Looking to make some killer beats?
As they say, every journey begins with a single step. Which is a rather obvious statement disguised as a profound bumper sticker.
The point is that beat making isn’t just about musicality. It isn’t just about imagination and creativity. It’s also about the tools you use.
The wrong tools will handcuff you to limitations and constraints that can’t be overcome. The right tools will empower you to bring your creative visions to fruition, sometimes without much effort.
In this guide, we look at the best beat making software that helps you create professional beats. Download one, download all, or mix and match as you see fit!
Digital Audio Workstations
Your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) is where the work gets done, and it’s crucial to the entire process.
If you’ve already chosen a DAW, and you’re happy with it, congratulations, you can skip this section.
Otherwise, you’ve got a big choice to make. After all, the DAW you use will determine your overall workflow. It gives you a starting point in terms of virtual instruments, effects, samples, and loops. And a stable, reliable DAW offers a better experience than one that constantly glitches and crashes.
Here are several great DAWs for beat making.
MPC Beats by Akai Pro
Akai Pro’s MPC Beats is an excellent beat making tool. Should we expect any less from the creator of great hardware tools like the MPC One controller or the FORCE clip launching machine?
Beats includes all the essentials, like 16 pads for sample and loop triggering, piano roll, sample editor, browser, and information section for navigating your tracks. All this kind of makes it sound like hardware rather than software, but that’s because MPC Beats mimics the workflow of Akai Pro’s legendary MPC hardware. It’s an intentional choice.
Beats is ready to go out of the box. You can use their genre temples to begin creating your own beats straightaway, and you have all the tools necessary to start remixing included songs as well.
In case you’re worried about samples and loops (we’ll be talking more about samplers later), MPC Beats includes 2 GB worth of content to help you start building your beats now. It’s kind of what makes it an excellent GarageBand alternative too. It even includes an assortment of virtual instrument plugins.
If you’re going to be making beats, you should at least have a small external controller, and MPC Beats is compatible with all class-compliant USB controllers.
If at any point you want to extend the power of MPC Beats, you can learn the inner workings of the software in MPC Beats Academy and purchase MPC Beats Expansions for more sounds.
To download Beats, you will need to enter some of your personal information on the Akai website.
Download: Akai Pro
LMMS continues to surprise us with its steadily growing popularity. And its main draw, from what we can tell, is that it’s a free FL Studio replacement. Which, of course, means it’s perfect for in the box, electronic music creation and beat making.
Of course, there is another reason I say, “in the box.” Best to my knowledge, LMMS does not support the recording of audio tracks (although it can import and playback any type of track – meaning you would need to record your audio tracks separately).
LMMS can still be a ton of fun for creating beats. It comes with an arsenal of virtual instrument and effect plugins, presets, and samples. It also features VST and SoundFont support.
This DAW lets you sequence, compose, mix, and automate songs. It comes with a Beat+Bassline Editor, Piano Roll Editor, 16 built-in synthesizers, embedded ZynAddSubFx (polyphonic, multitimbral, microtonal, multi-voice additive, subtractive, and pad synthesis), drop-in LADSPA plugin support, compressor, limiter, delay, reverb, distortion, bass enhancer, graphic and parametric equalizers, visualization/spectrum analyzer, and more.
There certainly are some DAWs that come with more, but if you love the workflow of LMMS, there may not be any suitable substitutes.
You can get LMMS for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Waveform Free by Tracktion
While Waveform Free is a bit of an all-arounder in the DAW space, it comes with a default EDM template, which should tell you something. This baby handles beats quite nicely, thank you very much.
And if you’re new to beat making, the template is a great place to start. It gives you a good idea of just how much you can do with little more than the built-in tools. Practically all the synth sounds heard on the default track, in fact, were created using just one virtual instrument. I was impressed.
Waveform gives you the flexibility of creating your beats using a MIDI keyboard, MIDI drum pad, or standard QWERTY keyboard if you prefer.
The built-in step sequencer makes it easy to create drum loops and patterns and control the velocity of each hit. Of course, there’s a MIDI editor too.
