If you're thinking about trying your hand at music production - whether it is for professional reasons or simply just as a hobby - you might want to start with a production software that is free-to-use to avoid wasting your money, in case you end up 1) hating the software or 2) hating music production in general. Then, as your music production career starts to take off, you can opt for premium options that will provide you with a wider range of functionalities.
Although there might be a lot of options out there, not all of them are versatile enough to support the needs of a budding music producer. Therefore, after tons of extensive and painstaking research, we've come up with a list of 5 free music production software that are perfect for beginners.
Known for its versatility and gentle learning curve, Audacity is probably one of the best music editing softwares currently available. Audacity is compatible with Windows, Mac OS X, GNU/Linux and other operating systems, and as an open-source software, its source code is publicly available for anyone to download and develop further.
Audacity comes with the following features:
- Recording: You can record live audio simply by plugging in a microphone or a mixer. You also have the option to digitize recordings from other media.
- Export / Import: You can import multiple audio files at once, edit them, and export them to a variety of different file formats (.wav, .mp3, .aiff, .m4a, .ogg, .flac, etc.)
- Editing: With Audacity, you can perform a wide range of basic audio editing with "Cut, Copy, Paste and Delete", as well as unlimited "Undo"s and "Redo"s. You can even remove background noise from an audio clip, something that might come in handy when dealing with unclear audio.
- Plugins: Since Audacity is not exactly a digital audio workstation (DAW) and more of a music editing tool, you will need to download various plugins to expand its music production capabilities. Here's a list of free Audacity plugins developed by the Audacity team - you can even write your own plug-in, since Audacity is written in the written in the Nyquist and VST programming languages and can be easily modified in a text editor.
Here's our verdict for Audacity:
PROS: Easy to learn, wide range of basic capabilities, open-source.
CONS: More of a music editing tool than a digital audio workstation (DAW), limited functionalities without the appropriate plugins.
You can download Audacity here.
2. GarageBand (Mac)
If you're a Mac user, using GarageBand as your first music editing software is a no-brainer. It comes pre-installed in every MacBook running on macOS, and you can even use it on iOS devices such as your iPhone or your iPad. With a complete sound library that provides you with an incredible selection of instruments and presets, GarageBand is undoubtedly one of the best music production platforms for beginners.
GarageBand comes with the following features:
- Music Creation (without instrument): With GarageBand, you literally have access to a huge array of musical instruments at your finger tips. From guitars to piano to drums and synths, you can produce a full-fledged song by mixing and combining any virtual instrument of your choice (you can combine up to 255 separate audio tracks in a single GarageBand project).
- Music Creation (with instrument): If you happen to have a MIDI keyboard or even an old-school guitar lying around, you can also opt to plug in your instrument and record your pieces directly within GarageBand. You can then choose from a huge variety of amps, cabinets, and stompboxes to customize the recording.
- Audio Recording: By plugging in a microphone and potentially hiding under a blanket to reduce echo, you can record a professional, studio-worthy song on GarageBand. After recording it, you can fine tune your vocals by altering the compression and EQ settings.
Here's our verdict for GarageBand:
PROS: Has a huge range of versatile and powerful music production tools, easy transition to Logic Pro - Apple's flagship professional DAW.
CONS: Only available for Mac users. Also, GarageBand has a slight learning curve, but it can be easily mastered. For starters, here's the latest introductory guide to GarageBand for beginners:
You can download GarageBand on the iTunes Store.
3. Cakewalk by BandLab (Windows)
Originally released under the name SONAR, Cakewalk is an award-winning DAW that was recently made publicly available for free when it was acquired by BandLab in 2018. With over 30 years of development, Cakewalk is probably one of the earliest and most matured software in the market that provides a complete music production package to meet all your music editing needs.
Here are some of the features that Cakewalk offers:
- Compose: With its award-winning Skylight Interface, Cakewalk allows you to stretch your creative muscles and create complete songs with its suite of songwriting tools and instruments.
