Best Free Music Production Software For Indie Musicians - Careers in Music
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Free does not always mean low-quality.

It just might take a little more digging through the free stuff to get to the free-and-high-quality stuff.

But that’s why I’m writing this guide — to do the digging for you.

I’ll go through 13 pieces of the best free music production software that can help you be more productive in the studio and make more interesting music.

Our picks for the best free music production software:

  • Reaper
  • GarageBand
  • Audacity
  • DarkWave Studio
  • Cakewalk by BandLab
  • Drum PRO
  • T-REX 606
  • Hip-Hop Drum Pads 24
  • Regroover
  • Dexed
  • DSK Strings
  • 4Front Bass Module
  • Ample Percussion Cloudrum

Digital Audio Workstations

A digital audio workstation (DAW) is the first piece of software you need before you start making music. Fortunately, you can get some really good free DAWs.

Reaper (Windows / Mac)

Reaper is my go-to DAW. It can do pretty much everything the expensive DAWs can do that you’d see in professional recording studios, but it’s a fraction of the price. (The trial version is free.)

I’ve recorded multiple releases with Reaper, and I’m not sure I’ll ever switch.

Pros & Cons

  • Very affordable
  • Comes pre-loaded with VST plugins specific to Reaper
  • Easy to learn, so it’s great for beginners
  • Try out the full version before you buy
  • Can’t edit or print scores
  • Limited quantize functions

Reaper

GarageBand (Mac)

GarageBand has been around for years (I started using it in 2009) and it keeps getting better. It comes pre-loaded on every single Macintosh computer and many well-known musicians have recorded songs with it, including Kendrick Lamar and Fall Out Boy.

It’s super easy to learn, making it another great option for beginner producers.

Pros & Cons

  • Pre-loaded on every Mac computer
  • Access hundreds of instrumental loops
  • Easily apply professional-sounding preset effects
  • Only available on Macs
  • No mixing-console view

GarageBand

Audacity (Windows / Mac / Linux)

Audacity is an open-source DAW, and it’s as simple as you can get in terms of good music production software. Even though it doesn’t have some of the more advanced options that other DAWs have, it does allow you to do the basics.

You can record, edit, add effects, and bounce your song at professional quality. There’s also an “analysis mode,” which shows you the frequency of your song so you can ensure it’s balanced.

Pros & Cons

  • Compatible with any operating system
  • Easy to use
  • No mixing console
  • Doesn’t have a lot of features that well-known DAWs have

Audacity

DarkWave Studio (Windows)

The big benefit of DarkWave Studio is that it’s a full DAW that doesn’t take up much storage space. Plus, it comes with 19 built-in plugins. The trade-off, however, is that you’re fed advertisements, which is how it’s a free DAW.

Pros & Cons

  • Pattern Editor
  • Sequence Editor
  • Doesn’t use much storage space
  • User experience could be improved
  • Advertisements can be annoying
  • Available only on Windows

DarkWave Studio

Cakewalk by BandLab (Windows)

Cakewalk went away, but then BandLab bought it in 2018 and made it a free DAW. Because of this, it already has 30 years of experience, so it’s a solid option considering it’s free.

It’s a surprisingly powerful piece of software, allowing you to insert an unlimited number of audio or MIDI tracks.

Pros & Cons

  • It has been around for a long time
  • Powerful DAW
  • Unlimited number of tracks
  • Available only for Windows

Cakewalk by BandLab

Beat Makers

Whether or not you’re a beat-making producer, it’s a good idea to have some beat-making software. First, they can be helpful to use supplementally if you have trouble hearing the click track. Second, you never know when you may want some sick beats.

Drum PRO

I’ve used Drum PRO so many times, people are probably starting to recognize some of the drums sounds.

You get 20 built-in drum sounds that include hip-hop, pop, vintage 808s, and more. There are 12 pads that give you two kick drums, two snare hits, two types of claps, two high-hat hits, and four additional channels with things like shakers and claps. You can also adjust the effects like ADSR and reverb.