For those who like traditional DAW setups, Waveform has a built-in mixer as well. And this makes it easy to control levels, panning, and even effects (all this can be done from the controls on the right side of the screen too, though).
Waveform has some great built-in effects and instruments. But it’s also compatible with most free VST plugins.
Although Waveform’s workflow is quite a bit different than other DAWs, that, to me, is what makes it more attractive. Once you get used to it, you start to see that it’s incredibly easy to use. But be forewarned – it’s not for everybody.
For my money, though, Waveform Free is where it’s at.
Live Lite by Ableton
Live Lite is the go-to choice among many electronic music producers, and is the lightweight version of Ableton Live (although with everything included, I’m not sure how “lightweight” it is).
If features kind of a “flat design” interface that’s quite unique.
Live Lite comes with MIDI sequencing of software and hardware instruments, advance warping, real-time time-stretching, VST2, VST3, and Audio Unit support, 16 scenes, multiple automation lanes, MIDI polyphonic expression, track freeze, capture MIDI, tempo following, MIDI remote control instant mapping, MIDI output to hardware synths, MIDI clock/sync, instrument racks, MIDI effect racks, drum rack, complex warm modes, groove pool and extract groove templates, and other standard features.
In terms of software instruments, you get drum rack, impulse drum sampler, instrument rack, and the Simpler sampler.
Audio effects include audio effect rack, auto filter, beat repeat, channel EQ, chorus-ensemble, compressor, delay, three-band EQ, Erosion digital artifacts, limiter, phaser-flanger, Redux vintage digital gear sounds, reverb, Saturator waveshaping distortion, tuner, and the multipurpose Utility tool.
MIDI effects includes arpeggiator, chord, expression control, MIDI monitor, MPE control, note length, pitch, random, scale, velocity, and MIDI effect rack.
Live Lite’s core library of sounds and presets include 274 instrument racks, 78 drum racks, 134 audio effect racks, 18 MIDI effect racks, 101 drum MIDI clips, 242 tonal MIDI clips, 40 instrument presets, 226 audio effect presets, 94 MIDI effect presets, three templates, 205 loops, 1,626 drum hits, and 667 multisamples, FX, and other one-shots.
With that much content at your fingertips, it’s not hard to see why Live Lite is so popular.
From using and customizing generic sample packs to creating your own, samplers help you to bring your beats to life. They are basically instruments unto themselves when used correctly.
Although most DAWs come with a sampler, oftentimes they are basic and don’t come with all the functionality you need. The following samplers will put far more power at your fingertips.
Kontakt 6 Player by Native instruments
When it comes to samplers, there are few as popular and powerful as the Kontakt 6 Player. This free app runs all Native Instruments’ Kontakt instruments and is compatible with Mac and Windows.
Perhaps, most importantly, it is included in Komplete Start, a free production suite we will be getting into a little later.
Kontakt 6 Player can load all compatible libraries. And it’s paired perfectly with Komplete Start, which will give you access to all the essentials, including drum kits, orchestral sounds, bass guitars, synths, and more.
Download: Native Instruments
Grace: Sampler by One Small Cube
One Small Cube’s Grace: Sampler is a popular choice, and it’s not hard to see why. It gives you complete control over your samples, such that you can shape and mold them inside Grace, without even having to add additional effects to the tracks (which you can still do, of course).
Grace includes two filters per voice (LP, BP, HP, comb, lofi, and ring modulation), two AHDSR envelopes, two LFOs, two step sequencers, four XY control pads, WAV, AIF, and SND support, SFZ patch import, drag and drop sample loading (with some DAWs), browser with sample preview, and patch import and export support.
Grace patches can be downloaded separately. The downloadable content comes with WaveShaper drum samples and includes 54 original vintage synth patches. All patches were captured using analog synths and drum machines.
Overall, as you might be able to tell from its user interface, Grace is a simple, stable, and compact sampler with a streamlined workflow. If you’re looking for something lightweight, you’re going to love it.
