Cakewalk today did something quite unorthodox for the company: it launched a product on Facebook.

The results are what clearly aim to be a GarageBand killer for Windows users. Music Creator had always, quietly, been a big hit for Cakewalk: it’s cheap, entry-level software for the PC, which has the potential to reach a big audience of computer users. But the software itself was nothing to brag about, with a dated-looking interface.

Music Creator 5 looks stunningly different. The arrangement window has the familiar, GarageBand and ACID-style loop arrangement window. But there are additions you might expect in a bigger DAW: quick in-line access to track parameters, video preview frames at the top, elaborate time displays and editing tools. There’s also a sophisticated-looking mixing mode with graphical EQs and other options.

Cakewalk MusicCreator

There’s also quite a lot of instrumental and effects content for a $35 app. You get preset playback features – a bit like what you get in Kore Player, down to the pre-mapped 4-8 knobs and 4 trigger buttons – with 150 instruments. There’s the rather sophisticated Studio Instruments Drums for some acoustic and electronic drum parts, making it easier to actually program your own patterns rather than rely on loops.

Cakewalk also includes easy Flash-based music player creators, so you can share your finished tracks easily on the Web, and notation publishing features with tablature and guitar chord support.

In other words, you get the power of what might once have been a flagship Cakewalk DAW, for 35 bucks. (Windows-only) Some of the power options may actually be a bit intimidating to beginners – recently, I’ve heard that complaint even applied to the comparatively minimal GarageBand.


Cakewalk’s clever Publisher tool makes it a snap to export directly to an embeddable player.

As far as value, though, there’s a whole lot in this box, and a nice balance between looping features and the sort of acoustic drums and notation and sharing features that could appeal to bands just starting to add a computer. I actually think the integrated interface in Steinberg’s rival Sequel is a bit more efficient and runs on the Mac, too, but there’s quite a lot of added-in functionality in Music Creator that makes it broader in scope, and some of that added power may be a deal-maker depending on your needs.

The toughest competition for this, I think, is the elegant and flexible REAPER, which also costs just 40 bucks for a non-commercial license. Cakewalk gives you a lot more in the box, but the host itself in REAPER is objectively more powerful and can actually stand up against high-end DAWs.

It’s too bad that there isn’t an entry level app out there that doesn’t fit in the ACID/GarageBand mold, but I can’t really argue with the price.

But I want to hear from you – beginners out there, what do you think? (Not a beginner yourself? Go grab some of your Facebook friends and ask them.)

  • Not to be all Cakewalk fan-boy here, but last week I was out at a local performance and some young wannabe singer was asking me questions when she heard I had a home studio. Specifically, she wondered what software she could use to make demo tracks. What would I recommend, that wouldn't cost too much money? Did she really need to get a Mac so she could get Garageband? And everything that I could think of was way overkill for someone like this. This person isn't worrying about gain-staging and routing matrix flexibility and low-latency drivers.

    As much as we 'in the know' folks may scoff at products like this, I think it's good to have simple, well-designed music apps that give the punters legal access to home production.

    Home production is the new Top 10!

  • @Puffer: Yes, absolutely. I have a lot of respect for Apple, their audio team, and the Mac, but I can't see buying a Mac for the sole purpose of getting GarageBand, certainly.

    Cakewalk also makes the Cakewalk Power Studio which comes with an audio interface. I would recommend getting a dedicated audio box that has decent drivers on either platform, regardless. And this package would absolutely be high on my list, along with Reaper.

  • I recommended Reaper at first, too, 'cause the price-point is great for the entry-level. And then I remembered how baffled *I* was trying to get up to speed on Reaper. Now, sure, I'm a little dense sometimes, but I have enough experience working with digital audio that I know, more or less, what I'm doing. In my experience, admittedly limited, Reaper did not strike me as 'new user' friendly, any more than Sonar, Logic, Live or Insert-DAW-Here is.

    If I want to give my 12 year-old nephew something to use on his family computer to learn and have fun with digital audio, this looks perfect.

    I'm not saying this is a revolutionary product or even that there aren't alternatives. But I totally get the point of it. And the price-point is pretty spot on for what it is.

  • Yeah, actually, I agree — for the beginner, I'd probably recommend Cakewalk Music Creator over Reaper just because of the added included content and a slightly friendlier interface.

    I actually think either is a little better balanced than GarageBand, certainly than Steinberg Sequel.

  • voiceofreason

    yup…and the new version looks even more like the complete rip-off of garageband that it is

  • Ah, yes, but remember, that interface didn't originally show up in GarageBand. GB looks a whole lot like the original version of Acid. And, let's face it, most multitrack audio software looks like most other multitrack audio software — the basic interface metaphors go all the way back to the Mac and Atari ST software from the late 80s.

  • This looks like a great Cakewalk product. I remember using Cakewalk in the early 90's and it's definitely come a long way. One thing I see in Music Creator that I don't see in Garageband (although I'm not a power user of it), is the ability to put a video along the timeline. This allows you to score music to video and set correct timing cues. That's pretty neat stuff for a 40 dollar program.

  • Actually, GarageBand recently added a video timeline preview – presumably motivated to do so by the fact that GB is part of the iLife suite along with iMovie.

    But there are things you don't get in GarageBand: a proper mixer, for one, the preset playback features with pre-mapped knobs, the more sophisticated notation features (with printing!), the web publishing stuff, and some of the content.

    There wasn't *that* much to say about GB this year in CDM terms — but that was before it got this as a rival. Maybe a comparison is in order, if folks are interested. 😉