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I took a quick dive into older questions here from others who were asking about freeware DAWs and plugins to start making pony (and non-pony) music. It's interesting to see the recommendations people were making back then but that also got me thinking, "What are genuinely the best free offerings for music production?" :huh:

This thread is my answer to that question! :squee: It is aimed at showcasing the best freeware and other free resources that you can use (DAWs, effects, instruments, utilities) to kickstart your own journey and to give more inspiration to those who may already have some prior experience. I aim to update this every so often as links may be moved/broken or better alternatives are "found" or released. There's something here for every genre and style of music imaginable!

For DAWs, the minimum requirements to be on here was for third party plugin support and have a lot of "pro"-level editing and recording features. For plugins, the minimum requirements was for Mac and Windows support in AU and VST formats. Some might work natively with Linux, and all of these will NOT work with iOS, Android, and Chrome OS. There are mobile app variants of some DAWs mentioned but they are very limited in what they're able to do. And, none of these are listed from "Best to Worst". They're not really in any ranking order.

Please feel free to let me know of any corrections, concerns or suggestions for ANYTHING you have! There's a lot here and I may have missed something! ;)

Before we begin, here are some of the common terminology that you'll see a lot here and elsewhere so you don't feel too lost... well, hopefully you don't? :squee: :wacko:

General terms:
DAW - Digital Audio Workstation. All of your audio work will happen in here. Or in other words, it's where the magic happens!
Stock plugins - They're the plugins that come built into your DAW and are more than capable of doing what you need it to do!
Automation - Let your DAW control parameters by itself as the song plays.
Dynamic Range - The difference between the quietest and loudest part of an audio file (in decibels/dB).
MIDI - Musical Instrument Digital Interface. It allows all kinds of digital instruments and computers to understand each other.
Oscillator - Makes noises via electrical waveforms.
Amplitude - Another word for the volume of a sound.
Velocity - The volume of a MIDI note.
Mixing - The process of combining every part of a song into something more coherent (called a "Mixdown" or "Mix"). Involves panning, volume adjustments and basic song structuring, to name a few.
Mastering - The process of taking a mix and preparing it for final release (called a "Master"). Final touches are usually done at this stage.
Metering - A visual aid to determine any standout issues in a mix or master.
Modulation - Depending on the context it can mean two things: A change from one tone or note to another, or an effect that changes a sound over a period of time.
ADSR - Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release. Attack is how fast you can hear the sound after pressing a note. Decay is how long it takes to go from the peak of the attack to the sustain. Sustain is how loud the sound will stay at for how long you hold the note. Decay is how long it takes for you to hear the sound after you let go of the note.
LFO - Low Frequency Oscillator. Because they're very difficult to hear (below the range of human hearing), they're commonly used to modulate a sound.
Monophonic - Only lets you play one note at a time no matter how many notes are being pressed simultaneously.
Polyphonic - Lets you play multiple notes simultaneously.
BPM - Beats Per Minute. In other words, it's the tempo of a song, which is measured in BPM! It's very important to have an appropriate BPM and time signature for a song depending on the genre (EDM in particular is preferred to have songs within the same BPM range during DJ sets).
Headroom - The difference between 0 dB on a master's mixer channel and the highest level a sound can reach before it starts to distort in unpleasant ways. Very important to keep this in mind especially if you want to send your mix to a mastering engineer, makes their life a whole lot easier.
Transient - The beginning part of a sound, usually the loudest.
Quantize - Snaps MIDI notes perfectly on the grid. You can turn off this feature if you want more natural playing.
Clipping - When a waveform gets distorted and it's peaks are chopped very aggressively. This can occur due to hitting a certain limit (or "ceiling") and it can also be forced with effects.
Sample rate - The number of samples per second in a digital audio signal or waveform. Typically songs are finalized at 44.1 or 48 kilohertz (kHz) depending on what or where it will be listened on.
Aliasing - An unwanted artifacting of an audio source, usually more apparent at lower sample rates. Most effects will come with anti-aliasing features as an attempt to tackle this issue.
Polarity - The alignment of one waveform to another concerning positive and negative values.
Phase - The alignment of one waveform to another concerning time and also how far it is through its cycle in a circular motion.
Feedback - Sound looping on top of itself which can result in loud volume (and unwanted clipping).
Sidechain - A sound that gets triggered by the volume level of another sound. There are a few different ways to do it such as through compression or EQs and it's commonly used on the bass and kick drum, though it can be very useful in higher frequencies as well.
Mud - When certain elements of a mix can't be heard due to clashing frequencies.
Studio monitors - Your speakers (sometimes called "monitors" and your headphones are also monitors).
Grains - A waveform when it's chopped up into very small bits.

