I started with a free pack called LMMS that I tried because it was free. I had no idea at the time what a DAW was, but learned after that it included some DAW functions, along with some great plugins – primarily ZynAddSubFX, which I also learned later, was a pretty powerful toolset (I believe it’s developed by the same person behind Paulstretch). It’s still around, but I can’t attest to its functionality now; it looks really different from what I remember.
Once I was ready to invest in a DAW, on the advice of a friend who had some experience I tried Tracktion. I liked its GUI, which seemed pretty intuitive (and which, I later discovered, was not dramatically unlike Live), but found it to be buggy as hell.
Around that time (2010), I had switched to Mac and so, exasperated w/Tracktion, decided to experiment with GarageBand, which I did just enough to decide that abandoning Tracktion for Logic made sense. I used Logic 9 for several years and found it to be visually pretty and had some features I liked (e.g., the ability to produce sheet music from MIDI and vice versa). Concurrent with Logic, I discovered Max and started patching quite a bit. Over time, I found that I was more interested in the exploration and control that Max allowed, but getting Max’s output into Logic was a serious PITA and I began looking for alternatives.
That’s when I was introduced to Live and M4L. I invested in Live 9 Suite and have never looked back (although I would agree with comments above that Lite is a good place to start). Live’s GUI is straightforward but rich and is clearly designed to have a low CPU load (in strong contrast to Logic); in fact, I find that it emphasizes function and power and efficiency across the board. I love the fact that I can have a DPS idea and build it in M4L and implement it in Live seamlessly (even as I often discover later that someone has already built something similar and better ). I’m now running Live 10 and Max 8 on my nine-year-old iMac and it doesn’t bat an eyelash in terms of CPU load.
In terms of samples, I’ll second Freesound (linked above) as a good starting place, but I’m also very attached to my Zoom H4n Pro field recorder. It has a painfully slow boot, which means it’s not really good for capturing surprising audio phenomena, but beyond that, it’s been rugged and ready and produced very satisfactory samples with either its native XY mics for more ambient stuff or externals (Shure cardioids or piezo contacts) for focused work. As for my collection, my initial enthusiasm upon purchasing the Zoom resulted in GBs of noises and various random and/or cliche sounds which I now occasionally go back to, but I’ve tapered off and learned more about what I’m really interested in, so my library lately has been expanding much more slowly and purposefully.
It’s a process, you know?