What’s the best way to help get someone started on computer music making? From comments, we get this request from a mother looking to buy the first software on a budget for her teenage son. I’m, uh, hoping your son isn’t reading this (actually, he probably won’t mind – just remember, act surprised).

I am completely new to this kind of software, but my teenage son is requesting the likes for Christmas. I started out looking at Ableton Live 8, but am a bit wary of the price. I’ve also looked at Reason and Apple’s Logic Studio. The price is a bit of a deterent, (he’s not an only child) and I have also looked at the Live Intro and Logic Express. I would love some advice on what to get. He is wanting something that will let him play around with the existing song library on his iPod (mixing songs together, making remixes of individual songs etc), as well as something he can create his own music with. He’d like to be able to save or record what he does. Eventually he might want to be able to plug in a guitar or mic and add his own playing/singing to what he has done on the computer. Any suggestions?

Good question! I take she had also pulled up some of my reviews (presumably for Macworld) and hadn’t come to any definite conclusion, because I said nice things about both.

The challenge here, as always, is that any number of tools will be up to the job, including GarageBand. I quite like Logic Express as a bargain choice for Mac production. It’s got the amp and pedalboard options for guitar, and nice effects built in. Apple’s done a lot to make the interface friendly and attractive. And for someone just getting started, there’s almost nothing in Pro that’s missing from Express that you’ll really need. Logic Express is also an interesting choice for doing remixes, because of the new Flex Time feature.

That said, I’m going to go with Ableton Live Intro as my recommendation, based on the way she describes her son. It’s an ideal choice on the Mac for getting creative ideas flowing, thanks to Live’s non-linear Session View and approach to musical clips. Live offers a tough-to-beat toolkit for the beginning remixer, with the ability to slice and rework audio and apply various envelopes to musical materials. But it’s also a good place to begin experimenting with your own ideas; because you don’t have to look at a linear, left-to-right view of your music, the addictive process of imagining ideas is easy to employ.

Live Intro does just about everything you’d need to get going (though it’s too bad, for a guitarist/vocalist, that Looper is missing). Intro also bundles a lot of preset sounds. And it’s only $99. The best advice: give Live Intro a try, and then as your son’s work grows, he might add on Logic Express or upgrade Live to a higher-level version. By then, he’ll know more about his own tastes and needs.

Here’s a comparison of the two Live versions (I actually couldn’t find a chart this simple for Logic Pro versus Express, though I’m sure I’ve seen that somewhere):
Live Intro vs. Live 8 comparison chart

Anyway, that’s just my humble opinion. And yes, I use both tools myself. Live is a place where I’ve often started new ideas, even if I finish them off somewhere else. And Live will work with Logic, so if he decides he wants some of the features in Logic, he can use them together.

Readers, any different thoughts? Of course, there are many other software options not listed here available on the Mac.

On Windows, we’d have a different set of variables – there, I might be inclined to point to Cakewalk’s Music Creator 5 and Reaper, too. (I like FL Studio, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it to someone with this particular set of tastes.)

  • ed

    if he wants to dj mix and being able to mic or DI his guitar, buy him ableton live, i think its the easiest one to get, easy to follow tutorials, he'll be making music in no time.. in my opinion ableton pretty much overall best

  • Wulliamz

    errrr.. Garageband? It is somewhat cheaper (not counting the cost of the Mac of course…)

  • Eric T.

    We probably gonna agree. Live would be the first choice as well for us….

  • ehdyn

    Get him a leafblower and let him figure out what he "wants".

    No way to stop someone who really wants to make music.

  • @Wulliamz: I'm assuming he already has a Mac, or this wouldn't have come up with Logic! And certainly, there's likely some version of GB on there and it could be worth refreshing iLife/Mac OS.

    But having watched beginners, I'd actually recommend Live over GarageBand, particularly for remixing and creative experimentation. I just find, after the initial orientation, people take to it really well and are able to be artistically productive with it, starting out.

    @ehdyn: Indeed. But it does sound like he wants Live, the $99 Intro is a good way to get rolling with that and find out for sure, and it's sometimes a good thing to have a gift sitting under the tree to give you that extra push to start out!

    Mmmmm… leafblower. 😉

  • Launchpad which include Live sw.

  • Honestly, I'd cut the lite versions out.

    For cheap I'd go to REAPER, which is windows and Mac, plus free VSTs. Keep the extra cash for an interface, decent cans, maybe even some monitoring.

    For easy.. it depends on what you want to do:

    – If the kid wants to tune synths, then Reason is easy to use. The big plus is that it makes it real easy to understand how synths work.

    – For basic loop playing, generic techno/electro beats Live will be the best choice. On the upside, Live has a Max/MSP integration which is cool when you get better.

    – Anything to record (guitar, whatever), go for Reaper or Logic, depending on how much money you have. Logic has more good stuff included, but Reaper has more flexibility. (and on PC there are loads of high quality free VSTs, W1, Atlantis, EMsdrums to name a few… only issue being actually sorting through them when you are a beginner)

  • Rob

    that is one cool mom. i would agree with peter on the ableton live choice though. its much easier to get into than logic.

  • beta_fish

    @Document 02

    Live is also good for generic glitch, generic breakcore, generic ambient, generic experimental my music is so intelligent, etc. 😀

  • Tony Torres

    I definitely would go with Ableton Live Suite 8 for sure.