.VST - Virtual Studio Technology. Introduced by Steinberg and is the most widespread format for audio plugins.
.AU - Audio Unit. Introduced by Apple and is only available for Mac OS.
.AAX/.RTAS - Avid Audio eXtension and Real Time Audio Suite. Exclusive to Avid Pro Tools, which is quite expensive (RTAS has been replaced in favor of AAX).
.LV2 - LADSPA Version 2. Intended for Linux as an open standard compared to the aforementioned formats.
.CLAP - CLever Audio Plug-in. Introduced by Bitwig and U-he as an open standard hailed to be more efficient and developer friendly than VST. It's the newest one listed here.

Effects processors:
Compressor- Helps to control the dynamic range and volume level of your audio to make it more even. Some examples: use this on inconsistent vocalists, drummers, guitarists and bassists to make their playing sound more even throughout. There are many different types for different use-cases which digital emulations are based on, such as FET and Optical. The analog variants were picked not just for compression purposes but also to add saturation (or "Character" or "Color" as it's referred to sometimes). Digital is good if you don't want to add unwanted noise to a sound.
Limiter - A type of compression with a very high ratio setting. It helps in avoiding unwanted clipping!
Expander - Does the opposite of a compressor. Increases the dynamic range.
Distortion - When a waveform is heavily altered or destroyed, usually done aggressively.
Waveshaper - A form of aggressive distortion that specifically alters portions of a waveform.
Saturation - A form of distortion which adds nicer and subtle harmonics.
Soft clipper - A way of using clipping for adding subtle distortion or saturation. It emulates analog clipping more closely than digital clipping, which the latter is harsher in tone.
Delay - Time-based effect that results in echoes. Some music genres like Dub take advantage of the feedback control in a musical way.
Reverb - Very fast and infinite delays! I understand how lush and cool reverbs can sound but do use them with care as they can build up easily and create unnecessary mess! There are different kinds of reverbs with different algorithms and methods for different purposes like plate and spring.
Convolution reverb - Uses impulse responses (IR) to create the reverb effect. Great for low CPU usage while maintaining a high quality sound.
EQ - Equalizer. It can boost or "cut" desired frequencies with different bands (a band is a smaller range of frequencies). There are different kinds and some are more "surgical" than others.
Filter - A dedicated type of EQ with the intention of completely isolating or cutting a specific group of frequencies. Some genres like French House take advantage of this effect in a musical way.
Granular synthesis - Cuts an audio up into grains and then chaotically transforms it into something different yet musically experimental, like random stuttering or jittering effect.
Panning - Moving a sound through different speaker positions (for music it'll typically be left and right).
Chorus - Type of modulation that detunes a sound to give it the effect that there's more than one tone playing. It can make sounds a bit "fuller" or "wider".
Tremolo - Modulation of the volume of a sound.
Vibrato - Modulation of the pitch of a sound.
Flanger - Chorus effect with quicker delay. Sounds similar to a phaser.
Phaser - Filters being modulated on a sound. Sounds similar to a flanger.
Gate - If a sound doesn't reach a volume's threshold, it will be muted. A good use case is on vocal recordings where there may be faint background noise or unwanted quiet breathing etc.
Bit-crusher - Makes the sample rate resolution of a waveform smaller or thinner. Very popular to use in lo-fi genres.
Amplifier - Makes an audio signal louder for playback through speakers or monitors.
Pre-amp - An amplifier with the specific purpose of converting weaker or quieter audio signals into a signal that's stronger for later processing rather than final playback.
Channel strip - A combination of many of the effects above with minimal controls in one interface. They are usually emulations on popular and well known analog hardware.
Multi-effect - Pretty much the same thing as a channel strip.

