Should you buy a subscription or a perpetual license for your DAW software? Some DAW makers give you a choice of either model. Let’s consider the reasons it may be smarter to subscribe, rather than buy your music production software outright. With this information — plus a look at the release history of your DAW of choice — you’ll be able to make an informed choice on whether to buy a perpetual license or a subscription.
Why to “Rent,” Not “Own,” Your Software
No matter which music production software platform you use, if you have a choice to “rent” versus “own” (a subscription vs. perpetual license), here are the top two reasons subscribing is the smarter money:
#1: Software evolves quickly — a new version is always coming
As a software subscriber, you’ll get access to new versions as they’re released. And each time a software maker releases a new feature, your existing subscription becomes a better bargain (because those new features are included in the subscription fee you already paid). Once they have subscribers, software makers are incentivized to keep fixing bugs and adding new features. That’s how they keep their subscribers renewing subscriptions month after month, year after year.
You may say, “I don’t care much about future new features; the existing software does everything I need it to do.” Beware: eventually, you’re going to want some cool new plug-in that your old software won’t be able to host. Or your clients will request a feature you don’t have. Buying software outright is never a one-and-done deal, because the software will gradually become obsolete.
#2: Software doesn’t hold onto its value
Buying software isn’t like investing in a microphone or a guitar. Unlike physical gear, software usually isn’t something you can easily resell or pawn. It depreciates too quickly, and there’s not much of a secondhand market. Legacy software often doesn’t run on newer computers — it just becomes obsolete. If you subscribe instead of buy outright, you’re never stuck with a depreciating asset.
(Still want to “own” your software? Unfortunately, even in the days before subscriptions were commonplace, you were never really the “owner” of your software. You do not own the software you buy outright. What you own is a physical box, perhaps a DVD or a card with a serial number on it, and a license to use the software for as long as you like. If you do manage to resell your software, you’re merely transferring ownership of the license.)
Will a Subscription Save Me Money?
If you’re torn on buying vs. subscribing, take a look at the release history for your chosen DAW software. You’ll likely find this timeline documented on the software maker’s website or on Wikipedia. By looking at the release history, you’ll get an idea for how often the software maker releases a must-have feature. Depending on the software maker, these landmark releases may or may not coincide with a new “round number” version.
What are “must-have features”? That’s really up to you, the user. For example, both Avid Pro Tools and PreSonus Studio One Professional added Dolby Atmos compatibility in their 2023 releases. If that’s a feature that you or your clients require, then you’ll need a DAW that supports it.
When you look at the release history, do you notice must-have features coming every year? About every 2 years? Every 3 years?
Now, do the math. For example, if a perpetual license is $599, an annual subscription is $199, and they add what you’d consider a must-have feature about every 2 years, then subscribing is probably smarter money, because $199 each year is less than $599 every 2 years.
Subscription vs. perpetual license: PreSonus Studio One Plus vs. Pro
Studio One Professional is PreSonus’ flagship DAW software, and although it’s definitely not the most expensive DAW out there, the full version ain’t cheap.
If you’re not ready to pull the trigger on buying the full version of Studio One Pro, PreSonus now offers a subscription service called Studio One Plus. An annual subscription is currently well under half the price of buying Studio One Professional outright. PreSonus Studio One Plus gives you access to the latest version of not only Studio One Pro, but also Notion notation software and every PreSonus plug-in.
Considering that PreSonus has a history of releasing new full versions of Studio One Pro about every 2 years (Version 4 in 2018, Version 5 in 2020, Version 6 in 2022), a subscription could be the smarter way to go.
That said, if you happen to already own PreSonus hardware, it’s likely you already own a license for the lighter-edition Studio One Artist that came with your hardware, which means you’re eligible to upgrade from Artist to Professional for a reduced price. Also, as of right now, once you own a full version of Studio One Professional, you can get future full versions at a reduced price via buying an upgrade package instead of starting over from scratch. And that means you may be better off buying outright instead of subscribing. It pays to do to the math for your specific situation.
Image-Line FL Studio: Lifetime Free Updates(!)
If you’re an FL Studio user, congratulations — you’ve completely avoided all this “buy vs. subscribe” hand-wringing, because once you buy FL Studio, you get lifetime free updates.
Once you buy and register FL Studio software, you’ll always receive the latest version and get access to all future updates, free of charge from Image-Line. Is it any surprise this DAW is gaining popularity?
If you’re not already an FL Studio user, and your eyes glazed over when you read “do the math,” check it out.
Motivation: One Last Reason to Subscribe, Not Buy
We all need a push sometimes — or a shove.
A DAW software subscription is a little like a gym membership: you’re motivated to use it on a regular basis simply because you’re paying for it on a regular basis.
For example, if you drop $500+ on software in one big lump, you might think, “Well, the software is mine now, so I’ll get to that project eventually…someday.” But if you’re buying a yearly subscription, you get a built-in deadline for yourself. “I paid for one year, so I’ve got one year to get all I can out of this software. Better get moving on my album project now.”
If getting your money’s worth is important to you, a subscription fee can be a powerful motivator to start, or finish, a project. And that motivation is valuable in and of itself.