Download: One Small Cube
Poise: Percussion Sampler by One Small Cube
In addition to Grace, One Small Cube has also got Poise, a sampler designed specifically with percussion in mind. And as you might be able to tell from its outward appearance, it’s a bit of a different beast.
This piece of software makes working with drum samples fast and easy. It features 16 drum pads and eight sample layers per pad. You are given parameters for pitch, volume, balance, amplitude, and pitch envelopes for each layer. Sample switching types include random, velocity, and round-robin.
Although Poise’s interface is simple and streamlined to give you rapid access to the features you need, it has more features at the ready than you might find at first glance.
With Poise, you also get a sample browser with preview, and drag and drop sample loading. As with Grace, there is some downloadable sample content too.
Download: One Small Cube
TX16Wx Software Sampler
The nicely designed TX16Wx Software Sampler is another popular sampler modeled after the best hardware samplers. It’s a favorite among certain producers and is quite feature rich to boot.
Features include two resonant 6/12/24dB multimode filters, AHDR/AHDSR envelope, automated sound parameters, multi-mode polyphonic glide, two LFOs, two envelopes, three step sequencers per voice, modulation matrix, two-level modulation with base and additional controller, tempo and voice synchronization of LFO and step sequencers, as well as selectable velocity and mapping curves with user-editable shape.
You also get file browse, mapping editor, wave editor, beat slicer, and a set of powerful tools to help you record your own samples.
And we’re just scratching the surface in terms of what this sampler makes possible. The Pro version unlocks even more tools. It’s worth a peek!
Download: TX16Wx Software Sampler
The Groove BPB drums sampler might fall under the category of “legacy,” but it’s also legendary in its own way.
This drum sampler is available in VST2, VST3, and AU formats for Windows and Mac. It was based on the full version of Groove.
This is a highly playable and expressive drum sampler that helps you create dynamic, life-like drum sounds thanks to its modulation controls.
Groove BPB includes six dual drum slots that can hold two drum samples simultaneously. Per-sample controls include volume, pan, pitch, sample start and length, and built-in LFO with filter cutoff, resonance, volume, pan, mix, pitch, sample delay, fade in/out, and sample start/end times.
Parameters can also be modulated via MIDI note velocity. This, in large part, is how Groove BPB makes beats come alive.
So, if you’re looking for a unique drum sampler, this one is a solid choice.
Download: Audio Plugins for Free
When it comes to beat making, the right virtual instruments can make a big difference. Most beat makers have synths (we’ll be looking specifically at synths a littler later) as their top need, but depending on what you’re trying to create, you might be interested in getting hold of other creative, versatile, and high-quality virtual and sampled instruments.
Here are a couple of collections you should keep on your radar.
LABS by Spitfire Audio
Spitfire Audio’s LABS is a composer’s dream come true. Their library of free software instruments is always growing, and are compatible with Mac and Windows, and practically any DAW.
If I’m looking for realistic sampled instruments, LABS is always the first place I turn. And when I say their sounds are amazing, I’m not pumping anyone’s tires.
As I write this, you can access a couple dozen strings, guitars, pianos, brass, drums, vocals, percussion, synths, and experimental sounds – all high-quality.
Most recently, I downloaded Synth Pads, as it was just what I was looking for. I mixed it with a separate atmospheric synth sound, and together created the “perfect” sound.
Are there any downsides to LABS?
Well, it basically comes down to three things:
- You will need to register an account with Spitfire Audio to download the app and install any of the instruments on your computer.
- Each plugin requires around 2 GB of space.
- The plugins generally don’t feature many tweakable parameters. Of course, you can still add effects and do a bit of your own mixing and shaping.
Aside from that, though, it’s an incredible library, and a great one to keep bookmarked, especially for those times when you need more ultra-realistic sounds.
Download: Spitfire Audio
Komplete Start by Native Instruments
Komplete Start gives you instant access to a powerful production suite. If you’ve already got the basics covered, this will probably fill in the holes, and if you have nothing, it will give you all the essentials you need to get started in your beat making efforts.
