI-instruments to create a completely original composition.

If you’re after a really professional outfit, then our top pick, Apple Logic Pro, is probably the best beat making software for your needs. Although it only works on Mac, it’s a comprehensive package that features multiple virtual instruments and some pre-made royalty-free loops. Those who are looking for the best free beat making software should try something like Waveform Free; this is technically a DAW (digital audio workstation) so it’s a fairly complex program. Be prepared to sink a lot of time into just learning the ropes on this one.

One of the most important resources when you’re building beats is free audio. Some of our top picks come with free clips that you can use and weave into your music, but we’ve also listed some additional sites below that offer free audio too. 

Finally, if you’re already fairly familiar with beat making software – and you’re looking to expand your musical output – then have a look at our top recommendations for the best music notation software and the best audio editing software. These programs can help you create and tweak sounds in different ways to the software below. 


1. Apple Logic Pro: Best beat making software overall

Best beat making software: Apple Logic Pro interface

(Image credit: Future)

Apple Logic Pro

If you want beats with lots of extra options, this is the best production software

OS: Mac | MIDI: Yes | Custom drum kits: Yes

Great virtual instrument selection
Intuitive interface
Good selection of royalty-free loops and samples
Mac only

Apple Logic Pro is a superb option for creating beats, topping our list, in spite of this being an Apple only program. The relatively low price offers so much bang, or beat, for your buck. This takes the already impressive free GarageBand from Apple and brings it to the professional level.

A vast virtual instrument library allows you to create music from scratch. In fact you can even build your virtual drums to make a custom set for the perfect beats to suit what you're doing. Logic’s virtual drum plug-in uses an AI algorithm to adapt a virtual drummer to the style of music you produce, presuming you want to record a melody first.

Logic’s workspace window is arranged nicely, with the transport controls at the top of the window. You can create up to 255 audio and MIDI tracks, which are more than enough to let you build an intricate arrangement and continually add new ideas to a song. The flexible mix window lets you add up to 15 insert effects and eight sends per channel.


2. Magix Music Maker: Best budget beat making app

Best beat making software: Magix Music Maker interface

(Image credit: Magix)

Magix Music Maker

For a budget friendly beat builder, Magix has you covered

OS: Mac and PC | MIDI: Yes | Custom drum kits: Yes

425 free sounds and loops
24 virtual instruments
Easy to use
Too basic for some

Magix Music Maker is an affordable way to create beats and more using a program that's one of many offered by a company that specializes in this area. As a result you get a whole lot of functionality for your money. There are 425 free loops included as well as a whopping 25 virtual instruments right from the outset.

Everything is easy to use, making it friendly enough for a beginner but detailed enough for more experienced producers. This works with MIDI devices like keyboards and drum pads to create beats and uses an intuitive interface for controls and effects. More virtual instruments can be bought as add-ons or you can upgrade to get more features included.

If you purchase one of the ‘plus’ or ‘premium’ subscriptions, you get access to a tool that can even write beats for you. Simply select a mix of templates, soundpools and instruments, and the software will then generate your song. Sure, you might not be presented with a work of musical genius, but it can be a great base for anyone who’s just starting out making their own beats. 


3. FL Studio 20: Best beat making software for for hip hop

Best beat making software: FL Studio 20 interface

(Image credit: Image-Line)

FL Studio 20

If you want to get hip hop beats, this is the software to use

OS: Mac and PC | MIDI: Yes | Custom drum kits: Yes

Genre-specific loops and instruments for hip-hop and EDM producers
Great customization and usability features
Free upgrades
Clunky recording and editing process
UI can be imposing

FL Studio has been a big name in hip hop since it was released known as FruityLoops. Since then it has come on hugely and now is the professional producers choice in many cases. This is thanks to features like multiple arrangements working so well and the ease of using time signature markers. 

FL Studio 20 is a full DAW meaning it can be used to make beats but also works as a full production system. You get 500 tracks as standard making it great for quick and easy work. Separate workflows allow for an easy way to stay in control without the interface looking overwhelming. This does make it easy to use but this is still complex and is aimed at the more professional end of the music production market.

Looked after by Belgian-based company Image Line, this DAW regularly receives updates – and the studio is committed to making sure you never have to pay for any of these. Recent additions include a frequency splitter, an instrument tuner and multiple layout improvements. 


4. Ableton Live 11: Best beat making software for EDM

Best beat making software: Ableton Live interface

(Image credit: Ableton)

Ableton Live 11

This is the software built for EDM producers

OS: Mac and PC | MIDI: Yes | Custom drum kits: Yes

High quality virtual instruments for EDM
Fantastic Capture feature
Lots of excellent sounds
Superb beats builder and synth
Steep learning curve

Ableton Live 11 has a great selection of electronic drum and synth plugins, which are the most important instruments for EDM producers.