  • middleman

    Ableton is the way to go. I started with GB then went to Logic. They are great tools for writing but the linear workflow is lame when compared to Live's session view. Live also has great built in tutorials. It is the easiest software to wrap your mind around. I remember the first time I saw logic. it was version seven and I was just like WTF is this blank grey screen. I had to read this giant book to figure it out. Live is so easy in comparison and way more flexible. It offers what logic offers and things that Logic will never touch. That said i write beats in logic. Ultrabeat is super easy to get ideas going in.

    Another point is that your son wants to play gtr and whatnot at some point. Ableton Live. You don't even need looper. An FCB1010 off ebay for 90 bucks and he is a one man band/dj.

  • Tony Torres

    GET HIM ABLETON LIVE SUITE 8 you would bring the new artistic inside of him out, he would thank you, and you would thank him for becoming a new Robert Henke.

  • NoChinDeluxe

    If he has never used any music software at all, I think Reason is a good choice. It's pretty simple to get the hang of, and you can make some really cool tracks just by looping some samples and REX loops from the included library. I think it would be a good starter piece of software that would allow him to figure out if this is something he wants to pursue, in which case he could move on to something like Live.

    I just know that when I was a kid, I wanted "a keyboard." My parents went out and bought me a $3000 Korg Triton, when it turns out that all I really wanted was a midi controller. I didn't know that at the time, but I just knew that cool musicians used keyboards to play into their computers. The point is, get him started with something basic until he figures out what he wants to do with it and where he wants to go!

  • N-Code

    I totally agree that she should get him Ableton Live. If he wants to mix and remix songs, it's definitely the best to go for… but I would agree with Richardl. It would be HIGHLY recommended to take a look at buying a Novation Launchpad. It's not only a kick ass controller, it also comes with a version of Ableton Live Lite (which as far as I know is basically identical to the $99 version). AND, the Launchpad is only $200 bucks which I think is about the price of Logic Express. So if you went for the Launchpad, you would not only get Ableton, but a really great control surface for using and manipulating the software that really takes Ableton over the top in usability. Just my two cents.

  • No, I agree here — especially starting out, having that hardware could make a real difference, both because you're less likely to have anything already AND you get tactile feedback as you work rather than being limited to the mouse!

  • s0undc10ud

    Another vote for Ableton here to. i bought Ableton live intro for my 13 yrs old nephew and he loves it! he had garageband and he seems to really understand live and its tools. Go for Live mom… 🙂

  • al

    get him a cheap controler as said above but also download the demo of flstudio aswell

    i used it for years before i actually updated to the full version

    and i got alot more music done with the demo than i do now

    because i can save ideas instead of getting it done that day

    with the demo u can export your finished music

    as a full track or individual stems

    and theres really no limitations except u cant

    save your ideas and come back to them unless u export the audio

    hope that helps


  • Denis

    Live's introduction tutorials are a master piece imho. the only reason why I'm still using Cubase is because I payed a lot, back then. 🙂

    Why not trying a demo version and if he likes it getting him the real deal?

  • Julie

    Okay, you guys are all the best! Peter emailed me and told me he wanted to use my question… but this is way more than I was hoping for! Since you are all so helpful, let me throw one more question out there for some feedback. Any thoughts on Novation Launchpad versus Akai APC-40? I know they both come with a Live Lite version, and I know that the Akai product is a bit more money, but are there any preferences out there between the two? Thanks again for all your help (you too Peter)!

  • s

    rather than a launchpad or apc40, a midi keyboard and any version of ableton will probably be be the best kit to get started..

  • Well, keyboardists make sense if you're a keyboardist; if you're not, there's no reason you won't focus on the mic and recorded audio. For keyboards, the M-Audio Axiom are quite affordable, solid, and playable, and they come with Live Lite. (That's just the normal Axiom, not the Axiom Pro, necessarily, which is a bit pricier and might be overkill here.) For instance:

    But for integration with Live and playing around, if you don't need a keyboard, I like the Launchpad and the APC40.

    Basically, what the APC40 does for you is really allow you to control all elements of the software, which is not true of the Launchpad. I'm a big fan of the Launchpad because it's cheap, it's light, it's absurdly portable, and it doesn't need a power source, and I don't necessarily need the controls on the APC personally. But if you wanted a one-stop-shop, play with Live and control everything, and you can spare the extra cash, the APC40 is more functional.

  • N-Code

    Julie, its so great to see that you've put so much time into researching this gift for your son. I think it shows that you really care! I wish my mom would have put half this effort in when I was young.

    I really think that the determining factor between the Launchpad and APC40 would be the price (and maybe which one you'll be able to get in time). The APC40 is certainly more complex and I think the extra money is justified…. but if you're on a bit of a budget, it might not be the best way to go. The Launchpad does much of the same stuff as the APC but it's quite a bit cheaper. So, I would say, if you can afford to go for the APC40, then definitely do it, but if you think it might be too much money, then Launchpad for sure.

  • cosimo



  • Tony Torres

    I GOOOOOOOOOO WWWWWWWWWWIIIIIIIIIIIIIIITTTTTTTTTTTTHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH LLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSUUUUUUIIIIIIIIITTTTTTTTTEEEEEEEEEEEEEE 88888888888888888888 get him the axiom 25 also Julie you won´t go wrong believe me, I use to use logic and believe I have not been more creative with logic, I have more creative expression on ableton live.

    THANK YOU ROBERT HENKE AND THE ENTIRE ABLETON LIVE CREW you definitely know what music is about. Keep it up and listen to our request also, as you always have done.

  • jun

    Another aspect of ableton that is great for beginners IMO is it's support. I think they at ableton are very supportive of the people that buy their products, especially newbies. plus their site is very helpful when you get stuck or lost.