With Komplete Start, you get over 6 GB of instruments, effects, loops, and samples, including several synthesizers, sampled instruments (vintage synths, acoustic instruments, drums, etc.), tube compressor, Guitar Rig 6 Player, and 1,500 loops and samples from their Expansion range.
Komplete Kontrol gives you full control over browsing, auditioning, and tweaking instruments, effects, and sounds. Plus, it’s compatible with all hardware.
If you’re not completely sold on the Native Instruments ecosystem, then perhaps Komplete Start wouldn’t be the right choice for you. Otherwise, it sets you up with so many great tools that it’s hard to resist.
Download: Native Instruments
We really are spoiled as music producers these days. There are a ton of free synth VST instruments out there, many of them with great sounds and unmatched versatility.
In this section, we’ll be looking at some of the best free synths available, but just know that there are more where these came from.
If we were to give Surge a one-word review, it would probably end up being some lame adjective like “awesome,” “incredible,” or “stellar.”
And that’s because it is. But words can hardly convey the extent to which this free, open-source, award-winning, hybrid synthesizer rocks.
We’ve covered its feature set elsewhere, so we won’t repeat ourselves here. What we can say, as an overview, is that Surge features many synthesis techniques, a surprising selection of filters, a flexible modulation engine, as well as a ton of effects, MPE, and microtuning.
Various beat makers and music producers have created tracks using little more than Surge. That’s because it can do just about everything, from classic to modern, bass lines to leads. Playing through the presets alone should give you a sense of what’s possible (but only after hours of messing around with all of them).
Our only complaint is that Surge’s user interface could be better. We’re not saying it’s bad. We’re not even saying it’s anything less than excellent. But it doesn’t hit you across the face with a design that demands attention. And something this good is perhaps deserving of an eye-popping coat of paint.
Surge is available on GitHub for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Odin 2 by TheWaveWarden
You can’t talk huge, flexible free synths without mentioning Odin 2 – a “synth to please the gods.”
This is a 24-voice polyphonic monstrosity, complete with an assortment of basses, leads, and FX. You can take advantage of the analog waveforms or even draw your own. It also has built-in filters that emulate legendary analog filters like the Moog-ladder or the Korg-35. Odin 2 also has four built-in FX.
Its user interface is nicely designed. And it’s been created such that you can add and subtract modular style components to shape your sounds (to the nth degree).
If you love tweaking, then you’ll love what Odin 2 has to offer. Rarely do you see a synth as flexible as this one.
Odin 2 is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
If you’ve been around the music world for a while, then you know exactly what VCV Rack is intended to emulate. This Eurotrack simulator includes the Spectra spectral processor and vocoder, Sound Stage simulated 3D room reverb, Chords quad-note chord sequencer, Console eight-channel modular mixer, Parametra vintage-controlled parametric EQ, Scalar quantized and scale tuner, Router sequential switch matrix, and Pulse Matrix grid-based trigger sequencer.
As with synths already introduced, VCV Rack is a dream for those who love to tweak, experiment, and discover modular synthesis. Fair warning – if you’re not familiar with modular synthesis, and don’t want to learn, this plugin is not for you.
The only word that seems fit to describe VCV Rack, though, is “unreal.” Have you seen how much Euroracks and modular synthesizers cost? They’re up there.
And with VCV Rack, your options are near unlimited. It’s impossible to describe all the sounds VCV Rack puts at your fingertips, because you can do everything – FX, pads, leads, basses, and more.
We also love the look and feel of VCV Rack. It is very nicely designed, and it mimics the real thing quite nicely, without leaning too heavily on ultra-realism.
Modular synthesis isn’t for everyone, because once you start going down that track, you could end up spending hours upon hours learning and discovering. But it’s an absolute paradise for anyone who loves being able to patch, tweak, and set.
Download: VCV Rack
TyrellN6 by u-he
The “sporty” and compact TyrellN6 is another favorite among music producers everywhere, and it’s not hard to tell why.
The developer was originally looking to create a hardware synth, and it shows in the beautiful, quality user interface design of the TyrellN6. And it’s also got that “analog” sound.