Metering and other utilities:
Spectrum analyzer - Lets you see a whole range of frequencies via amplitude over frequency. Looks similar to a parametric EQ but you can't do anything with it directly to change the sound.
Spectrogram - Same as a spectrum analyzer but adds time as another variable. You can also use these to figure out specific notes playing depending on the spectrogram you're using.
Tuner - Meant to help you keep your instruments in tune, but can also help you identify unknown chords and notes playing in samples or loops.
Vectorscope - Shows phase issues in stereo via polar sample, polar level, and lissajous visuals.
Correlation meter - Shows phase issues in stereo. They usually have "+1" and "-1" to let you know where your music sits concerning phase (however it just shows it as a whole rather than what specific frequency range is causing issues).
VU meter - Volume Unit meter. Shows the average loudness of a sound in the moment.


Additional notes & tips

  • It's recommended to close your DAW before installing plugins otherwise they may not load properly after scanning directories (refer to your DAW's manual to learn how to do this in your DAW).
  • Some of these will ask for what formats you want to install and you might accidentally install a format that is unnecessary (like don't install AU if you're on a Windows PC or AAX/RTAS in general unless you're using Pro Tools) so save your storage space and make sure it's unchecked!
  • Some of these don't have installers, rather a compressed file containing the plugin. You will have to drag and drop a file into a specific directory so it can be seen by your DAW.
  • Please do look at other system requirements on product pages as well as some may not be ensured to work on older operating systems. And, most of these are only supported on 64-bit. You can launch 32-bit plugins in 64-bit DAWs (with some wonkiness) but you can't load 64-bit plugins into 32-bit DAWs. So sorry to anyone running a 32-bit environment but do understand that hardware has come a long way and it's difficult to find good 32-bit plugins now (most available have not aged well or been retired in favor of 64-bit anyways).
  • For Apple Silicon Mac users (M- chips), you may need to use Rosetta to get some of these to work properly because these products may have been created when Intel Silicon Macs were the only ones around, please read further: "If you need to install Rosetta on your Mac" by Apple Support
  • Some plugins may be, quite literally, redundant and do not offer any additional features or workflow changes to the (example: If you're already using Ableton Live, it has OTT already so you don't need to install other OTT plugins since they're all directly based on the Ableton one). Check your DAW and play around with the given tools and plugins as they are more than capable of getting great results out of them. You should really only install 3rd party plugins if you want alternatives or features and flexibility that the provided plugins don't give you. Or, if you want to collect them like me then you can do that as well.


The best available, today!

Waveform Free by Tracktion (Windows, Mac, Linux)

Ardour by Paul Davis, et al. (Windows, Mac, Linux)

SoundBridge by SoundBridge (Windows, Mac)

Honorable mentions:

  • Reaper by Cockos - nag screen concerning license activation on startup after the trial period ends but otherwise access to all features is unlimited. I'd put it above but it's technically not free due to the unlimited trial.
  • FL Studio by Image-Line - unlimited trial to their "All Plugins Edition" (included effects and instruments don't time out/intermittent white noise etc. until you pay for a license that isn't for All Plugins) except saved projects cannot be opened. Exporting audio tracks is a workaround however.
  • BandLab by BandLab - web-based browser DAW, it's great if you're on the go and need to sketch ideas but there's better options above.
  • GarageBand by Apple - only for Mac. It's a slimmed down version of Logic Pro.
  • Cakewalk (formerly SONAR) by BandLab - only for Windows. Otherwise, would be up above.
  • LMMS by LMMS Community - biggest drawback is no built-in audio recording (recommended to use Audacity to record external instruments, vocals etc. and drag the audio file into the DAW). Ardour is overall the better open source option.
  • MPC BEATS by Akai Professional - very limited on tracks (8 tracks) compared to the rest of the options above. Also, the workflow is more aimed at beatmakers so it's definitely not for everyone but still worth a mention.
  • Some demos or lite versions of popular DAWs are included with affordable MIDI controllers and monitors. For instance, the full version of Studio One: Artist Edition by Presonus is included with their interfaces and affordable pairs of monitors. A license key for Live Lite by Ableton is included with many affordable MIDI controllers on the market, and so on, so forth.



