Top 7 Best Free Music Production Software in 2020
Our top DAW choices for music production for the new decade
Here at Melody Nest, we get a lot of questions surrounding music production, and “what’s the best digital audio workstation for beginners?” or “should I buy Fruity Loops, Pro Tools, Ableton?” etc. It’s really hard to say considering that everyone’s ambitions are different when it comes to music production. Some people just want to have fun, and others would literally do anything to become the next *insert famous DJ name here*.
So, if you’ve never made music in your life, and you have your credit card in your hand getting ready to purchase $2000 worth of studio equipment, ask yourself this:
How committed am I to music production?
If your mind is made up, and you’re as positive as you can be that you’ll be making music for the rest of your life, then we say make that purchase! Buying studio equipment is an investment when done properly, and eventually you’ll make your money back.
However, if you are unsure about your drive for music production– because many aspiring music producers are, and i’ve seen musicians drop music cold turkey after years of playing because they no longer enjoyed it– perhaps you should test the waters with free music production software. You may come to the realization that:
- You don’t really enjoy producing music
- You enjoy producing music, but not enough to spend hundreds of dollars on a digital audio workstation, and eventually; audio interfaces, plugins, speakers, hardware, an acoustically treated room, etc
So, that’s why we created a list of our 7 top picks for free digital audio workstations that might help you better understand what music production is all about.
Do you own a Mac? Then you already have GarageBand! How easy was that to get started making music?
If you’re a beginner, this is our first choice for you if you want to explore the world of making music. For a free platform, Apple’s long-standing GarageBand has evolved quite a bit since its release in the early 2000’s, and it will help teach you the basics of music production.
Once you open GarageBand, you’ll immediately get options for plugging in your MIDI keyboard, recording vocals, recording guitar/bass, or having an automatic drummer play along if you feel like jamming. The user interface is very simple, and laying out your tracks and setting volume couldn’t be easier. Because of their easily digestible user interface, even someone with absolutely zero DAW (digital audio workstation) knowledge can start piecing together what it feels like to be a music producer.
GarageBand features include:
- Up to 255 tracks (that’s plenty of tracks for 99% of artists)
- Built in loop and sound library
- 24-bit recording
- Audio effects like: EQ, Distortion, Phaser, Reverb, and more
- Third-party plugin capability
- 40 free basic guitar and piano lessons (great resource)
- Amp simulators
- And more
Fun-fact: Rihanna wrote “Umbrella” using GarageBand.
Technically, after 60 days, you are supposed to pay $60 dollars to further use Reaper, but we feel obligated to mention this second on our list because of how undeniably powerful Reaper is.
Reaper is a fully intuitive DAW with virtually no limitations; there is no MIDI or audio track limit, full VST (your own plugins) integration, it’s jam-packed with audio effects and plugins, and it can pretty much can handle anything that your computer is able to handle, and by that logic: whatever you can handle. We recommend Reaper because after the 60 day free trial, chances are, you might be okay with spending the money.
In their latest update, Reaper 6 comes stacked with:
- FX Plug-in Embedding: ReaEQ, ReaFIR, ReaXcomp, graphical JSFX plug-ins, and more
- MIDI CC Envelopes
- Hundreds of audio effects (FX)
- Auto-stretch Timebase
- 64-bit internal audio processing
- Automation, modulation, grouping, VCA, surround, macros, OSC, scripting, control surfaces, custom skins and layouts
- And more
Note: We know this article is all about what’s free, but, if you have $60 dollars laying around after the 60 day free trial ends, instead of spending that on irrelevant items or a night out drinking, purchase Reaper. You won’t regret it.
From first glance, Tracktion T7 looks like a good choice for those with intermediate knowledge of music production, but also still are unsure if they’d like to spend a substantial amount of money on a DAW.
T7 features an ergonomic, single-screen interface. Looking from left to right, users have their track name, waveform, mixer, EQ, level, pan, M/S, and plugins. It’s very easy to get started with either utilizing your own synths, or dragging and dropping samples from the menu below. Unfortunately, it’s not open source, but that’s definitely not a reason to not give it a try.
What’s important to utilize here are the unlimited audio and midi tracks. Since there is no worry about maxing out, you can develop a better understanding of how to work with dozens, or even hundreds of tracks per production, and to learn how all different musical elements should fit together in one song.
Other learning opportunities and DAW advantages include:
- Automation patterns
- Professional time-stretch algorithm
- Step sequencer
- Warp time
- LFO generators
- Clip layer effects
Tracktion doesn’t offer a lite version, so, many of their free users end up investing in their paid software because of the value they have found using S7.
