It’s no secret that music producers require a lot of tools to get their work done.
Some do their work entirely “inside the box.” Some rely primarily on hardware and analog gear. Most producers these days mix and match.
There isn’t a right or wrong, it’s more a matter of what works for you. The more practiced and knowledgeable you are (relative to your gear), the more likely you’ll able to make amazing music with your rig.
But whether you’re looking to get started in sound engineering or augment your supply of music production software, you’ll be happy to know we’ve compiled plenty of free tools you’re going to love. So let’s get into our list of the best free music production software.
Waveform Free by Tracktion
There are a lot of free digital audio workstations (DAWs) out there, and we know that by and large it’s kind of a “what works for you” situation. Some people love Pro Tools. Others like Reaper.
That said, we’d be lying if we said we didn’t have a soft spot for Tracktion’s Waveform Free (especially given that it’s free), which evolved out of earlier versions, simply known as Tracktion.
The best part about Waveform is its fast and streamlined workflow. The interface is nicely designed and highly intuitive. Sure, some menu surfing is par for the course, but compared to a lot of other popular DAWs, Waveform is more user friendly and easier to navigate. This makes recording and mixing a joy and a breeze.
This is a slightly contentious issue, though, at least to the extent that some people find the Waveform workflow counterintuitive. If it’s not your cup of tea, no problem. We’ve covered oodles of other free DAWs on MIDINation already. But you’ll never know unless you try.
Waveform features a dark interface that’s easy on the eyes. But each track is also given its own vibrant color, which makes it easy to distinguish between each of them. Sure, some people might say this makes it a little cartoony, but I like the strong visual cues.
Waveform supports all compatible VST and AU plugins too, which means you can easily add and use your favorite virtual instruments and effects inside the DAW. And, by the way, you will find a few of those in this guide too.
Waveform has some built-in effects as well. These have come a long way since the early days of Tracktion. You are only given the bare necessities so far as I’m concerned, but it’s always nice to know you’ve got things like reverb, chorus, delay, and compressor right at your fingertips.
Wavefrom is free and works on Windows, Mac, and Linux. It allows you to record and manipulate audio and MIDI tracks quickly and easily.
Grace: Sampler by One Small Clue
One Small Clue’s Grace: Sampler is, if not the best free sampler, among the easiest to use.
Grace: Sampler comes with two filters per voice (LP, BP, HP, comb, lofi, ring modulation), two AHDSR envelopes, two LFOs, two step sequencers, four XY control pads, support for WAV, AIF, and SND, SFZ patch import, drag and drop sample loading, browser with sample preview, and patch import and export support.
With access to so many controls, you can do a lot to your samples and sounds using Grace: Sampler. This flexibility certainly makes it an attractive option.
Grace: Sampler comes bundled with some highly usable sounds as well, and that’s a big plus so far as we’re concerned. There are 54 original vintage synth patches captured from an array of analog synths and drum machines ready to be tweaked.
For basic sampling and resampling, Grace: Sampler is excellent. It may not measure up to Kontakt, but it’s free, and it’s awesome.
This sampler is compatible with 32- and 64-bit Windows machines.
Download: One Small Clue
We’ve already gushed about Surge in other guides of ours, such as the best free synths guide. That’s because it is just that amazing.
But for the uninitiated, we’ll offer an overview.
Surge is a free, open-source, award-winning versatile hybrid synthesizer. It comes loaded with filters, a flexible modulation engine, a ton of effects, and even some modern features like microtuning and MPE.
To be honest, we would be here all day if we listed off all the features, and it seems kind of redundant, given that you can find all of them on the website. What you need to know, though, is this is quite possibly the most feature-rich free synth VST available.
Besides the features, what makes Surge great? Well, synths tend to be a dime a dozen, right? There are a ton of free and paid options to choose from, and many of them do some of the same things. Some do more, some do less, but there is often some overlap too. And so, it choosing the right synth often comes down to the situation, whether you need higher quality sounds or lofi sounds, and so on.
What makes Surge amazing is that it basically does everything well. It could very well be your one-stop-shop. Now, I say that with all sincerity, but we know you’re probably not going to give up all your favorite synth VSTs. So, let me put it to you this way – whatever you favorite synths can’t do, Surge probably can.
Not convinced? Don’t come back to me later and say I didn’t tell you. Hit “play” on the video below and hear all the sounds Surge can create. Better yet, download it and give it a try yourself.
Surge is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, and earns a well-deserved spot among the top free music production software.
OrilRiver by Denis Tihanov
Every music producer, sound engineer, and composer could use a solid reverb, right? It’s a practical necessity for vocals and background vocals, the perfect complement to atmospheric guitar parts, great in moderation on drums, sometimes perfect for entire mixes too.
And in many circles, Denis Tihanov’s OrilRiver is considered the best free reverb VST available.