It features two oscillators, noise, ring modulator, two LFOs with eight waveforms (host-syncable), audio source mixer with authentic overdrive and filter feedback, twin filter related to Diva, analog type ADSR envelopes (loopable or LFO-triggered), skinnable UI, and over 580 factory presets(!).
With a UI this good, we don’t know why it’s skinnable, but hey, why not?
Within the previously mentioned 580 presets, you can expect to find it all – effects, pads, leads, basses, and other. Frankly, I’m not sure why you would need more synth than this, but it all depends on how you like to work, as well as the sounds you prefer.
Although it pales slightly in comparison to some of the synths already introduced TyrellN6 is still impressive, fully capable, and is available for Mac, Windows, and Linux.
No matter what kind of music you’re making, you need powerful, creative effects to help you make your mixes sound the best they possibly can.
In this section, we look at several effects (and even a bundle) that will help you configure and dial in killer sounds.
MFreeFXBundle by MeldaProduction
MFreeFXBundle is an obvious choice for this list, as the bundle includes a full suite of essential audio effects for mixing. Instead of turning you on to dozens of standalone effects, we basically get to point you to one place to get all the essentials.
So, what do you get in the bundle, exactly? It comes with 37 effects total, in the categories of analysis, saturation and distortion, dynamics, equalizer, filter, mastering, mixing, pitch, reverb, and stereo.
If you’re looking for virtual instruments, this is not the place to look, but you get all the virtual effects you can handle.
Now, your DAW is bound to have some of these effects built in. But in most cases, you’re going to get a little more with these plugins. With autotune being quite popular, we’ve often referenced the included MAutoPitch autotune VST, but all are quite capable, including the MEqualizer, MConvolutionEZ reverb, MBandPass filter, and more.
Tracking is the fun part, obviously, but mixing is where all the pieces finally come together. And the right tools make it easier for you to create incredible sounding tracks ready for distribution, radio, and streaming.
The MFreeFXBundle is free to download, obviously, but if you want to extend the feature set, you will need to upgrade for $59. Still a killer deal for 37 effects!
Graillon 2 by Auburn Sounds
It’s not a pitch shifter. It’s not a pitch corrector. It’s not an autotune. And it’s not even a bitcrusher. It’s a “live voice changer.” And while we have no idea what that means, Graillon 2 somehow combines everything mentioned and fuses it all into a single, impeccably designed plugin more versatile than initially imagined.
So, you get your pitch-tracking modulation, pitch shifter, and pitch correction modules along with the bitcrusher. With the free version, though, you only get the pitch shifting and pitch correction modules. You’d need to upgrade for $29 to get everything.
Graillon 2 is great for vocals, obviously, and you can set it to full on robotic autotune if you want. But you can also use it for a chorus type effect, and the bitcrusher can be great on just about any instrument you want to add the effect to.
Graillon 2 is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Download: Auburn Sounds
Vinyl by iZotope
Let’s face it. A lot of instruments and vocals sound great on their own. But sometimes treating them with effects can bring out a lot of character and help create a unique sound identity (I like stereo widening myself).
iZotope’s Vinyl is one of those plugins that can give any of your tracks a lo-fi, vintage vibe. It stimulates the dust, scratching, warp, and mechanical noise of vinyl records. Making it an excellent tool for beat making, especially hip-hop.
Vinyl is nicely designed, and incredibly easy to use. The simple, clean UI perfectly complements the effect, with controls for RPM, spindown, lo-fi, wear, mechanical, electrical, dust, scratch, warp, gain, and model. You also get to choose from the vinyl sounds of different decades – the 30s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 2000.
Vinyl is available for Windows and Mac, as AAX, AU, VST2, and VST3 plugins.
Finisher Micro by ujam
ujam’s Finisher Micro is a plugin with some serious character. Go to the website and see for yourself – the header graphic features a Finisher Micro spray bottle, as has become trendy to represent plugins this way, as with Drip, for example. The developers obviously have a sense of humor.
This “magic spray” bottle comes with 25 complex automated multi-effect chain modes, mode switching without audio drop-outs and more, and most of it can be controlled using just the “Amount” knob, as it’s been wired to every parameter.