    You are an awesome mother Julie, I think we all envy your son. 🙂

  • Tony Torres

    I agree with JUN

  • Julie

    Well thanks guys! I can't tell you how much I appreciate the help. I come from a musical family, but it was all instrumental, not digital. I started looking into this over a month ago and had no idea how far I had jumped in over my head! Since I can't seem to do anything half way, I've been up at night "googling" for hours and reading everything I could find for weeks, and I was starting to get worried about the fast approaching 25th of December! Thanks to you all I finally feel like I have some direction. I have a feeling this first step is only the tip of the iceberg, but at least I have a starting place!

  • WHIV

    I would definitely take the Launchpad over the APC40 if the savings are going to go towards a full version of Live (versus Lite). The Lite version is usable, but the limitations may become irksome as he gets better with the software. Plus I doubt he's going to need all of the advanced controls of the APC40 if he's just rocking the Lite version of the software.

    An Axiom or Oxygen8 keyboard is also definitely good to look into if he's at all interested in playing synth lines with the software (versus purely recording guitar/vocals).

    Best of luck — I know music software can be terribly confusing (you should have seen me trying to figure it out when I first started), and you're a super cool Mom for putting in so much effort! 🙂

  • N-Code

    Well good luck with the continued searching Julie. I'm sure your son is going to be really excited no matter what. I've been thinking a little bit more and I think that maybe the APC40 might be a bit overkill and maybe a little overwhelming for someone just starting out. I think the Launchpad would be perfect for that. I'm going to be checking back on this over the next few days because I'd like to find out what you decided. Have a merry Christmas!

  • Tony Torres

    Julie, if anything would help, I will give you some insight, look up for Robert Henke he was the one who started the Ableton Live company, and their support team is very, very well trained, and educated, they are humble, always thankful for supporting them, they appreciate all your question and take every bit of their time to help you.

    I am still on the amature level with the whole musical thing, I am not even a musician but there are certain factors that with live you would actually start to understand music theory very rapidly, Look up for monolake, that is robert henke producing name he would definitely show you what you could do with this software when you hear some of his musical creation.

  • Garage band then Logic Express then Logic Pro.

    Ableton is so expensive for less functionality and audio sound.

    just my2cents.

  • s ford

    If based in the UK, I would recommend getting a copy of Computer Music Magazine, which has some great free studios on the DVD.

    Personally, I would not bother recommending a particular DAW but get them to try out the demos which are available for many of them. Many soundcards also come with stripped down starter packages too.

    Live Intro's limitations of 2 sends is a bit of a hindrance for mixing down music, so I personally would never recommend it to someone who wants to record audio, in addition to the limitations of the number of tracks it can be used to record at once.

    My recommendation would be to get a E-Mu soundcard. They come with stripped down versions of Ableton/Cubase/Sonar, which is more than enough for a starter to get their teeth into.

  • Hello

    document2 pretty much hit the nail on the head.

    Mommy should spend the dough on some hardware such as the korg nano series, or novation. or an audio interface. or speakers.

    the kid should then go the dirt-cheap or free software route, to see what he's into what he wants to learn and maybe wants to avoid.

    Seriously. This whole article is ridiculous anyways, when it comes to stuff with easily accessible demos the only right answer is USE THE DEMO. second opinions are only useful for feedback on in/stability imo – the shit that isn't always clear during the demo period.

    So in short the best advice for mom is give her the heads up on a low-budget software option, and spend the dough on a nice controller.

  • Hello

    and by low-budget I don't mean lite versions of the big DAWS

  • I definitely recommend the Launchpad and Live combo. I think it is a great intro package. The instant feedback you get from the demo sets and the ability to mash on things right away goes a long way to keeping a new user interested.

    @Peter Kirn

    I too, have the APC40 and the Launchpad. I find that i use the APC40 more in the studio with Live and it is great for that purpose. I like the Launchpad better for a performance device.

    The reasons for the preference of the Launchpad over the APC40 for performance are as follows:

    – Lightweight and portable

    – Easy, Logical button Layout

    – 2 User modes (APC40 really doesn't have this functionality) and yes i know you can remap and assign knobs on the APC40

    – The user modes allow for a easy switch between preprogrammed functionality and M4L functionality

    This is not to say the APC40 isn't great for performance too. It is just me preference to use the Launchpad over the APC40 in that scenario.

    Going back to the intended topic of this conversation. I reiterate that the combination of hardware/software is a more immersive environment for learning a new technology and will probably go a long way in maintaining interest.


  • FYI, Computer Music is available in the US – many newsstands, Borders, and Barnes & Noble stores carry it.

    I hear the hardware argument, but the issue is, you could wind up with a piece of gear and nothing to do with it – especially if you're talking an audio interface or keyboard! It's often really the software experience that turns you on to what's possible with music making, and it's clear that that's what she was asking and the feedback she got from her son. So, it doesn't really answer the question – hence, if you are going to go hardware, why readers are suggesting the Live-specific stuff like the APC40 and Logic.

  • I'm going to have to agree with @Document 02 about the lite versions; I'm a reason/record user who has started fooling with Live Intro, and I keep running into the effects and track limits. It's really frustrating, and I'd have trouble imagining a kid experimenting not thinking "this sucks."

  • Greg

    Pro Tools LE with M-Audio interface and Max MSP. Just kidding 😀

  • erf

    Live Intro has more than enough features for what the situation describes. I don't see the point in a controller… an audio interface might be a better pairing, considering he may want to record guitar+vox.

