Digital Audio Workstations
Here’s the Logic Fiends’ Guide to the best free music production software. We’ll look at your options for a Digital Audio Workstation, and then look at some of the plugins that you can get for free (or close to free.)
While the best DAW software is a matter of taste, here are a few decent options to get you started. Your first option is Pro Tools First – Free Edition. If you’ve never heard of Pro Tools, it’s basically the professional software choice used in most traditional studios (and used on countless hit records.) If your goal is to work in a traditional studio or you really want to be a recording/mix engineer, this is probably what you want to look into. Once you outgrow it, you can move up to the paid version. While the full license is $600, they do have monthly and annual subscriptions.
If you have an Apple Macbook or iMac, then you already get a free version of Garageband. Aside from being free, it’s also probably the simplest to learn (and there’s an iPhone/iPad sister app as well.) If you just want to record your band and not be bothered with all the technical aspects of the recording process, then this is for you. You can be up and running rather quickly. It’s also a decent starting DAW for EDM and Hip Hop. The Drummer feature really adds value, so it’s worth checking out. While it’s possible Garageband is all you’ll ever need, if you outgrow it, you can upgrade to Logic Pro X. Logic is about $200, but that’s a one time fee and Apple keeps updating it and adding features for free.
Another option is FL Studio, formerly Fruity Loops. You may have heard stories of Hip-Hop artists using the Demo version to create hit songs. If you are focused on Hip-Hop, especially Trap, then this is the gold standard. Not that it’s necessarily better than the others, but it’s what most Beat Makers use today. And Gross Beat is a really cool feature! Also if you don’t own a Mac, many Beat Makers use FL Studio on a PC. And it’s not just for Hip-Hop, Martin Garrix and Avicii are known users. Unfortunately, the base version of FL Studio is $99, but maybe you can use the Demo to make a hit song with. Good Luck!
Abelton may be the gold standard for EDM, although Logic is a pretty close second. Unfortunately, like FL Studio, the base version is $99, but there is a demo version as well. They also have Live Lite which is included with some hardware purchases. (For EDM or Hip-Hop, check out this Akai MIDI controller or fairly affordable Akai Drum Pad which comes with a copy of Live Lite. If you’ll be recording guitar or vocals then you’ll need a hardware interface. Check out our review of the Focusrite 2i2, which comes with a version of Abelton and several other professional grade plugins.) Abelton also offer a 40% off educational discount, so that may be worth looking into if you are in school (or know someone who is.)
While those are the 4 main DAWs used to make professional music, there are others worth looking at. Just like Abelton, you can get Cubase LE for free with the purchase of some hardware packages. For example, here’s a 4-track Alesis Mix with Cubase LE included, which is a pretty good deal if you don’t already have a hardware interface. You can also get Cubase Elements for only $50.
Cakewalk has been around forever (the 80s) and was one of the original computer based music production software products. It disappeared for a while after some changing of hands, but it’s now back and free from Bandlab. It supports VST3, so it’ll handle just about every plugin out there. The downside is that it’s Windows only.
Another newer and innovative workstation is Bitwig. Although it’s not cheap, you can get the free 8-track version with the purchase of something like this 49-key Nektar which integrates with just about every DAW out there.
So what is the best free music making software?
Garageband would probably be the winner since it’s free and has enough tools built in to actually make music. You are limited to a Mac however, so if you are stuck on a PC, you’ll probably want to go with the free version of Pro Tools. If you decide you don’t want Pro Tools, then Cakewalk is probably your best bet.
And what is the best free music production software?
The free version of Pro Tools is your best bet as far as “production” goes for recording and mixing.
What is the best music editing software?
If we are talking audio files, then Pro Tools is probably the best, although they all have similar capabilities. They are all relatively equal for MIDI editing as well.
Alternatively, if you can scrape together enough money for a midi controller or hardware interface that includes a lite version of a DAW, that may be a good way to go as there’s a good chance you’ll be needing a controller and interface anyways.
You may be asking yourself, isn’t this site largely about Logic? Why isn’t that listed. Unfortunately, Logic costs about $200 so that doesn’t qualify for the list of best free music production software. Start off with Garageband until you can get enough together. You probably do get the most bang for your buck with Logic. Check out our Garageband Tutorial How to Use Garageband!
Free PluginsSplice.com • Rent-to-Own VST & AU Plugins • Starting at $4.99/mo
What about free music production plugins?
Check out our article on Softube’s Saturation Knob. This totally free plugin will add a nice bit of saturation to any track or your entire mix. A must have to warm up cold sounding tracks.Try the V Collection 7 by Arturia for Free!
Native Instruments decided to give away their Supercharger Tube Compressor plugin. As a way to get people hooked on their plethora of prodcuts, they have a new package called Komplete Start. It’s free and includes several lite versions of their massive product line. Downloading this is a no-brainer.
Plugin-Alliance has several free plugins. The bx_subfilter by Brainworx can help polish your low end and the clean sweep can help filter out your high and low end. Their rockrack has 26 guitar amp emulations. And bx_solo is a good way to enter the world of mid/side mixing.
IK Multimedia has a free version it’s award winning T-Racks. They want you to purchase the components so each module will have intermittent noise until you pay for for each module, but it’s a nice way to sample everything, and if money really is an issue, you might be able to deal with the intermittent noise.
XferRecords, best known for the awesome Serum synth, created a bunch of cool plugins that they are giving away. These are some of the best free plugins for Logic Pro X, especially if you do EDM.
iZotope offers Neutrino (a sub-component of Neutron) for free.
And don’t forget the awesomely free Vinyl by iZotope.