Teacher Hub

Choosing the best recording software for your school

Written by Tom Wild23/01/24

Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) have been a revelation in music production in the 21st century. Steinberg, makers of the renowned platform Cubase, define a DAW as:

‘A computer program designed to cover every part of the music-making process, from recording digital audio to creating beats and melodies with virtual instruments all the way to adding effects to make everything sound great and perfecting your final mix of all the tracks.’

The development of affordable and intuitive DAWs has naturally had widespread impact on the music making world, including within music education. Developers such as Avid (who make Pro Tools), Steinberg (Cubase) and Acoustica (Mixcraft) have helped change the game in this regard. Teaching students how to properly use software like this opens a huge number of exciting musical doors by allowing them to write, record and mix their own music, owning the creative process from start to finish.

The agency provided by DAWs should not be underestimated, but neither should the diligence required to get the best out of them. These are sophisticated programs, with functionality that even many experienced users are not fully aware of. Therefore, it is important to choose the right program for your school’s situation. Given the current popularity of DAWs amongst musicians (and indeed podcasters), it is no surprise that a vast array of options are at your disposal, but this article will highlight those with the best features for use in education.

Pro Tools

Pro Tools is the industry standard audio-production software for songwriters, musicians, producers, and engineers. Featuring thousands of instrument sounds, extensive multi-tracking capabilities, precise editing functionality and many more advanced features, this is a top-of-the-line program. If your school has a recording studio, then Pro Tools is a worthwhile investment to go alongside it, with the power to bring large and complex recordings to life.

Better still, Pro Tools is made by Avid and allows you to view MIDI as music notation in a Sibelius-style editor. Given the popularity of Sibelius in education settings, this feature might prove particularly handy in terms of giving students a holistic learning experience.

Pro Tools is not necessarily for everyone though. Priced at the upper end of the DAW spectrum, some may not consider it a financially viable option. Those without a studio setup might be better off going for program with a little less scope, but at a lower price. However, if you are in this situation but still drawn to the industry leader, you can always choose Pro Tools Studio, which is a slightly more limited but still very sophisticated option.


  • Incredibly powerful software with extensive audio-production features
  • Brilliant for studio settings
  • Industry standard software
  • Made by Avid – same as Sibelius


  • Very expensive
  • Not as suited to classroom environments as some less expensive platforms

Pro Tools Studio 1 year licence for education (for Institutions) – c.£100

Pro Tools Studio perpetual licence – c.£620

Pro Tools Ultimate trade-up perpetual licence for education – c.£850

30-day free trial

Steinberg Cubase 13

In terms of pricing, Cubase sits in the middle ground between Mixcraft and Pro Tools. Developed by Steinberg, Cubase has come a long way from its early days as a simple MIDI sequencer. Now, it is one of the most sophisticated DAWs on the market, and a great tool for education. Cubase has stayed true to its roots with superb MIDI input credentials, allowing for a creative immediacy which is paramount in catching and keeping the attention of students.


  • Good MIDI input capabilities provides excellent classroom interactivity
  • Very powerful at a lower price than Pro Tools
  • Excellent education tool


  • Not as widely popular as Pro Tools
  • Still a very expensive DAW compared to the likes of Studio One

Cubase Elements for education – c.£35

Cubase Pro for education - c.£120

Free trial available

PreSonus Studio One

Studio One professional represents superb value in the DAW market. It is an intuitive piece of production software making recording and producing fast and easy. The interface is streamlined and accessible, quick enough for students to get accustomed to in the typically all too brief lesson time they get.

A major boon of buying from PreSonus is the superb value of their DAW/notation combined education licence. You can buy an unlimited number of seats for BOTH Studio One and Notion (PreSonus’ notation software) for c.£2000. This may sound like a daunting investment initially, but and unlimited license for two such pieces of software would be a fantastic addition to many a music department, especially ones with relatively large student bodies.


  • Streamlined and intuitive software
  • Faster and easier to learn than other premium platforms
  • Notion + Studio one package is convenient and cost effective


  • Not quite as high-functioning as Pro Tools or Cubase

Studio One 6 Artist for education – c.£40

Studio One 6 Professional for Education – c.£160

Studio One 6 Professional for education (Unlimited site licence) – c.£1800

Studio One + Notion combined licence – c.£2000

Acoustica Mixcraft 10

An example of a simpler alternative, Mixcraft is not necessarily the flashiest DAW. Nonetheless, it provides ample features to keep most users more than happy, at least at a school level. Featuring a sleek and simple interface, a good selection of instrument sounds and impressively smooth functionality, Mixcraft provides the kind of affordable and accessible quality that many school music departments are looking for.

Licences can be bought in bulk packages online, making the platform easy to purchase and set up for education environments.