  • My son uses Ableton & Reason here is a song he produced for me

  • N-Code

    Lets not forget, that her son is going to be a total newbie at this… I don't think he's going to really be a power user for quite some time, with tons of sends/effects/mastering. I think Live Lite is the best way to jump in a get your feet wet…. and besides, who wants demos of software for Christmas?

  • if she's even bothering looking at Logic? kid must have a mac lying around…i w'ould go with Reaper and Free VST's to get the kids feet wet and then "buy" something when the time is right.

    also…if she opts to buy an interface it will come with a CD full of stuff, like Live LE which gives you a free upgrade to Live Intro.

  • df

    +1 for the launchpad here. Your son will love ya 😉

  • velocipede

    Buy him some hardware–it will retain value, can be swapped or sold and will look better under the tree.

    Everyone here wants a Launchpad, but what your son needs most is an audio interface (allowing mics and guitars, etc. to be connected to the computer). Most come with some starter software. Prices range from around $100.

    My vote (on spec alone) would be:

    Line 6 Tone Port KB37

    Comes with a version of Live lite.

    Has a midi keyboard for playing software instruments

    Will allow mics and guitars to be connected to the computer and recorded.

    Includes guitar effect software to be used with Live or Garageband

    About $200

  • efluon

    Ableton Live Intro would be the right thing for electronic music. but i think reaper, presonus studio one, or frueity loops would work out quite well for a beginner, too. for logic you'd have to be really comitted.

  • A

    I'd go for Ableton Live Lite as well, having the price/X-mas-present-for-a-child thing in mind, not forgetting the easy learning curve for a beginner (Live took me one day to figure out how it works). Mind the normous possibilities to expand and upgrade, too.

    But besides all that I can only say WOW WHAT A MOM!!! Great!

  • bomberman

    Hey Julie!

    Wow, this is really awesome! I think You are the mom every kid dreams of… investing loads of time just to get the right present for your kid. You're really, really cool!

    I am using Logic for some time now and also have been using Live before. One thing I have to say is that Logic is a great app, but for starters (like I myself was when I used it) Live is far more intuitive and inspiring. Later on he'll probably decide himself which setup to use. But at that point Live should be the best solution.

    But starting up with some Hardware (Interface/Keyboard/Headphones) wouldn't be that bad either. Maybe there's an old Keyboard or digital piano lying in Your basement? With an audio interface which includes MIDI he can probably use it with the Mac. It just needs a MIDI output. But that's just an idea…

    Good luck with Your decision and Merry Christmas!

  • Dj Subs

    as a former Pro Tools user.. i would have to suggest Logic 9 🙂 comes with instruments and its ready to create once u get it installed & get a midi controller.

  • Julie

    We do have a keyboard, but it is more of a toy… it's a Casio CTK 230 that my inlaws gave the kids. Is it even possible to hook that up to an audio interface? My son does have some piano experience (my choice), but he is currently taking guitar lessons (his choice). Right now he only has an acoustic guitar, but I promised him that I'd get him an electric one (or an electric acoustic depending on what he decides) once he had the basics down, so I'll be researching those next! . And he has a great voice, so I can see that he'll be needing an interface at some point, and probably a "real" keyboard too. Unless he can use the Casio temporarily, we don't currently have anything to plug in. I can see it's only a matter of time!

  • Julie

    I've been looking at the Ableton website and noticed that the different "Lite" versions don't have the same features… the one that comes with the Launchpad is different than the one that comes with the APC 40, and both are different than Live Intro. I'm assuming that something that would come with a keyboard or an in interface would be different still. If he ends up having more than one of these Lite versions, because they came with different hardware options, can he use them together to kind of fill in the gaps for each other? Or does it not work that way… I'm showing my ignorance again!

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  • Zevin Hill

    Hi Julie, Peter and the whole bunch!

    I know this could sound lame and corny, but I absolutely loved your (Julie) initiative and concern regarding your kids.

    When I read the post I imagined that it could be a little out-of-order here at CDM: I was so wonderfully wrong!! You guys just rock!!

    Sorry for the long post, but keep it as a merry-christmas one… ehheehe.

    Clearly, you are privileged enough to afford (or consider the expenditure of) these items to foster a creative growth of your own.

    I had some difficulties in getting the money for my stuff more ten years ago: all my stuff was second-handed and meant a lot in terms of expenditure (and I consider myself a privileged person in that department). and that argument often gets underrated in these types of discussion with the “it’s an investment on a tool that you’ll use forever…” or “If you’re gonna spend it then buy the best money can buy” (that’s why I love CDM, cus everyone’s (at least, many) trying to emulate, create, simulate and build stuff on a DIY basis thus stimulating a ever growing niche of a highly responsive and reachable community that strife to think out-of-the-box).

    I started using Cubase 5 (before VST) and Cakewalk(back in the day) .. I’m now officially fed up with those hard-weighted monsters that have 10000 tools you’ll never use but a couple of others that’ll get abused to exaustion.

    In softwares like Reaper, EnergyXT, Renoise, AudioMulch, Usine, Tracktion (?), and some others offer HUGE VALUE FOR MONEY yet retaining the most important functions for recording, sequencing and MIDI-mangling… Get ReBirth while you’re at it.. it’s free now!

    That is the road that I would advocate: keep it simple, cheap but allow growth to happen, not committing to an expensive tool of instrument.

    FCB1010 or an EMU/M-Audio/Whatever entry-level audio interface (Cheap!!) Most of them will include stripped versions of Live BTW, so your kid can find if its for him or not!

    Evolution/Axiom/whatever keyboard with some faders/pots (Cheap!!)

    Also.. find out if your kids work with other kids and try to find out what they use, specially if they think of working/have fun together!

