Online music collaboration tools are beginning to explode in popularity. These apps have become increasingly viable thanks to stronger internet connections and robust web-based software development.
Soundtrap is one of the names that has come to represent the game itself. That said, as it does in every market, their presence has encouraged the mushrooming of competitors. BandLab is just one example, though it is certainly well-regarded.
So, in this hands-on review, we compare Soundtrap and BandLab to determine which is best.
The studio environment, recording workflow, Digital Audio Workstation… whatever you want to call it, this is one of the most important – if not the most critical – criteria to consider when deciding which online music collaboration platform to use.
Now, I’ve got to say – I’ve messed around and composed music using both platforms, and what I found is that, in almost every regard, Soundtrap and BandLab are equal.
Whether it’s ease of use, workflow, stability, design / interface, tracking (including audio tracks), effects, loops library, mixing, and even in the realm of collaboration, the two platforms come insanely close to even. If you know your way around one, you should be able to figure out your way around the other.
I did notice some minor differences, though, and in this case, these are the key determining factors in which one wins this category.
I discovered that BandLab has more export options for mixdowns (MP3, WAV, and AAC), where Soundtrap only allows you to export your project to MP3 or WAV. This is a relatively small difference, though, and I can’t see it swaying user opinion too heavily.
Here’s why I see Soundtrap coming out on top:
First, while design is always a subjective issue, I felt that Soundtrap had the superior interface. Again, they are both quite close in this regard, but if I had to choose, I feel like Soundtrap’s working environment offers a more enjoyable and fun experience overall.
Now for the biggest difference of all. Again, both platforms have effects and presets. But when you create a new virtual instrument track in Soundtrap, it usually comes set up with appropriate effects and settings already. That minimizes tweaking and makes your tracks near mix-ready without much alteration. You can basically just tweak to taste. That makes your workflow especially efficient.
Editing and mixing in BandLab will take a little more forethought. This is not a problem for experienced music producers and sound engineers, but for the average musician this is asking for a bit of a commitment. Besides adding the appropriate effects to the right tracks, you’d need to know how to set them up.
Sure, relying on your ear, especially when in doubt, is still the best way to arrive at a mix you’re satisfied with. But as with learning to play music itself, it’s always good to get acquainted with the rules you’re planning to break before breaking them.
And, while it is yet another minor thing, I prefer Soundtrap’s piano roll to BandLab’s MIDI editor. They are the same thing in essence, and it’s a feature you will find on every DAW, but I feel like I have a little more control with Soundtrap’s piano roll. And control is important when you’re writing and composing using virtual instruments.
For these reasons, I believe Soundtrap has the superior working environment for helping you get your projects done smoothly and efficiently. It's also why Soundtrap is seen as a good Bandlab alternative.
You can have the best musicians, performance, studio takes, and mixing engineer in the world. But if you don’t have great mastering, you will never break through as an artist. That’s what I heard from an overdramatic YouTube ad I’ve seen a few times.
Mastering is no doubt important. But I don’t think it’s true that you can’t get anywhere with your music without the best mastering. You need mastering, and it does make a difference, especially in terms of overall levels and stereo expansion. But it should be the icing on the cake, not the cake itself. And we’ve fast come to the point where algorithmic or A.I. based mastering is highly viable and more than competent.
That said, the question here is whether Soundtrap or BandLab has the superior built-in mastering module.
Soundtrap offers automatic mastering every time you save your project. While there is no way to alter the settings, the platform will prepare your tracks for publishing without any fuss. This is convenient, though somewhat unpredictable since you can’t make alterations to the master.
Meanwhile, BandLab offers BandLab Mastering. Although it’s still a form of automatic mastering, you can choose from a few different master presets (like Universal, Fire, Clarity, and Tape). BandLab also says this mastering function was built with multi-platinum Grammy winning producers and engineers. You can hear what your master is going to sound like before you export your project.
The fact that both platforms offer mastering at all is an amazing thing. And with A.I. driven mastering (like eMastered or LANDR) becoming better and better by the day, it’s gotten to the point where you can trust the results. I personally have a bias towards eMastered, as I have used it for a variety of projects.