  • Fantastic value for schools when bought in bulk
  • Very functional and accessible to use
  • Intuitive plugin features


  • Not especially widely used, so perhaps less useful for students to learn in the long term

Acoustica Mixcraft 10 academic licence (Single user licence) – c.£60 per licence

Acoustica Mixcraft 10 academic licence (100-499 user licences) – c.£20 per licence

Ableton Live

Considered by many as the premier DAW for live performances, Ableton Live allows you to manipulate audio and MIDI clips in real time, without stopping the audio engine. This feature can really enliven the creative process for some composers, eliminating the stop-start nature of some platforms and making for a more absorbing overall experience.

Ableton does sit on the pricier end of the spectrum, and the interface structure is somewhat unusual in comparison to most of the other DAWs here, but it is still an excellent product with some intriguing unique selling points.


  • Incredible real time editing features
  • Exciting and absorbing creative processes
  • Powerful automation features


  • Quite different to other platforms on this list
  • Expensive and perhaps not worth it for schools given the steep learning curve it represents
  • No notation capabilities

Ableton Live 11 free trial

Ableton Live education packages

Logic Pro X

This is Apple’s own high-powered DAW. An ideal platform for mac users, it comes with a highly intuitive interface and sophisticated range of mixing, sound and plug-in features which even fairly inexperienced users can channel into an authentic sounding end-product. A few YouTube tutorials will have you creating entire songs from scratch!

Logic’s limitation is that it is only compatible with Apple devices, which for many schools will make it an instant no-go. However, as William Thompson explains in this article, Apple Mac computers for music departments are worth looking into, and Logic is a natural fit if you do decide to go with that particular solution.


  • Superb range of capabilities
  • Intuitive to use, and naturally has excellent compatability with Macs
  • Good value for such a high-functioning product


  • Only compatible with Apple! Completely out of the equation for some schools
  • Similar to Pro Tools, perhaps excessive for classroom use


A free software(!) for Apple users, GarageBand has arguably the cleanest and most intuitive layout of any DAW. Perfect for younger students to experiment with songwriting and producing, it features a robust set of sounds and some easy-to-use looping features. Naturally, it has its limitations in terms of mixing, plug-ins and general precision, but for many school students it is still a great tool.

Furthermore, GarageBand is informed by some Logic features which have been passed down/adapted over the years. This allows GarageBand users to graduate smoothly up to the premium product when the time is right.


  • Free
  • Very intuitive
  • Some features passed down from Logic
  • Great for younger students to experiment on


  • Limited instruments, mixing capabilities etc.


Audacity is the most basic recording software available. It is also the world's most popular free software for recording and editing audio, because its free, open source, and it works. In addition to recording audio from multiple sources, Audacity includes basic effects like normalization, trimming, and fading in and out. Interestingly, it was acquired in 2021 by Muse Group (the owners of popular free DAW, Musescore) for further development alongside its other musical platforms, which makes for an exciting prospect in the future of free music production. Audacity is certainly not the most inspiring option, but it can get the job done at a basic level, teaching students about the process of sound recording.


  • Free
  • Basic and therefore easy to use
  • Does have some simple audio editing features
  • Developed by Muse Group


  • Very limited functionality
  • Not a pleasant looking interface


Yet another free DAW! Accessible online and with a very clean layout, this is another cool beginner tool. Whilst there are some paid premium features, the free ones include mastering as well as some effects and presets. It is also designed for collaboration, as you can sync and edit your projects across all your devices, fork (remix) and collaborate on tracks, and even download royalty-free samples to use directly in the DAW.

The mixing facilities and session sizes are not on the level of more advanced, paid software, or even GarageBand. Bandlab can only handle 16 tracks, meagre when compared to GarageBand’s limit of 255. However, the collaborative features make Bandlab appealing for classroom use. The small track limit may even be a good thing in that environment!


  • Free
  • Collaborative features are innovative
  • Simple, effective layout


  • 16 track limit will prove frustrating for keen users
  • Does not feature extensive mixing facilities


Of course, this is not by any means an exhaustive list of recording software. Some of you might prefer Reaper, Magix, Soundtrap, Audition, Reason or one of the many other platforms out there! Choosing the best recording software is difficult partly because of the crowded market, full of great options. It’s a nice problem to have, but a daunting one nonetheless.

The key thing to remember is that the decisions you make about which DAW to buy should depend on your particular scenario. They all have a lot to give and can all perform the basics of sound recording and production at a good level, but each platform has its own strengths which might be more important in some educational settings compared to others. Perhaps the most important step is deciding on your budget. Doing this may immediately eliminate a number of platforms from your reckoning and point you towards certain others. After that, your specific scenario and preferences will come into play. You may want to utilise free trials offered on several of these products, or purchase a limited version at a lower price to get a sense of what the software truly has to offer. Whichever DAW you end up choosing, I’m sure you’ll enjoy finding out what it has to offer!