Go here for user-created presets just in case sound design isn't really your thing: presetshare.com

Vital by Matt Tytel
Paid tiers only give you more factory wavetables and presets, as you can add and create your own wavetables and presets with the free basic tier.

Surge XT by Surge Synth Team
Also referred to by its old name, "Surge".

TAL-NoiseMaker by TAL Software

DexEd by Digital Suburban
Generate additional presets here: thisdx7cartdoesnotexist.com (it will auto-download it for you when you generate one). I believe real Yamaha DX7 patches can be loaded into DexEd as well.

Triple Cheese by U-he

Tyrell N6 by U-he and Amazona.de

Zebralette by U-he

Synthmaster 2 Player (Free Edition) by KV331 Audio
There's a paid one that gives you more presets, but otherwise still the same and useable though you can't really change much from the given sounds.


Honorable mentions:

  • Helm by Matt Tytel - currently abandonware due to shifted focus onto Vital.
  • Synth1 by Ichiro Toda - great CPU efficient synth but there are overall better options. Also teeters on abandonware status.
  • kHs ONE by Kilohearts - nice synth but currently abandonware.
  • Odin 2 by The Wave Warden - a bit too heavy on CPU compared to other options (at least when I last tried it used a good chunk of my CPU) but is a great synth otherwise.
  • VCV Rack 2 by VCV - free version can only run as a standalone product, which is fine considering it's also open source. If the paid variant with VST/AU support were free then I would put it higher.


Instruments, percussion and samplers
Octavia thinks everyone should have access to great (sampled) instruments!

SINEfactory by Orchestral Tools
When they say "subscription", they mean their newsletter subscription about updates and new releases for SINEfactory. Also grab the free Layers library while you're at it to use alongside SINEfactory instruments! They're only playable with their SINE player, which is also free and has quite a lot of flexibility. Be aware though, they do place your full name on the front of the UI at all times. Just letting those who might want to show it off to friends but also want to keep their IRL names private.

Komplete Start by Native Instruments
Contains more than just instruments but there's a specific library in here compatible with the free Kontakt Player (which comes with Komplete Start) called "Kontakt Factory Library", they give quite a bit with this one. Kontakt Player isn't too flexible but there are a lot of 3rd party instrument libraries available for it (and the full version).

Soundpaint freebies by 8dio/Soundpaint
That 1928 Steinway Grand Piano is the most beautiful piano library you'll ever get the pleasure of hearing and using. And, with the other two free libraries you can merge them together to get some cool pads and atmospheres. I hope they release more for free!

 Sforzando by Plogue Art et Technologie
Assuming your DAW doesn't come with a decent .sfz player, download this sampler and start with this library: VSCO 2 Community Edition by Versilian Studios. Also this one too: VCSL.

MT Power Drum Kit 2 by Manda Audio 
Good all-rounder drum kit.

Sean Pandy Drums by Rob Chokehold
Best suited to Metal.


Honorable mentions:

  • Decent Sampler by Dave Hilowitz - (from my memory) the process to install 3rd party libraries can be a bit more user friendly, otherwise great sampler.
  • VSL freebies - great sounding libraries but the authorization process may deter some away.
  • DSK freebies - decent sounding libraries from someone who has been giving these away for a very long time. However, most of these are only available for Windows.




Effects bundles
Most FX you'll ever need in convenient bundles... unofficially endorsed by Vinyl Scratch!

MFreeFXBundle by Melda Production
There's only a little red bar on the interface that nags you but doesn't limit what you can do with it (other than save presets IIRC). Some cool useful stuff in here like MFreeformPhase.

kHs Essentials by Kilohearts
Some interesting ones like Tape Stop and Reverser.

Surge Effects Bank by Surge Synth Team
This comes installed with the Surge XT synth, just load it as an effect.

Airwindows Starter Kit by Airwindows
He makes more niche and specific use-case plugins most of the time and these are just a few of them. It feels like every week he's releasing something new. Also, none of his plugins have a proper interface, they will default to using whatever is considered "default UI" by your DAW of choice (most likely sliders or dials).