Either way, chances are, if you’re serious about your music or have major label ambitions, you’re going to trust human mastering more. It’s just that A.I. mastering is fast, convenient, and powerful, and in some situations, more than good enough.
In this category, BandLab takes the cake. They give you more control over your master.
Spotify acquired Soundtrap in November 2017. It shouldn’t come as any surprise, then, that their value propositions often include some Spotify based incentives. Podcasters using Soundtrap, for example, can launch their projects directly to Spotify.
It’s a little strange that they don’t offer the same functionality for music. I can only imagine this is part of their plans.
That said, music distributors are kind of a dime a dozen. There are more now than there ever were in the past, and while they generally do get your music out to dozens of popular platforms for a small fee, rarely does that include promotion or any kind of accommodation to help you grow your listenership and fan base.
BandLab, on the other hand, lets you post your music to their newsfeed (more on this later), and allows you to publish your music with their new BandLab Albums feature. You can release your music for free, keep 100% of your album sales, and even offer bonus materials to your fans.
That said, their service is more comparable to that of Bandcamp than say, CD Baby. And that means your music isn’t going to be distributed to various services like Spotify, Amazon, and TIDAL. Rather, it will be set up on their proprietary platform, so you’ll need to send listeners and fans to your BandLab page to get your release heard and sold.
What does this all mean for this comparison? Well, both services are trying to offer something with regards to eCommerce and / or distribution. But in this case, these options are still relatively new, and not necessarily full-fledged. Again, we think there is more to come.
BandLab encourages community members to connect with each other. They’re really pushing the collaborative aspect of their platform, with the latest news headlines, a Facebook inspired newsfeed, user recommendations (“who to follow”), shows, and more, right from your dashboard when you log in.
Some of the familiar functionality has even carried over from Facebook, with the ability to upload and share photos and images, audio files, and even live streams. As well, their built-in audio player seems to have been modeled after SoundCloud’s, and BandLab Albums, as noted earlier, is kind of like Bandcamp.
There’s also an entire page dedicated to the exploration of user creations – genres, creators, featured contests, albums, artists, music, and shows, as well as editor’s picks.
So, in the social connectedness realm, BandLab has cherry picked some of the best aspects of other social networks and e-commerce platforms to create their own.
Soundtrap has an internal messaging feature that streamlines communication with your collaborators. It keeps messages out of your various inboxes and neatly organized within Soundtrap’s platform, so you can keep up with your projects without missing a beat. But… that’s it. We’re not sure if Soundtrap has any plans of incorporating other social elements into their platform.
So, in this regard, BandLab has more to offer. That said, more social isn’t always a good thing. It can be a massive distraction and addiction at times, and little more than a brag fest at other times. It can lead to unhealthy comparison and the constant need for validation. We still give this one to BandLab, but there are pros and cons to everything.
Soundtrap Vs Bandlab, The Verdict
Soundtrap and BandLab are both quality cross-platform online music collaboration apps. They both have a lot to offer. In particular, BandLab has taken inspiration from Facebook, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, and other concepts with a proven track record. Soundtrap, though, focuses more on the creation of music and collaboration, with fewer potential distractions.
In many ways, Soundtrap and BandLab are alike. But where BandLab is gradually setting itself up as an all-in-one platform, Soundtrap offers a more streamlined experience as mentioned in our Soundtrap review. One is not right and the other wrong. It depends a lot on what you’re trying to accomplish.
But Soundtrap still has the superior working environment, and that counts for a lot. If you prefer to put creativity at the forefront, workflow really is the crux of the matter.
While BandLab is free, Soundtrap is also minimal in cost. And I have my doubts that BandLab will remain free forever. There needs to be a business model behind it for it to be viable long-term. If you’re on a tight budget and can’t afford to pay a subscription right now, then perhaps BandLab will be a better option for you right now.
In this comparison, Soundtrap still comes out on top. And if Soundtrap has been your home for a while, then you can rest assured you are taking advantage of the best option available.