The user interface looks markedly different from the other programs we tested, but once you get the hang of it, the workflow becomes simple and efficient. The Drum Rack plugin helps you layer multiple samples in a 16-pad grid that looks familiar to those who use classic EDM hardware instruments.

Ableton is one of the best music production programs for producers that want to take their arrangements to the stage. Once you produce a track in the software, you can use hardware control devices to launch samples, adjust tempo and record samples from other hardware instruments. 

A new edition of this software dropped in April 2021, bringing with it the ability to ‘comp’. This means that you can now record multiple takes of a particular refrain, listen back and compare these attempts, and then select and insert the best-sounding sections from across these recordings. Ableton 11 has also added support for MIDI Polyphonic Expressions (MPE) so artists have more control over the sound and expressiveness of notes. 


5. Waveform Free: Best free DAW

Best beat making software: Waveform Free interface

(Image credit: Tracktion)

Waveform Free

For a free DAW look no further than this superb offering

OS: Mac and PC | MIDI: Yes | Custom drum kits: Yes

Free to use
Works on lots including Mac and PC
MIDI pattern generator
Fewer plugins than the Pro version

Waveform Free, from Tracktion, is the company's first split from its paid software to offer a free version. As such you get all the high quality of a paid-for DAW but in a free tool. Despite that, this still packs in all you could want, even for professional producers. From no artificial limits to third-party plugin functionality and a super streamlined interface, this does it all.

Alright, you don't get some of the plugins that the Pro version has, but as we said you can just use third-party options anyway. There's full MIDI support if you want to plug in your kits and the inbuilt drum sampler sounds superb. Full automation is another big draw on this free software that looks and feels as good as some of the top-end kit.

This is another product that’s regularly tweaked and polished by its developers, with new editing features and performance improvements rolled out for free. The last update included multiple time-saving features, but what we really liked was the addition of the clever MIDI tool that turns your QWERTY keyboard into a musical one.  


6. orDrumbox: Best drum specific free software

Best beat making software: orDrumbox interface

(Image credit: orDrumbox)

orDrumbox

For pure beat building, in a simple and free setup, this is it

OS: PC | MIDI: Yes | Custom drum kits: Yes

Free to use
Great automation
Rhythms and sounds database
Not the most refined finish
Learning curve

orDrumbox is another free offering but this one is built for drum beats specifically. It's also built by the people for the people. While that means it's built to task and offers some great features as a result, it also results in it being a little rough around the edges with an interface that looks basic. But under the surface this offers lots for both beginners and more advanced beat builders.

Automation helps with creativity while the drum naming allows for easy storage to help categorize new instruments without effort. MIDI import and export are supported and final export is available in lots of formats to make this a very user friendly experience, the result of which is widely sharable. 


How much should you spend on beat making software? 

The most expensive option we’ve picked above is priced at $199, which we think is a fair price for a really comprehensive package. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the cheapest program we tested is completely free, although it doesn’t feature quite as slick an interface as its paid-for competitors.

To put this into context, some professional DAW (digital audio workstations) can cost upwards of $500. So if you’re just starting out with beat making, you may want to stick with the free tier options, then work your way up to the more expensive packages as you start to need a greater level of control.

What’s the easiest beat making software to use? 

If you’re just getting started, you should stick with one of the free options, outlined above. When we tested out the various beat making programs, we found that Magix Music Maker had the most intuitive interface. There’s a free version available, so we recommend you start there. 

Important features to consider when choosing a beats builder

Genre-specific instruments
All the programs we tested provide often-used virtual instruments like piano, drums and strings. If you plan to produce a genre like EDM or hip-hop exclusively, consider a program that has a good synthesizer and electronic drum machine collection because the hardware equivalent is expensive, and you may be using several layers of each. If you write rock music, it will be important to have good acoustic drum sounds and electric bass and guitar plug-ins. Even if you plan to record real instruments, we learned that using virtual instruments to set a roadmap can save time.

Recording
Recording vocals and external instruments can be an important aspect of music production. Beat-making programs that allow you to record multiple sources simultaneously eliminate the need to rent time at an expensive studio. The total track count is important too, especially if you prefer to build an arrangement with many short samples or short recordings of real instruments.

Effect plug-ins
If you plan to finalize a product that is worthy of posting on YouTube or Spotify, consider a program with a good selection of effects. Virtual instruments and samples usually don’t need too much manipulation, but it is important to compress and EQ the master bus in a project to make sure the song is at a proper volume and sounds good in headphones and larger speakers. Effects like reverb and delay are also important because they add texture and depth to virtual instruments.

Luke Edwards

Luke is a veteran tech journalist with decades of experience covering everything from TVs, power tools, science and health tech to VPNs, space, gaming and cars. You may recognize him from appearances on plenty of news channels or have read his words which have been published in most tech titles over the years. In his spare time (of which he has little as a father of two) Luke likes yoga, surfing, meditation, DIY and consuming all the books, comics and movies he can find.