Pros & Cons

  • 20 drum kits
  • Adjust ADSR and reverb
  • Drum sounds don’t always sound “real”

Drum PRO

T-REX 606

The T-REX 606 is modeled after the old Roland TR-606 drum machine. And the interface is as simple as you can get — there are seven drum sounds and then a volume knob and reverb knob. The drum sounds are a kick, snare, closed high-hat, open high-hat, low tom, high tom, and a cymbal.

Pros & Cons

  • Simple interface
  • Replicates the classic Roland T-606
  • Limited effects options
  • Limited drum sounds

T-REX 606

Hip-Hop Drum Pads 24

This one is different from the other beatmakers. Hip-Hop Drums Pad 24 is actually a mobile app for smartphones and tablets. There are a ton of free sounds you can play around with, and each kit has 12 pads with kicks, snares, claps, samples, and more.

You won’t be able to make a beat right in your DAW, but here’s how I use it:

  1. Record myself playing a beat with the in-app record feature
  2. Email or WeTransfer that file to myself
  3. Go to my computer, download that file, and drop it into my DAW
  4. Either use the beat as-is or break it apart with Regroover (see below)

Pros & Cons

  • Seemingly an unlimited number of free sounds
  • Drum kits also include samples
  • Make a beat from anywhere
  • Can’t make a beat directly in your DAW
  • May have to edit beat to ensure it’s on time

Hip-Hop Drums Pad 24

Regroover

Regroover is a program that will split apart any audio file you drop into it. It’s meant to separate a drumbeat into its respective parts, so you can isolate the kick, snare, hi-hat, and other parts from each other.

Then you can use your MIDI controller to make your own beat with those sounds.

So you can take the beat you made with Hip-Hop Drums Pad 24, split it up, then reassemble a beat with the same sounds.

Pros & Cons

  • Split apart any drum beat (or any sound) and use those sounds to make your own beat
  • Free download to test it out (must eventually buy a license though)
  • Their customer service is top-notch
  • Regroover Pro is expensive
  • The interface can be hard to understand at first

Regroover

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Virtual Instruments

Realistic or quality-sounding virtual instruments are the most difficult type of plugin to find. I’ve tested (and then deleted) many. Here are a few that have stuck around for me.

Dexed

For being a free piece of software, Dexed offers a lot, both in sounds and settings. You can get all sorts of synth sounds, from ambient to harsh to percussive. You can get bassy sounds as well as high, tinny sounds.

Plus, you have several settings to play around with like EG levels, depth, curve, and many more.

Pros & Cons

  • 32 sounds to choose from
  • Sounds are further customizable
  • Plenty of settings to play with
  • The interface can seem overwhelming with all the settings
  • Some of the sounds are very harsh-sounding

Dexed

DSK Strings

DSK Strings emulates violins, violas, cellos, upright bass, and entire string sections. You can play these parts with pizzicato or bowed and you can adjust settings like ADSR, reverb, delay, and flanger.

It will take some finagling to make the strings sound real. In my experience, this plugin is best used for more ambient string sections rather than featured or solo strings.

Pros & Cons

  • Choose between violins, violas, cellos, upright bass, and strings sections
  • Control the sound with plenty of settings
  • Good sound for supporting string parts
  • It’s difficult to make the strings sound real
  • It may take some time to understand how the settings work

DSK Strings

4Front Bass Module

The 4Front Bass Module plugin has just one setting, one sound. It emulates a bass guitar and that’s it. For it being a free plugin, it sounds pretty close to a real bass guitar. If you solo it, you can tell it’s a plugin, but if you mix it into the song, it can do the trick.

Pros & Cons

  • Sounds like a real bass guitar
  • Easy to use
  • Only one default sound/setting
  • Need to be mixed into the song to work well

4Front Bass Module

Ample Percussion Cloudrum

The Ample Percussion Cloudrum is a unique plugin in that it mimics a cloud drum. So it’s part percussive, part melodic, part ambient. So you can play it like a piano on your MIDI controller, or you can use it as supplemental percussion.

There are 15 preset sounds and you can even adjust the settings like the Body, Width, Synth, Pan levels, and ADSR.

Pros & Cons

  • 15 preset sounds
  • Adjust a handful of settings
  • Save your own presets
  • Being a cloudrum emulator, some of the single notes have dissonant undertones

Ample Percussion Cloudrum

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