In many ways, it takes the guesswork out of knowing how to dial in your perfect sounds. Your only responsibility – cycle through the modes, turn the Amount dial, and use your ears. Finisher Micro will add some serious character to anything you use it on.
So, what is it, exactly? It’s not a chorus, reverb, compressor, or EQ. It’s everything just mentioned and more. And it’s perfect for putting some finishing touches on your tracks. So, it’s an excellent mixing tool.
We love the design of Finisher Micro, as we haven’t seen anything quite like it. It doesn’t look like a traditional plugin at all, and that’s partly because it isn’t. It has a design that subtly glows and is pleasant to the eye.
This plugin can completely transform your sounds or add subtle effects to give your tracks more personality.
Finisher Micro works great on just about everything, but we can see it working quite well for adding interest to your beats.
Although we’ve labeled the following as “mastering tools,” these effects can also come in handy for general mixing purposes.
These are some of the best free tools available for getting your music smooth and pumping and ready for listening on any device.
Frontier Self-Adaptive Versatile Limiter by D16 Group Audio Software
The name kind of says it all.
Frontier Self-Adaptive Versatile Limiter is indeed self-adaptive, and versatile. And because of that, it isn’t just great for mastering, but also for mixing.
Its picture-perfect graphical user interface hardly requires comment. It’s beautiful, and simple to use, with controls for control input, release, threshold, output level, soft clip, and navigation buttons.
If you need your beats to be loud, you will probably love Frontier. Obviously, it’s not the only thing it does well. But it can really make your beats pump. And who doesn’t like having that functionality at their fingertips?
I find that Frontier also makes tracks and mixes come alive though. It seems to add clarity instead of merely making a track louder.
The soft clip adds a bit of saturation, output volume controls the level of the signal coming out of the limiter, and threshold defines how much of the signal you want processed, as well as how loud you want the track to be.
For raucous masters, there’s Frontier Self-Adaptive Versatile Limiter.
Download: D16 Group Audio Software
Limiter №6 by vladg/sound
Limiter №6 is a sophisticated five-module limiter designed to give you full control over your masters.
The five modules include the RMS compressor, peak limiter, high-frequency limiter, clipper, and true peak limiter.
This VST also features brickwall and soft limiting with different timing settings, M/S and multiband modes, optional 4x sampling, true inter-sample peaks (ISP) limiting, analog-style indication, and two GUI styles, just in case you’re not happy with the default.
Obviously, it’s intended to be used on full mixes. That said, its versatility does make it a capable tool in the mixing process as well (namely because of the compressor), depending on what you’re trying to achieve.
With this limiter, you can really make your mixes come alive, and even add some smoothness or punch, depending on what you’re looking for.
Limiter №6 is a powerhouse. Because of that, it might prove a little too much for some. If you’re looking for a simpler limiter, use Frontier. If you’re ready to do more with your mixes, try this one.
Limiter №6 is available for Windows and Mac.
Download: Tokyo Dawn Records
Saturation Knob by Softube
As with Vinyl and Finisher Micro, Saturation Knob features a simple design, and instantly adds character to your tracks or mixes with the quick turn of a knob.
Saturation Knob features three modes with different distortion characters. It’s great for adding some fatness to drums and bass, or even adding harmonics to vocals.
Some things work well on just about everything. Which certainly seems to apply to the Saturation Knob.
So, be sure to add this simple, streamlined VST to your kit. You will probably find yourself using it a lot.
Top Free Beat Making Software, Final Thoughts
At the outset, I said that beat making wasn’t just about musicality or creativity, that it was also about beat making software.
But don’t forget. It’s not just about the tools either. It’s also in how you use them. The best music producers know how to get optimal results without the help of cutting edge, whiz bang tools. Beginners sometimes can’t make a good sounding beat, even with all the best apps at their fingertips.
So, make plenty of beats. Spend time experimenting. Try a bunch of things. And even after you’ve found what you might consider your “signature sound,” keep branching out. You never want to become a one trick pony.
Now, go make some beats!