The Ultimate Mac Setup for Musicians

There’s no disputing the fact that OS X is a brilliant platform for musicians and music lovers. Apple has invested a huge amount into the music industry and, whether or not they’ve left a good impression, it has lead to an abundance of useful software on the Mac.

Today we’ll be looking at a huge selection of software for musicians and music lovers alike. Whether you produce, record and mix music – or whether you just love listening to it – we’ll have something for you. Read on to learn about a few new applications that can fill your life with music!

All-In-One Studios

  • GarageBand – Included on your Mac in the iLife suite, and used by bands such as Fall Out Boy, GarageBand is a simple but easy-to-use recording application. It’s as straight-forward as you’d expect from Apple, and makes a good place to start if you’d like to experiment with making your own music.
  • Ableton Live – A feature-packed recording and life performance application. It’s an immediate way to get your ideas down, record professionally, and even perform a live DJ set. This video offers a great introduction.
  • Logic Studio – A complete set of professional applications that lets you write, record, edit, mix, and perform. According to Apple, it’s the largest collection of modeled instruments, sampler instruments, effect plug-ins, and audio loops ever put in a single box.
  • Pro Tools – An advanced audio creation and production suite, featuring dozens of new virtual instruments and plug-ins, scoring and MIDI features, and much, much more.
  • Digital Performer – Record, edit, arrange, mix, process and master audio and MIDI tracks side by side for songwriting and live performance.
  • Cubase 5 – An industry standard application, Cubase is used by the professionals for music recording and production. Highly recommended by our Twitter followers!
  • Ardour – If you like an interface so jam-packed with dials and switches it will make your eyes water, then Ardour will be right up your street. Completely free and open source – something fairly unusual in this particular category.
  • Tracktion – Moving towards a slightly simpler, one-window interface, Tracktion is another studio app to compose, record, edit, mix, and share your creations.


  • Finale – Compose, arrange, notate, and print engraver-quality sheet music. The output looks beautiful, and there are a wide range of different methods to get notation and music into the application.
  • MuseScore – A free, cross platform WYSIWYG music notation program. Perfect whether you’re using a Mac, or any other type of computer!
  • Sibelius – Sibelius 6 is a giant leap forward in notation software, and it makes composing a score incredibly easy and straight-forward.
  • Tablatures – Tablatures is compatible with Windows’ PowerTab, with a wealth of import and export options.


  • Audacity – A completely free, open source audio editor. It’s only going to meet your most basic of requirements, but can come in useful from time to time.
  • Wave Editor – Designed in Cocoa from the ground up, Wave Editor proudly takes advantage of Core Audio, Quartz, and other solid OS X features to deliver a feature-packed editing suite.

Sampling and Synthesising Music

  • Reason – An incredibly popular and powerful synthesiser, coupled with a sequencer, a monophonic arpeggiator, and their “ReGroove” mixer.
  • Native Instruments – Producers of a whole range of high quality sample instruments. They tick off every category of instrument you could imagine.
  • Ivory – A selection of high quality virtual piano solutions – Grand Piano, Italian Grand, or Upright Pianos. A multi-platform plug-in that recreates the sound and playing experience of various instruments.
  • GrooveMaker – Feel like you need to compose music on-the-go? GrooveMaker is the revolutionary iPhone/iPod Touch app to create non-stop electronic, dance and hip-hop tracks anywhere.
  • Recycle – ReCycle lets you do with sampled loops what you can do with beats programmed from individual drum sounds – alter the tempo, or replace sounds and process them individually.
  • IK Multimedia – Creators of SampleTank and a number of other virtual instrument packs along with Sonik Synth 2.

Drum Kits

  • Battery – We mentioned Native Instruments above, but their drum synthesiser – Battery – is worth linking to here as well. It contains an extensive library of both acoustic and electronic sounds.
  • DrumThing – Not the most appealing interface, but worth a look if you’d like a simple application for programming your drum kit.
  • iDrum – I’d be remiss not to mention an “i” application here, and iDrum fits the naming stereotype nicely. It integrates as a plugin with much of the studio software above, and also links to an iPhone app.
  • Musing – And now for something completely different! Musing works around the process of “evolving” beats, to find a rhythm that fits your melody perfectly. Not really a “pro tool”, but worth taking a look at.
  • Archibald – Another feature-packed “virtual drummer”, which adds a margin of improvisation to each beat, better replicating the sound from a real drum kit.


  • Katsura Tuners – A number of different applications are available from this developer for every different type of instrument tuning.
  • Guitar Shed – Packing a range of different guitar tools into one application, Guitar Shed is capable of tuning, helping you reference and learn chords, and organising tablature.
  • Perfect Pitch – A powerful and diverse tuner application. Simple enough for the casual instrumentalist to use, but also offers tuning based on harmonic series, quarter tones, and any other even division of the octave.
  • Cleartune (App Store) – An iPhone application that uses the built-in mic to quickly and accurate tune your instrument. The interface is intuitive to use, and it’s the application used to demonstrate this feature of the iPhone in Apple Stores.
  • Guitar Toolkit (App Store) – It’s a touch expensive, but Guitar Toolkit packs a huge range of features: tuning, chord library, a metronome, and support for a huge range of stringed instruments.

Listening to Music

  • iTunes – The classic Mac audio player, which syncs with your iPod, and provides easy access to thousands of songs through the iTunes Store.
  • Songbird – A fairly new iTunes competitor that offers a similar interface, but far less restriction than Apple’s application. It’s also good if you don’t tout an iPod/iPhone, but another device instead.
  • Spotify – As far as streaming music goes, Spotify is setting a new standard – but only if you live in one of the supported countries.
  • Last.Fm – Another online music catalog and streaming system, Last.Fm is a great way to discover and share new music.
  • VLC – Capable of playing absolutely anything you throw at it, VLC is good for handling any and all music file formats.
  • Grooveshark – The final “online radio station” mentioned here, Grooveshark looks good, and has a large catalog of music you can stream.
  • AudioFinder – AudioFinder can build a catalog of every sound on your system, save it, and search it instantly to find the sounds you need when you need them.

Share Your Software

We’ve done our best to pick out what we consider to be some of the most useful Mac applications for musicians. I’m sure there are several that we have missed, so it would be great if you could share your suggestions and favourites in the comments!