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I want to write some music, maybe mix other songs as well. I want to be able to write up some melodies/harmonies, or lay down some beats and mix them to my heart's content, with different instruments (or vocals?) and so forth, but I don't want to deal with physically recording it myself. Most importantly, I have some money to spend on software, but I do not have space to put lots of hardware! I want to have the option of taking my laptop to the airport and making music on my layover if I want to. So I'll obviously need some high-quality sample libraries along with composition software and nice headphones.

My question is, what else is actually necessary? I presumably need a DAW of some kind, but I have no reference point for their quality. Do I need (or should I get anyway) a separate program for writing out compositions in real notation? Is there any way to integrate these two things, or software that does both?

I suppose this is as much a workflow question as anything else. Whatever software I end up with, I'd like my process to feel a little more organized than just haphazardly dropping samples onto tracks. I run Windows (XP and 7), for what that's worth.

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

You have the minimum down already - a laptop, a DAW, and some headphones. You don't need anything else. Other things may be useful to you, but aren't necessary.

If you are classically trained, you may want notation software. But even then, a good notebook and pen will probably do just fine.

Whatever software I end up with, I'd like my process to feel a little more organized than just haphazardly dropping samples onto tracks.

You should probably do some reading on project management, creativity, and process-driven art. Modern DAWs are extremely flexible, so pick one that fits within your budget and appeals to you. Then develop a workflow that allows you to effective express your creativity.

There is no need to spend a lot of money initially. There are very inexpensive DAWs out there (Reaper, Renoise) as well as low cost "starter" versions of the more expensive DAWs. Similarly, there are a lot of free sample libraries that may or may not be useful for you.

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