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I am an aspiring music producer (I do music as a side gig, although I am committed to it), so I record mix and master my own songs.

I am considering investing in some software that would allow me to most of these things well without spending too much money I don't have. Yet there are so many things you could invest in for music production, and I struggle to define priorities and see what's worth it and what's not.

Specifically, I wonder if I buy a DAW like Ableton 10, and plugins like Ozone Music Production Suite, Ozone 9 or waves bundles, for how long can I use them without needing to upgrade to stay relevant to current state-of the art mixing and mastering. That is for how long can I use these without needing to upgrade to the next thing.

I know for instance that my focusrite sound card hardware will probably last me for many years without any problems, and without feeling like I am losing on something. However I find it difficult to make the same analysis for plugins or DAWs.

Thanks

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This is a "how long is a piece of string?" question.

I've had Cubase since 1989… but not the same version or even the same platform [I've had it for Atari, Mac & even Windows for a brief period in 2005]. You have to pay for updates as your OS is updated, things will eventually fail to work with the older software.

So, based on that premise, your DAW will outlive your DAC by many many years, as your OS eventually outpaces the manufacturer's willingness to keep drivers up to date.
Your alternative is to sandbox the computer & never update anything ever again. That way it will last until the hardware is no longer repairable/replaceable with similarly-old components.

I did once posit the idea that every time a record company pays you to record an album, part of the deal includes that they buy a computer, DACs & all the software necessary to make it. After completion, as well as the full suite of backups for long-term preservation, the entire computer is also shrink-wrapped & stored with the archives.

This came about after a 10-year old album was needed back from the archives to do remixes. Even with the full help of all the surviving software manufacturers, providing historical versions [& appropriate authorisations] of all the software over the years in between, it proved absolutely impossible to recreate the original sessions on new equipment. Some of the software simply could not be brought back from the grave. No servers existed to authorise it & none of the original devs were in any position to even do us re-writes to remove the authorisation step. The project was finally abandoned after 6 months of trials.

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The main constraints around software lifecycles is actually not the software itself, it's the operating system. Apple is a massive culprit here. With every update of the operating system, goalposts change. Now don't get me wrong, I am a massive fan of the O/S that underpins MacOS (Unix) but I have to say that with the changes that have occurred with some of the recent updates it is difficult for software manufacturers to keep on top of things. I have no doubt that Microsoft is also guilty here, but I havn't used Windows seriously since version 7 so I'm really in no place to be able to comment on the M/S platforms at this stage.

There have been some big changes in architecture - 32-bit to 64-bit was a big change, and it rendered a lot of software obsolete. It is unlikely that such a huge change will occur again soon, however there is talk of Apple changing their underlying processor architecture from Intel to ARM which will again require recompilation and will again render a lot of software obsolete as manufacturers will be unwilling to put the effort into supporting a new processor family and will therefore lapse software.

My advice would be to not rely on plugins at the outset of your journey, but rather learn to mix and master using some of the very basic tools such as generic EQ and Dynamics that can be found in the most basic of DAW releases. Once you have got the the hang of these, then you can start to think about investing in more esoteric plugins, however you should aim for creative tools from the more established vendors as these will be more likely to be able to weather the changes in O/S and architecture that are being forced on us all on an all too regular basis. You should find that the sound and media areas of operating systems are generally fairly stable, however one could have said the same thing about the graphics engines and yet Apple deprecated OpenGL and OpenCL support, deciding to do things their own way. Broke a lot of things. They have also deprecated support for NVidia graphics. That broke a lot of things too. You can't ever guarantee the goalposts are going to be in the same place year to year.

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    I like this answer. Points the same direction as mine, but from another perspective :) Windows has had similar issues, btw - part of the rescue mission mentioned in my answer required setting up WinXP & Win7 VMs to be able to port preset & project files from the ancient format eventually into the new that would once more run on the Mac [or Win10, but I didn't need them to do that] – Tetsujin May 6 at 11:58
  • Thanks for this very insightful answer, really appreciate it. regarding learning to mix without additional plugins, I totally agree, and intend to continue to do so. The only constraint is that sometimes I have to release collaborations or little projects, and reasoned that plugins would be q quick way to get a decent sound, this is also the case when I am working on something experimental, where generic eq and compressors inside DAWs are not enough or when mastering for a tight deadline release, I am looking for effective strategies. I really appreciate the advice! – Helio May 6 at 12:14
  • TBH you can't go past Ozone for mastering. – Mark May 6 at 12:19

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