Ableton Live €549
Ableton Live bridges the gap between dance music sequencing and live
recording. Use it in session view to record on-the-fly ideas then
multitrack them in arrangement view for timeline-based non-destructive
recording or plug in your MIDI instruments.
When you get onstage, Ableton Live is a perfect backing track for
bands, dance acts and for DJs alike. Wait for Live 8 with new looper
and effects. It'll also play nice with Reason (below).
Garageband £free (with iLife '09)
If you buy a new Mac, you'll get Garageband free as part of iLife '09. It's a simple way to knock out quick songs with no prior audio knowledge - you pretty much plug in your guitar or mic and go, layering up tracks to create a song.
New in 2009, you'll find basic to intermediate instrument lessons in video form from real artists as well as a virtual jam session application.
Fan of bleeps and blips? Software company Propellerheads's Reason is one of the most popular music making programmes and for good reason. It's a goldmine of virtual synths, sequencers, samplers, drum machines and effects. Best of all, you can turn your rack of instruments around onscreen and repatch to create your own new sounds.
Musicians all over like Mix Master Mike from the Beastie Boys love Reason as it doesn't take up a lot of space on your lappy. Reason 4 comes with a new arpeggiator, sequencer, groove mixer and the mighty Thor synthesizer.
Fruity Loops £80
If you're all about trance, techno or house then Fruity Loops is a great loop-based synth emulator. You don't need to know the difference between Release and Sustain - just get knob twiddling until you hear something you like.
You can drop WAV samples to drop clips from other sources like vocals, while chord generators mean you don't need to know how to play the keyboard. It'll also act as a plug-in to other music programmes.