    Best regards to all and a merry Christmas from Portugal!!

  • Based on the criteria it's Ableton Live or Reason. Reason should have been flagged in Peter's article. Not sure why it wasn't.

    Anyway the original poster's question is wary of price for her son's initial setup. Actually getting setup in music is a lot cheaper out of the gate than almost any kind of creative pursuit that involves computing.

    A keyboard controller is essential at the start. I would recommend Novation's X-Station which can triple up as an audio interface, analogue synth to learn on and the knobs and sliders that can also be used as mixing controls within Ableton Live, Reason or whatever application she settles on for her son. If you think your son is serious about music I would opt for a keyboard with MORE keys than less. Lots of DJs get the 25 key keyboards which are near useless for playing music on and composing. In my view one should get a 61 key keyboard or maybe a 49 key one.

  • @Andrew: Two reasons Reason wasn't flagged – the price she's aiming at is lower, and "remixing" audio to me says Live more than it does Reason.

  • Derek

    I don't know about logic but you should really let him download the demo of Ableton live lite. You get 30 days to try it. If he doesn't like it you don't end up wasting 100 bucks. Or get reaper demo. You get to try that one forever pretty much. If you like it buy it. I know surprising is a nice part of gift giving, but you have to make the right choice.

  • Here we go; here's the Live comparison with Intro vs. LE vs. Lite vs. full version.

  • Zevin Hill


    One more thing… Getting away from all the software/hardware geeky talk..

    Have you thought in Guitar Pro? (You said your kid is taking guitar lessons)

    IT's not that expensive, it's quite intuitive and has a Huge-Load of tracks to download from free sites on the web. Very cool to learn your favorite guitar-hero, and has a new sound engine that reaaly blew my socks when I first heard it! That along a entry level interface (one integrated in a keyboard would be awesome)

    Happy shopping!!!!

  • It might be out of your budget/price range, but if the kid plays guitar as well as sings I'd add a Samson C01U Recording/Podcasting Pak to the deal. You get a more than serviceable condenser mic with a table stand in a nice case. Plus it's usb so it will plug right into his computer. He could then record his guitar and voice, chop up the loops and trigger everything from the launchpad. The Samson kit streets around $130 bucks. I got a C01u right when they came out and always have it in my bag. I have recorded so many impromptu wonderful moments with it in hotels and all night diners.

    If you guys are running a Mac, don't worry about an audio interface just yet. The built in audio is good enough for starts. I've got a couple of nice ones, and still do most of my work on my MacBook's built in audio for sheer simplicities sake.

    You can input the audio from the Casio CTK 230 into the audio in port on the computer easily. Just get a patch cable from Radio Shack. I believe what you'd be looking for is a 1/4" stereo to 1/8" stereo cable. Just plug it into the headphone jack on the Casio and you are in business.

    With the Samson and a patch cord for the Casio your son now has a pretty good singer/songwriter setup. The Launchpad ups his game for live remixing and non-linear composition. Get him a pair of Sony MDR-7506 headphones when the noise get too annoying. As far as the different versions of the cut-down Ableton Live. I believe that the Launchpad comes with a version of Live Light. Ableton is currently doing a free upgrade to Live Intro so the boxed versions are all the same now…



  • I'd start off cheap. Teenagers are fickle. I wouldnt buy him Ableton Live 8 or Logic Pro right off the bat. You never know if he's going to like it or stick with it or if he's going to want something else next year…

  • Julie

    I am loving all of these ideas! Thank you everyone! I'm going to print off this entire thread when it's done so I can remember all the things I need to look in to. Did I understand wgparham correctly…. can you upgrade the Live Lite version that comes with any given hardware (Launchpad for example) for free to the Live Intro version?

  • jun

    Yes that is correct. And also, I got my live with a controller and upgraded for a fraction of the price through ableton. My background was not midi or piano but instead guitar, bass and drums. Live was the only thing that made me feel like I am still jamming free and effortlessly.

    so with your instrument background live is a program you and him can share on the fly. But julie nobody has told you about a external sound card or device for plugging in a guitar or mic. I think that device is the most important for an instrument driven family. these will also come with a version of live lite depending on which brand you choose.

    sorry if this creates more confusion. Best of luck.

  • Damian


    You're hearing a lot of competing buzz here– and the guys are doing a good job of providing all sorts of ideas.

    One thing people have to remember is this– start off slowly when it comes to technology.

    Garageband represents an extremely supportive program for people just getting into digital recording. Spending a boatload of money will do you no good if your son gets nothing (or too much) out of the feature set.

    I have used Logic and Ableton for many years– if I were to do it, I would follow this advice–

    1. If you're on a Mac (I assume you are)– go with Garageband. Wait till he gets over the growing pains of that program.

    2. Buy him a MIDI controller that bundles Live Lite. This will give him the opportunity to try out a different perspective while using the keyboard to make music in Garageband (once your kids start playing with the Apple Jam Pack loops– you'll never look back).

    3. If he likes Live and he's having a blast, great– upgrade (but be sure to buy him some virtual instruments)

    4. If he likes Garageband– move on to Logic Express or Logic Studio. I can assure you that Logic Studio is both easy to learn and extremely affordable for what you get in the bundle.

    In my opinion, Ableton is good for DJing, playing with arrangement– and generally getting up to speed with digital recording. Remember, there is nothing stopping him from using the Ableton Demo to see if he likes the approach!!! The only thing he can't do is save his work.

    Please don't go out and buy a slew of hardware and software with the hopes that he will just deal with it. Making music is very much a matter of personal preference. Find the easiest path to get him involved, and then allow him to grow by purchasing upgrades along the way.