Fet, NOS and BritBundles by Analog Obsession
They used to be locked behind Patreon (which is why everything is linked and hosted there) but it's since been unlocked for anyone to access and AO has explicitly stated that anyone is free to download and use them even if they don't donate to him.

Dragonfly Reverb Collection by Michael Willis


Honorable mentions:

  • PA FREE by Plugin Alliance - there's some interesting stuff in here like Schoeps Double MS but I wish they got rid of the activation limit. You can deactivate to make room for other devices but it seems quite unnecessary for freebies. If they got rid of the activation limit for their freebies then I would place it higher.
  • Midnight and Scarlett Plugin Suites by Focusrite - Some nice low CPU usage from their compressors, EQ, reverb and gate but all abandonware.
  • BusTools v3 and TrackEssentials v3 by Toneboosters - Very pro-grade plugins but they're all abandonware, many are replaced by their V4 counterparts (which is why V3 is free now). You can find the installers on their FAQ under the tab "Where can I find older (legacy v3) plug-ins?" If these weren't abandonware then these would be placed higher.
  • Acustica Audio freebies - Their freebies give nice results but their plugin manager is SO SLOW AND BUGGY :angry: and their plugins, even though they say they're CPU efficient now, well they still do take up a lot! Their website used to be kinda slow as well but they've fixed that at least. (If you can live with that, sort by "price: free" to see what they have in case something there interests you. Then, install their plugin manager to download and install them.)
  • Freeware Plug-ins Pack II by Blue Cat Audio - they don't really have anything that's too unique but they're free so it's worth a shot trying them.





Other free websites and resources to check out:

  • Loudness Penalty - throw your audio file through here and it will let you know what the most popular streaming services will do to it! There is also a more convenient plugin for it but you have to pay money for a license. But it is very convenient to have, you don't have to wait as long for it to process in the dedicated plugin vs. their website.
  • Ultimate Vocal Remover - the UVR program they provide is the best I've used for isolating vocals and instrumentals (mostly for my "for fun" remixes to practice). It uses AI, I probably don't need to say more than that. It's better than that LALALA one, not as scratchy results and you don't have to pay for it.
  • Music Theory.net - teach yourself music theory at your own pace.
  • Muted.io - helps to test and train your ear, lots of useful cheat sheets too and other little tools as well!
  • Music Software Deals - Price tracker and notifier for the more well-known paid products from legitimate developers and stores. Good if there's something that costs money and interests you, sometimes these things are given away for free (my favorite free pickup so far which I got notified from this site is AudioThing Bubbles, super duper fun tool!). Just a note on Waves: They are always on sale at "$29.99" or "$39.99" so be careful with your money with them. I don't think any other plugin company does that. They also recently showed they are more than willing to get rid of licenses and move to full subscription (while punishing their existing customers by cutting them off completely), which should be a red flag to stay away from them so I hope you do avoid them! :okiedokieloki: :sealed: Well, at least there are free alternatives above, right? :P

 Other websites and resources that are not necessarily free but I think you should still be aware of them:

  • Knob Cloud - it's a secondhand marketplace for licenses of paid software. It's not a new thing for people to sell their licenses secondhand or trade licenses with others but it does run on a trust system. And yes, it's perfectly legal as long as the rules set by the developer in their TOS is followed concerning license transfers. Check the "Developer" section just in case there may be extra fees or hurdles from the developer. It can be a good way to get those plugins from developers who rarely do discounts (like FabFilter).
  • Audible Genius: Building Blocks - unfortunately not free (has a free trial and it's gone on sale many times) but paying for it is totally worth it if you're struggling with figuring out the simple building blocks of electronic music structure. I'd recommend not continuing forward through the lessons until you can breeze past easy, medium and hard without having to think hard about it (do it from inner feeling)!!!







this is to be EXPANDED upon later with separate effects as well BUT.... for now the effects bundles, synths etc. are more than enough to really get started. it's just the start of what's out there and i need a bit more time to prepare and put the rest here.... please check back again whenever you feel like it! :blush:

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