- Record: With Cakewalk's Unlimited Tracks feature, you can record vocals in a pristine and professional environment and combine it with layers upon layers of MIDI tracks.
- Mix & Master: Equipped with the best audio engine in the industry (VST3, Touch), Cakewalk allows you to achieve studio-quality sounds by creating big, clear, and dynamic mixes and perfect those mixes with cutting-edge mastering tools.
Here's our verdict for Cakewalk:
Pros: Powerful DAW with a huge range of music production tools, backed by 30 years of development, unlimited audio or MIDI tracks.
Cons: Only available on Windows. Requires at least a multi-core Intel processor and 4GB of RAM.
You can download Cakewalk by BandLab here.
LMMS - formerly known as Linux MultiMedia Studio, or the more recent version, "Let's Make Music Studio" - is a free, cross-platform, and open-source music production software that is made by musicians for musicians. Not only is LMMS available for Linux, Mac and Windows users, it also has a very strong community backing - LMMS has a sharing platform where you upload the music that you created to the massive LMMS community.
LMMS provides users with the following features:
- Multi-window View: LMMS provides you with multiple windows to create a seamless music production workflow - first, we have the Song Editor View, where you can get an overview of your song structure; then, you have the option to mix your tracks with the FX Mixer, or control the value of any automatable control at any point in time during the song with the Automation Editor. The Piano Roll Editor is the main workspace for composing and editing melodies and harmonies, while the Beat+Bassline Editor is where you sequence your rhythms and repetitive musical lines.
- Huge Sample Library: With over 1,000 free samples and 19 different instruments to choose from, LMMS provides you with endless opportunities for song creation.
Feel free to check out the full documentation here.
Here's our verdict for LMMS:
Pros: Intuitive interface, huge community support, available for Linux, Mac, and Windows, flawless VST support, comes with a huge range of samples to choose from.
Cons: Similar to Audacity, LMMS's updates are rather infrequent due to its open source nature.
You can download LMMS here.
5. Tracktion T7 DAW
Originally a premium product developed by the Tracktion Corporation, T7 became free when the company decided to make it available for anyone to download gratis in light of the release of their next software, Waveform. Because of that, T7 is probably the most powerful and fully-featured product on this list. With no ‘Lite’ version, track limits, plugin limitations, 30-day trial or other such constraints, T7 is truly a gift from the developers at Tracktion to all music creators.
T7 DAW's features include:
- Elegant User Interface: Dynamic workstation with great visual depth, meticulously-coordinated color palettes and adequate animations to keep your editing workflow smooth and seamless.
- Clip Layer Effects: This patented technology allows you to stack multiple effects and processing on an individual clip, as opposed to just using plugins on a complete track. Check out this video to learn more about this feature.
- Automation Patterns: T7 DAW provides you with a quick and effortless way to apply precise movement to any part of your song edits - simply select a parameter that you want to automate, apply a common pattern, and you're good to go!
- Plugins: T7 DAW allows you to load any VST and AU plugins, which gives you a huge range of music production capabilities - you can now download any free VST plugin and have access to some of the best samplers, synthesizers and effects in the industry.
Here's our verdict for T7 DAW:
Pros: Cross-platform functionalities (Windows, macOS, and Linux), wide range of features (clip layer effects, LFO modifiers, multiple browsers).
Cons: Can be a little too feature heavy, steeper learning curve, not suitable for heavy duty mixing.
You can download T7 DAW here.
In short, there are a lot of free music production software out there to help you get started with composing, recording, and producing your first track. While you might be able to gather more insights by doing your own research or asking people in the industry, we often find the most effective way to find your favorite option is to try out various different options and see which one works best for you.
At Sedge, we are building a project management and file-sharing tool for music producers and artists that streamlines their music production workflow and allows them to collaborate effectively. You can read more about our vision, mission statement, and competitive advantage here.
Also, Sedge is currently in beta, but if you are interested in signing up as a beta tester, feel free to sign up to our waitlist here.