    One more thing– don't listen to the naysayers on Logic Studio. It is an absolutely impressive bargain for what you get at the end. Either way you go, take a look at for tutorials– they are the absolute best in the business and they would make a great 'virtual' stocking stuffer.

  • Wilhelm Reuch

    I have used both Logic and Live 8 (and by this I include owning legitimate licenses) and Live's strength is, ashave been pointed out, DJing and playing with arrangement. It is this kind of work it is designed for – to be used for live arrangement of beats for dance music/electronica.

    The bad news is that Live strongly pushes you in that direction even if you really wanted to produce something else.

    Logic:s strength is recording a composition/song you have made. Logic is more open-ended. The new pedal-board feature is great fun if you have an electric.

    I prefer Logic even though I make music in an area where most people use Live these days. Both products are great – and you *can* make Live behave like Logic (and the other way around) but in the real world they represent two different ways of working with music. I've never been into DJing or clubbing which is where Live live..

    On the other hand Live has the "buzz" on the net right now and if it is Live he wants – then he will be happier with it anyway.

  • Actually, I've never felt I could only do dance music/electronica in Live. I do get something different out a traditional DAW, but that's really a separate issue. The only thing I find annoying is that you still can't set a clip to Loop without it also Warping, which is, well, silly.

  • RayFlower

    Both good choices if you ask me, but when it comes to and free au/vst it would probably be pretty bothersome for him to track down what he wants, its a fun daw but i would get something a bit more complete for someone new.

    Energyxt for instance would be cheap enough and have barely-enough bells and whistles.

    Reason 4 adapted would probably be a pretty good choice but it has it's limitations to the real deal.

  • @Julie: Wilhelm's description is very accurate. I also use Logic Pro and Live. But, as a composer, I spend 90% of my time using Logic. I use Live mostly for remixing and performing.

    My sons (13 year old twins), also use both programs. One of them is more interested in composing, so he uses Logic. The other is more interested in mixing and adding effects to songs in his music library. He uses Live and a neat little program called, Virtual DJ.

    Consider the Korg nanoSERIES… They're affordable ($60 each), and add a new element of control, especially when triggering clips in Live. It's way better than constantly clicking, and less than an APC40 or Launchpad. You'll also receive a coupon for a discount on Live Lite. Peter added a few nice posts on the nanoSERIES, here on CDM…

    I also like to do all of the research I can before making a purchase. You certainly have more than a few options. I hope this helps! 😉

    Happy Holidays to you and your family and the helpful folks here on CDM!

  • Tat dads

    Dear adults with disposable income working in a semi-professional capacity…

    Your kids are making music with gameboys, Linux, and other crazy ass stuff you're not paying attention to.

    Reminds me me a bit of the 60s… Accordions in an electric guitar world.

    Unless your child explicitly asked for Reason or Ableton Live… I would be weary of spending all that money on something you he can do in Garagageband to start.

  • Greg

    Get him puredata and just use the computer's built-in soundcards. I'm sort of in the same boat as the dude talking about the snowblower above.

  • Greg

    *Miller Puckette's website and the rest of the puredata community will get him making music the way he puts it together more quickly and more interestingly than any of the above, for nothing.

  • Nick

    Julie, I'd second Damian's comments above – we're all assuming he has access to a mac, so he has GarageBand on there already (assuming it's got a reasonably current version of Mac OS10 on it). That will take him a long way down the 'linear' workstation route (like Logic) for free. Ableton Live, in any of it's flavours, does both that and it's rather more unique performance-based workflow.Live handles DJ'ing and mashing up his music library as easily as it does composition with virtual instruments and recording real audio. It is the absolute definition of instant gratification without being shallow.

    A Hardware controller just makes it more fun, and the Launchpad, with it's perfectly useable lite version of Live would be the best way in. It's easy to carry around, and will be useful no matter what software direction he may drift in the future.

    Many people here have mentioned an external audio interface to go with whatever software you use -you will undoubtably end up buying one, but apart from recording using microphones, there's no reason he can't get started with Live using the audio/headphone out on the mac.

    Go the Launchpad / Live combo, and if your son flys with it, you can do the upgrade to the full version or even the 'Suite' for the next gift-giving occasion!

  • matt


  • Polite

    I guess I'm the only person that thinks Fruity Studio?

    I think it's the simplest of the sequencers, it still integrates audio recording very well, and comes with enough effects, vst instruments and samples to get going right away. Plus it's in a cheaper price bracket.

    Though i guess the perception is that it's the unprofessional DAW, so he might not respond to it very well.

  • Polite

    oh wait, there was one other person.

    Actually, everyone has a point. DAW are such personal choice. You almost need to just get him a bunch of demos, and let him find out which one he wants the full version of, but I guess that doesn't work for xmas.

    Unless you get him a nice controller keyboard. Like one of the novation remote SL keyboards, or the edirol PCR keyboards which are both generic enough to be used for any situation, with any application.

    A nice audio interface or sound card wouldn't go astray either. All this audio software isn't worth a dime if your latency is awful, and the sound crackles constantly.

  • Polite

    Sorry, I feel a bit stream of conciousness. I was just thinking that most control surfaces come with a nice array of 'lite' music applications as well which are designed to get you working with whatever you've bought straight away, it might be a better start than investing so much money into a fully functioning DAW that he might not even like.

  • Randy

    Mixing songs? Ableton Live all the way!!!

    But I think it is a very personal choice and it's better to try some demos first, before buying.

