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Best Free DAW 2021: The Easiest DAWs for Beginners

With just a laptop and a pair headphones you can do extraordinary things and here's some software that might help you.

You might not have the budget for all the most shiny software tools but there are plenty of affordable options that will get you recording, sequencing, beatmaking and processing your music. From DAWs to plugins we’ve got you covered.

Our picks for the best music production software:

  • Roland Zenbeats 2
  • Reaper
  • Studio One Artist
  • Propellerheads Reason11 Intro
  • FL Studio Producer
  • Native Instruments Komplete Start
  • IK Multimedia SampleTank Custom Shop
  • Spitfire Audio LABS
  • Valhalla Super Massive
  • Dead Duck Software
  • iZotope Vinyl

Read on to discover even more of our favorite software and plugins for the home Producer!

What Is a DAW and Why Do I Need One?

A DAW is your main piece of recording software and stands for Digital Audio Workstation, which is not a great description of what it does. A DAW will usually enable you to do a few things. The Digital Audio side will let you record sound from a microphone like you imagine studios would do. It’s great for recording bands, musicians and singer-songwriters.

Once you’ve recorded your performance you can then edit the audio, add effects and mix it all down as a track or song. The other side is MIDI sequencing which is all about using virtual (or hardware) synthesizers to create tracks, songs and rhythms. Somewhere in between, you can work with samples and loops. A DAW brings these ways of making music together so you can produce music in any way you want from recording orchestras to generating beats with a mouse.

As a bedroom producer, you’ll probably be working with virtual or software synthesizers and sounds that are already in the computer and you can do that just with your laptop and headphones. However, if you want to record audio, guitar, instruments or your voice then you’re going to need an audio interface to give you the right inputs to plug yourself into. For more information on that check out our article on the best audio interfaces.

Choosing the Right DAW

There are a lot of options when it comes to choosing a DAW. Each one has its pros and cons and unique features but ultimately they all let you do the same thing – make music. The DAWs in this list are what I consider to be the best ones for people starting out. There’s no point splashing out hundreds of dollars on a professional piece of software when you have no idea whether it’s going to suit you.

So check out our list, watch some YouTube videos on how they work and then try something out. The important thing to remember is that they will all help you make music and so you can’t put a foot wrong.

Let us know which career you are most interested in. Start hereStart here

The Best DAW for a Bedroom Producer

Zenbeats 2

Most professional DAWs have a slightly simpler and cutdown version which can be awesome for beginners and actually then tend to have all the features most people ever use. Some are free, all are affordable so this is the place to start.

Here are my Top 5 DAW recommendation for home Producers:

Roland Zenbeats 2

This is a fabulous piece of recording software. It’s packed full of beat-making and looping tools so you can bash out rhythms and ideas in no time. It’ll run on your computer and your phone so you can make music on the move and then work on it at home. Comes with loads of effects, loops and instruments and it’s completely free.

For a handful of dollars you can expand the sounds, expand the instruments and add in support for third party VST effects and instruments which is pretty vital in my book as it lets you use plugins from other developers like those in this article.

roland.com

Reaper

Reaper has been the starting point for many bedroom producers. It has a very traditional way of working with audio tracks, mixing and MIDI sequencing and so any skills learned here will be easily transferable to any other DAW.

There’s a great community around it and the internet is full of tutorials and guides into how to make music with it. You get a long trial period to try it out for free and then it’s just $60 and will run VST and AU effects and plugins.

cockos.com/reaper/

Studio One Artist

Studio One is one of the best DAWs around. There’s an excellent free version called Studio One Prime but I’d recommend spending a few dollars on the Artist version as it transforms it into a fully fledged recording and music production studio.

It’s packed full of creative editing tools, plugins and instruments and fully supports VST and AU plugins as well. You’ve got advanced features like drum and pattern editing, groove extraction, vocal comping and retrospective recording. It’s a seriously good piece of software.

presonus.com

Propellerheads Reason11 Intro

If you want a rack of synths and drum machines then you need to look at Reason. It’s an awesome package of vintage and modern synths, samplers, drum machines and pattern makers that also does multi-track audio recording and mixing.

The full version is several hundred dollars but the “Intro” version offers 11 instruments, 11 effects and 16 audio tracks for considerably less. You get the big Europa synth, the fat bass Subtractor, the Kong Drum designer and Redrum machine, you get samplers and loop machines.

You can also use Reason Intro as a VST plugin in other DAWs and take advantage of all those synths, drum machines and sounds.

It’s pretty phenomenal if electronic music is your thing.

reasonstudios.com

FL Studio Producer

Talking about electronic music FL Studio has long been the choice of EDM producers. It has a uniquely pattern based workflow and is packed full of sounds, samples and effects.

The Producer version will cost a bit more but it includes 85 instruments and effects, masses of content, audio recording, looping, mixing and a lifetime of free updates – so you only ever have to buy it once.

image-line.com

Virtual instruments, keys, synths and strings

Komplete 13 Start

There is a huge array of software sounds, synths and instruments available out there ranging from free to ridiculous, dodgy to magnificent. You don’t have to spend a lot to pickup some really stunning sounds and don’t forget that your DAW will probably come with some to get you started.