LMMS (originally known as Linux MultiMedia Studio) is a free cross-platform DAW that has been gaining popularity over the years. LMMS functions a bit like FL studio, where many of the users producing music are “beat makers.” It is quick, efficient, and easy to get started. LMMS definitely makes our list because it almost feels like a gift from web developers– it’s free, and there are no cheap shots at trying to get producers to pay.
The majority of users do not have any complaints besides the fact that LMMS has a bit of a learning curve for those new to producing music, but we think that’s a good thing. So, for those that are looking to understand the basics of how digital audio workstations function, LMMS is a nice choice.
It also comes equipped with the following synthesizers:
BitInvader – wavetable-lookup synthesis
FreeBoy – emulator of Game Boy audio processing unit (APU)
Kicker – bass drum synthesizer
LB302 – imitation of the Roland TB-303
Mallets – tuneful percussion synthesizer
Nescaline – NES-like synthesizer
Monstro – 3-oscillator synthesizer with modulation matrix
OpulenZ – 2-operator FM synthesizer
Organic – organ-like synthesizer
SID – emulator of the Commodore 64 chips
Triple oscillator – 3-oscillator synthesizer with 5 modulation modes: MIX, SYNC, PM, FM, and AM
Vibed – vibrating string modeler
Watsyn – 4-oscillator wavetable synthesizer
SF2 Player – a Fluidsynth-based Soundfont player
* list found on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LMMS
With 20 built-in effects and unlimited audio and midi tracks, LMMS definitely is a solid choice for the upcoming 2020 year.
Avid’s Pro Tools has been a heavy-weight contender in the sound engineering world for years. Usually, any professional studio you walk into will either run purely on Protools, or will at least have a copy that they fallback on.
If you’re looking to get a taste of what you’ll come in contact with if you enter the realm of professional audio engineering, here’s your chance. We would not argue that Protools First is the right choice for large projects because of their 16 track limit, but it helps ease you into understanding complex digital audio workstations. Again, this is a great option if you know you want to be an audio engineer or aspire to work in professional studios.
Pro Tools comes equipped with:
16 MIDI tracks
16 Audio tracks
23 included plugins
3.1 GB of built-in Samples
For years, Cakewalk’s Sonar was a popular choice amongst professional audio engineers and musicians. This DAW had an intuitive user interface, and powerhouse tools like Melodyne and Pro Channel that gave plenty of value to music producers all over the world. In 2018, BandLab Technologies bought out Gibson and luckily Cakewalk is still available! It’s just now under different ownership.
The user interface of Cakewalk by BandLab might look intimidating at first, but rest assured, if you give this DAW a real shot, you will learn quite a bit about music production. It’s great for tracking (recording), mixing and mastering. The FX is vast and intuitive, helping you emulate the classic sounds of an analog console, and it comes equipped with ProChannel modules like: convolution reverb, resonant filtering, EQ, dynamic compression, tube saturation, peak limiting, and more.
It also comes with built-in:
- 64-bit Mix Engine
- Resampling capabilities
- VST3 Support
- 200 Instruments
- Unlimited Tracks
- Universal FX & Presets
- Advanced mixing and mastering tools
Last, but certainly not least, Magix’s Music Maker makes getting started with music production an easy task. Their slogan “Making music is not rocket science – especially when you have Music Maker by your side” further proves that point. It is simple and efficient, and the platform comes equipped with thousands of sounds and loops diverse in style so you’re easily able to create songs in just a matter of minutes.
Music Maker comes with:
- 425 free sounds & loops
- 4 free additional sound pools
- 3 free instruments
- 8 free effects
- Multicore support
- 8 tracks
Free software is there for those that are curious to learn more about music production, and for those that cannot afford to pay for high-end DAWs. However, at the end of the day, we want to reiterate that one of the most important concepts in creating music is, “it’s not what you use, it’s how you use it.”
Mumble this to yourself right now: It is not what I use, it is how I use it.
This concept is what separates you from everyone else, and should help illustrate that work ethic will always be the most important thing in building a career.
I have seen music producers spend $20,000 on software and hardware for their music studio, and they still aren’t even earning minimum wage. In contrast, I have seen music producers use free software and become touring artists. Everything depends on how much work you’re willing to put in, and the more time you invest, the more you’ll realize that there are no shortcuts.
Try to think about picking your digital audio workstation as, “what DAW feels right for me” instead of “which DAW is the best,” and you’ll not only create great music, but you’ll find that creative spark that we all look for.
3) Tracktion T7
5) Pro Tools First
6) Cakewalk By BandLab
7) Magix’s Music Makers
My name is Nick Voorhees, and i’m an Icon Collective graduate, music producer, and owner of Melody Nest. I am in no way an expert in music production (or in any field), but I just wanted to share some insight on what helped me along the way. I hope this is at least a little helpful.