    Also if you want to record in the future, I'd think it's even more important to get a good audio interface! And most of these interfaces come with demos or light versions of different software, so your son can check those out first. Good luck with choosing.

  • dubdec


    i get a feeling that this is a nice little PR trick. from ableton perhaps?

    anyone else considered that?

  • Greg

    I'm pretty amused by the overwhelming support for dishing out 100 bucks for a kid's first foray into computer music-making. There's enough free tools out there that I'd get him some free software and buy him nice physical instruments to record/mangle on the existing computer

  • @dubdec: Hi, I'm Peter Kirn. I run the site, have done so since November 2004, and wrote this. If you've got an issue with my credibility or believe this site is disguised advertising, there's a handy contact form through which you can reach me and we can talk about it.

  • dubdec

    hey peter,

    no offense, i'm a big fan of CDM and I wouldn't question your credibility for one second. my thought here was that bringing this question up could have been a nice PR trick from some company in order to spark this discussion.

    in either case, i.e. whether julie is real or created by some company, i think it's an interesting discussion.

    keep up the good work and merry x-mas!

  • dubdec

    oh and btw, give the kid an open gift card and let him run the demo versions of the various software he is interested in before he decides what to get. the important thing is that he feels comfy with his tools…


  • Ha! No, I don't think Ableton has enough time to stage this quite like this. 😉

    Anyway, it seems split between people who suggest hardware and a demo of the software and people who say just get the tool as a gift.

    I can certainly hear both arguments. But it does sound like in this case, the guy asked for software; I don't think there's harm in going that route to get someone started. And I can say that as someone who has gotten a lot of "gifts" of software (usually accompanied by "sum this up in 6000 characters in three weeks, but…)

  • dubdec

    true, but if the kid is supposed to be able to handle the complexity of tools like logic etc. then i guess he should also have the motivation to go out and get some information and form his own opinion. if not, i doubt he will get very far on his own regardless what software he gets…

  • Julie

    Hey everyone, I'm still checking in to learn what I can from those with the experience! Once again, I can't express enough gratitude to everyone for being so willing to help. I'm overwhelmed by your generosity! I also want to assure you that I am a real mom with a real 13 year old son. I have no affiliation with Ableton whatsoever… in fact, I didn't even know they existed until a month ago. As I mentioned earlier, I come from a musical family, but it is instrument based. I have carried this on with my own children. They all have some piano background. My sixteen year old son plays the saxophone and the bagpipes (go figure) as well as dabbles in several other woodwinds. My 13 year old son (the one in question) is into his guitar and singing. This whole thing started because he brought me a magazine a month ago to show me the Numark iDJ. He thought he was interested until we looked in to it and he realized that it didn't do what he wanted it to do. Thus began the search to find a product that DID do what he wanted it to do… part creative tool for his own inspirations, part DJ tool for him to mix/remix his musical library with. I wasn't kidding when I said we are complete novices in the digital music world. I had called the customer service at Numark, and they suggested software… which lead me to Live 8 and Logic Studio and Reason etc. We (my son and I) watched some of the video clips on the Ableton website, as well as some clips on Youtube. He was highly interested, so I decided to pursue this for Christmas. I tried calling around town to find someone who could answer my questions, but no luck. So I started googling and sending emails and eventually came across Peter, who took pity on me, and now here we are! As uneducated as we are about the digital music world, we can learn. My son is competent on the computer, it's intuitive for him, and he is talented musically. There will be a learning curve, but he'll figure it out. I'm happy to provide the means for him to further develop his talents and interests. I just needed some advice on a good place to start, and you guys have been great! Thanks again!

  • dubdec

    hey julie,

    great to see such commitment! don't you have any music stores where you could go to and try some different gear and perhaps get some advice from the staff?

    in any case, i suppose you've noticed that there are fully working demo versions of live, reason, and most of the other alternatives? perhaps you should check out apps like traktor and serato as well if he's more into mixing tracks…

  • Julie

    I did call the music stores in town, as well the audio/video type stores, but no one knew what they were talking about. They said, "you could come down and look at one of our catalogs if you'd like." I live in a small town in Idaho…. which we love…. but sometimes I find it necessary to take my children's growth and development in to my own hands and provide them with opportunities beyond what is found locally. That's why I appreciate all the ideas from all of you with the knowledge and experience to back up your opinions. I really am going to print this off and keep it for future reference as my son progresses!

  • slovo

    Oh man. So many good responses here, surely you don't need another. But… 9_~ velocipede hit the nail on the head. Line6 toneport (with Ableton Lite bundled). I, too, would prefer to recommend a bunch of other things (including a more traditional DAW for education's sake and a sweet Ableton controller), but this is what your son really wants and needs. To complicate things slightly, though, more versatile interfaces like the Echo Audiofire are only slightly more expensive than the Line6. But Line6's software bundle and price are pretty sweet. The bundled Abletons (afaik all the "Live Lite LE" editions are the same, limited to six effects per track, which is "never enough" but also is really plenty — just a few years ago we were all soldiering in WaveLab or whatever with two or three simultaneous effects and quite pleased) are quite crippled and it is annoying, but it's a good way to find out if you like the software — and it is still functional — and you can upgrade for a discount ($279, iirc) if you love it. Good luck, merry xmas, and don't worry, you sort of can't-go-wrong with the choices you're looking at. It's up to him to make something of it. 😉

  • zenzen

    Hi Julie,

    It's a great thing you're doing for your son. I've read through the thoughtful comments on this page and would agree with those like Damian's: Garageband or Live Lite (bundled with whatever hardware catches your fancy) are enough to launch him into years of creating digital music. These tools have some limitations, but the basic conventions of recording, editing, and sound manipulation are all there. I'd let him discover the possibilities and limits of these packages on his own; moving up to the full Live and/or Logic packages will then be a thrill for him and renew his creativity and enthusiasm.