Here are my recommendations for some cool and surprisingly free virtual instruments:

Native Instruments Komplete Start

Get this first, it’s completely free and comes with high quality professional sounding instruments and effects. You get a bunch of synths that include the standard bass and leads you need plus weird and wonderful sounds, pads, noises and even a modular synthesizer.

Then there’s Kontakt with a selection of high quality sampled sounds including pianos, band instruments, world, soundscapes and hybrids.

There are over a dozen studio quality effects including mastering and guitar amp simulations. And they round it off with 1,500 loops and samples.

It’s free but also easily expandable as you find you need more.

native-instruments.com

IK Multimedia SampleTank Custom Shop

This is also free and comes with 50 sampled instruments and over 4GB of content. It’s like a workstation synth that covers all the instruments that you’d find in a general keyboard. So you’ll have strings, keys, synths, drums, effects and voices.

It has a superb groove engine to help you generate patterns and build tracks. It has an excellent effects section to process the sounds. And it’s expandable from the huge SampleTank library.

This is a must-have.

ikmultimedia.com

Spitfire Audio LABS

If you’re looking for something more quirky, unique and interesting then sample a bit of LABS. Spitfire Audio based in London make some of the most amazing orchestral libraries you can find but they also have a range of free instruments that do strange things to samples they’ve recorded and turn them into fabulous instruments.

You’ll find instruments such as Pedal Pads, Music Box, Scary Strings, Frozen Strings, Synth Pads, Moon Guitar and a superb drum kit to name but a few.

labs.spitfireaudio.com/

Effects

Valhalla Supermassive

Native Instruments Komplete Start that I mentioned above comes with a bunch of effects but there are plenty more out there that you might find interesting to add to the ones already inside your DAW.

You need these plugins:

Valhalla

Valhalla produce some brilliant sounding effects based around reverb and delay. From their range there are three that are completely free and must-haves for any experimental musician.

Space Modulator is a take on flanging, that moving, wobbling sound of things in motion. Freq Echo will move you to new dimensions with frequency shifting and analog echo emulation. Super Massive is a ridiculously deep and mysterious reverb and delay that’s so good it has no right being free.

You have to get these.

valhalladsp.com

Dead Duck Software

For a great bunch of free VST plugins then check out Dead Duck Software. The free bundle comes with 26 effects covering all the mixing and processing essentials. It’s a great addition to any DAW and gives you alternatives to play with.

They also have some free instruments.

kvraudio.com

iZotope Vinyl

Want to add some crunch and a lo-fi vibe to your music? Then how about a plug that introduces the sound of vinyl. iZotopes Vinyl plugin lets you add dust, scratch, warp and mechanical sounds to your music.

It’s free so go and get it.

izotope.com

Plugging Yourself In

ipad audio interface

There’s one more thing which is out of the scope of this article but needs a mention. How are you going to plug your voice, microphone, guitar or piano into your computer? Sure, computers have audio inputs or inbuilt microphones but are they really any good for music recording? No, not really. To get started all you need is a laptop and some headphones and that’s true but once you want to record real sounds then you are going to need an audio interface.

An audio interface is a box that usually connects to your computer via USB and provides you with proper connections for microphones and guitars and also high quality outputs for speakers and headphones. They will work brilliantly with your DAW software providing a much higher quality of sound and remove the delay or latency you might hear when playing software instruments. Check out our article on audio interfaces and also on MIDI controllers because if you’re a player then you might want to bring a keyboard into your music making.

Also, audio interfaces tend to come with a bundle of music making software so it might even be a better place to start.

FAQ

What is the best music production software for beginners?

Alison Stolpa (Careers in Music Staff)

Our picks for the best music production software for beginners include:

  • Roland Zenbeats
  • GarageBand
  • Reaper
  • Reason Intro
  • FL Studio

If you want to know more about these software options, check out our blog on the best DAWs for beginners.

Can I teach myself music production?

Alison Stolpa (Careers in Music Staff)

Yes! Thousands of people have taught themselves music production by getting a cheap or free DAW and some free plugins and watching YouTube tutorials or taking Lynda.com courses.

If you want to go deep on your music production learning, there are lots of great online music production courses where you can learn from a Producer at the top of their game. These are convenient, do-at-your-own-pace courses that are often a little cheaper than enrolling at a music production school.

If you are interested in attending school for music production, you’ll not only get a well-rounded musical and technical education, you’ll also gain valuable connections in your local performance and music business communities.

Think about what you want from your music production education and what you want to achieve in your career and you should be able to figure out if you want to take classes online, enroll in school, or teach yourself via online tutorials.

Is it hard to produce music?

Alison Stolpa (Careers in Music Staff)

Like most things, when you’re just getting started it can be hard to produce music. As someone who has attempted to teach myself music production, I can attest to the amount of dedication and time it takes to learn music production. DAWs and recording gear are not always super intuitive if you don’t already have a technical music background.

However, once you’ve gotten into the groove, music production becomes less hard. You’ll eventually get into your flow once you’ve dedicated time and effort to regular music production practice. Eventually, producing tracks will be second nature and you can just focus on letting your creativity shine.

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