    Many of us fondly recall our earliest days in this pursuit, when all we had was rudimentary recording technology and the urge to create/capture sounds. It is that spirit that continues to inspire us.

    When I was your son's age, the equivalent of Logic Studio for me was the Fairlight synthesizer. My folks got me a Yamaha Handysound 200. It was enough to start this magnificent journey…

    Good luck and Merry Christmas!


  • Damian

    Good luck Julie–

    I very much sympathize with your plight. Ironically, living in Europe for a large portion of my adult life led me down the same path. It was difficult to source all of the products I needed while discerning what was nice to have.

    A word of caution when visiting the vendor websites– the glitzy videos are purpose-built to give you that warm fuzzy. It can often take a good deal of time to approach these same results– though the examples are invaluable (as are youtube, and other online sources for tutorials).

    For this reason, I almost always advocate a limited featureset at the outset of this learning adventure. Basic– but not stripped down (or buggy) software can start your son down different creative paths or allow him to ease out of it without a serious financial outlay. Live Lite and Garageband can give you this– this can lead you to either Logic Express or a more complete flavor of Live (again, don't forget to try the full Live demo– it is worth it).

    Here is a final thought– isn't it sad that after many years of paid lessons, an expensive instrument, rote memorization of scales, chords, and progressions; many schools/teachers do not encourage kids to compose freely on their own? It is my estimation that we have killed off many thousands of potential musicians because of this. Fortunately, in large part due to parents such as yourself, this is changing.

    Computers have brought music production to the masses and your son is about to learn this firsthand. Kudos to you for encouraging this. For many of us, this has become a lifelong passion and indeed, some of us get paid to do it from time to time :).

    His musical grounding should help him– the next step lies in assimilating the chosen software platform and in developing an understanding for the finer technical points associated with the craft. By making the software an enabler, and not an additional obstacle to expression, you are encouraging success and creativity.

    Merry Christmas– and be sure to let us know which way you decide! I'm sure we're all very curious to see which route you choose.


  • In my opinion: Live is for better jamming, performing and playing. Logic is for better songwriting. I use both and I think that Live is a great overall tool, but I always choose Logic for producing and recording songs. However a lot of great ideas spring to life in Live.

    If you can afford it, I think Live is cooler for a teen. Keeps the playfulness alive. It's a great, fun way to make music.

  • Yeah, and as a few mentioned here. You'll need a SOUND CARD! There are good and affordable external sound cards on both FireWire and USB that takes both guitar and microphone input and everything you'd like.

  • Damian

    @ Andreas–

    Julie can also go the affordable route of buying a USB microphone and a USB guitar adapter. This will help keep things simple. Of course, if they want to interface the consumer grade keyboard, they'll have to get a little more creative (or simply opt for a new keyboard MIDI controller).

    In my estmation, one of the coolest features of Logic is that it offers more advanced multipass recording and comping functionality than does Live.

    If Julie's son anticipates on putting down multiple passes of a single part (very common!!) this feature can be a huge timesaver. This is where Logic really shines.

    If as Julie states, a major priority is to pick up DJing– Live is a decent choice. But there are more appropriate choices on the market. Native Instruments' Traktor Duo is debatably a better choice for a beginner. The software itself only runs $99. Of course a MIDI controller is an absolute necessity to get the most out of any of this software.

    Again, each of these options can and should be demo'd before a purchase is made. Unfortunately, music software does not lend itself well as a gift purchase. It's kind of like buying somebody a pair of sunglasses or jeans. Input from the end user perspective is very important 🙂


  • Geert

    Does not creativity come from restriction? It's all too easy to get lost in a fully-fledged application that gives you so many possibilities you almost forget to create music. Happens to me all the time.

    With that in mind: get some easy-to-use free software with limited functionality. If he's reached the limits of that, he'll know what he's really looking for in his software.

  • kcsherrell

    JULIE – What did you decide? What did you son think of the end result? After reading this entire thread, I SIMPLY MUST KNOW!!



  • Julie

    Just in case any of you are still following this thread and are curious as to what I decided… I went with the Ableton Live Intro. I almost bought the Novation Launchpad, which might have actually been a better choice, but my reasoning at the time was this… I have other children, so the collective cost of Christmas needed to be considered. Live intro was half the price of the Launchpad. My son is very comfortable on the Mac, so I rationalized that it might be easier to jump right in to the software, rather than needing to learn how to use the Launchpad as well. I thought he could play with the Intro and Garageband (which ironically we didn't know we had until this thread) for a while, and then he could decide what kind of software upgrades he wanted, as well as what hardware he wanted. I realized that in the end I would likely still be buying the Launchpad some time in the future. But it did help my Christmas bill to go the other way! I'll likely have my son help earn some of the money for whatever additions he decides he wants to acquire next anyway, and there is always his birthday this summer. I know we'll be fine tuning this thing for a while, because… HE LOVES IT! He absolutely loves it. He was so excited on Christmas day, and he's been enthralled ever since. I am happy to see that his own creative expression is taking front seat, which is what I hoped would happen. I'm sure he'll eventually play with the remixing features, but right now he is having a blast making up his own stuff. Something a parent loves to see! So I would say this whole thing has been a great success, and a great learning process, thanks to all of you. THANK YOU! You have all been so generous, and I truly appreciated the help. Thanks again! I might be back with questions down the road! Julie