OrilRiver is an algorithmic stereo reverb with 12 early reflections, five reverb tails, three-band equalizer for the wet signal, and two graphical interfaces.
I like both user interfaces. One is a little more computer or space-age, while the other features an intuitive, modern design. Of the two, the modern one is my preferred design, with better separation between the controls, and just a tighter look overall.
It is rare to find a plugin with two interfaces, though, so we’ve got to give OrilRiver some extra points in that regard (there are a couple on this list with alternate color schemes or GUIs though).
This VST includes faders for dry, E.R., reverb, and wet, as well as knobs for predelay, width, decay time, room size, diffusion, damping intensity, damping high cut, modulation depth, modulation speed, and EQ controls. You can change the E.R. and reverb variations as well.
With OrilRiver, you can get a light, natural, and pleasant-sounding reverberation. Of course, if you want to create more extreme effects, you can. But no matter the settings, you’ll likely be pleased with the results.
OrilRiver works as a VST and VST3 plugin on Windows and Mac machines.
Download: KVR Audio Software
Marvel GEQ by Voxengo
When it comes to essentials, we also can’t forget about EQ. And there are a ton of free EQs to choose from, so it’s hard to single out just one. But Voxengo’s Marvel GEQ is a favorite among producers, and it’s not hard to see why.
Marvel GEQ is a linear-phase 16-band graphic equalizer with multi-channel operation support (up to eight input/output channels). It comes with internal channel routing capabilities, mid/side channel processing, and is perfect for independent audio tracks and full mixes alike.
And, by the way, the mid/side channel is quite possibly one of the best parts about this plugin, because it makes it easy for you to make certain tracks in your mix pop while softening others.
Marvel GEQ’s user interface is simple yet attractive. A little mid-2000s, to be sure, but on the nicely designed end of the spectrum, as opposed to the over-the-top layer effects riddled designs that were in vogue at the time.
The controls are self-explanatory, which is nice, because that means it’s easy to use, too.
We also think it’s cool that Marvel GEQ has several color variants (five colors total). So, if you aren’t crazy about one, you could always try swapping it out for another.
There are different EQs for different purposes, and Marvel GEQ might not be the be-all end-all in your VST library. But it is a great effect to have on hand, especially for mixing and mastering work.
DC1A by Klanghelm
High quality compression is yet another essential in the mixing (and often mastering) process. It can help even out the levels in a performance – vocal, instrument, or otherwise – and that’s critical, especially when you have performances that are uneven.
As you might expect, there are no shortage of free quality compressors, but Klanghelm’s DC1A is something special, especially given its simple interface and design. So, we thought we’d highlight it.
Your main controls are input and output. So, even beginners shouldn’t find themselves lost with this minimal VST. But there are controls for out, GR, deep, relaxed, dual mono, and negative as well.
Klanghelm has an advanced compressor called DC8C, and DC1A is essentially its little brother with reduced functionality. And while it may appear simple, it is more versatile than you might think, and can help you achieve smooth leveling, heavy pumping, crunchy saturation, and even extra punch (often needed on drum parts).
And what’s great about this plugin is that it just works. You can immediately hear a difference as you start playing with the settings, helping you achieve the ideal level of compression on each track, regardless of the instrument you’re treating. DC1A can work great with vocals, guitar, bass, drums, and more.
We’re a big fan of the user interface as well. It looks realistic and elegant without being flashy or flamboyant. It looks like a boutique analog hardware compressor, and it kind of works like one too.
DC1A is compatible with Windows and Mac machines.
Limiter N°6 by vladg/sound
Limiters are useful in a variety of circumstances, but they come in especially handy during the mastering process.
Limiter N°6 is quite popular and is considered one of the best free options by many.
This limiter is comprised of five modules, each with tweakable parameters – RMS compressor, peak limiter, high-frequency limiter, clipper, and a true peak limiter. It also comes with brickwall and soft limiting (as well as timing settings), M/S and multiband modes, optional 4x oversampling, true inter-sample peaks (ISP) limiting, analog-style indication and two GUIs.
To discover all you can do with this limiter, you’d probably need to mess around with it for 30 minutes plus. Which tells you something – this baby is incredibly versatile and feature rich. Each module has controls that allow you to shape how you want the compression or limiting to sound.
So, I’m not going to lie. This limiter might seem a little intimidating at first. But give it time, and you will begin to see just how powerful it is.
Its interface is relatively basic, but the VU displays, knobs, and switches are quite realistic and beautiful, so we have no choice but to give this free VST high marks in this regard too.
Limiter N°6 works on Mac and Windows, and it has overlays for English, Japanese, and Russian in case you need it.
Download: Tokyo Dawn Records
Auburn Sounds has crafted a series of high-quality plugins in the realms of noise gate, spatialization, dynamics, and voice changer. Each of these, though, are a little more than meets the eye.
They have free and paid versions, but the free versions do put a lot of the functionality of the individual plugins at your fingertips. The paid versions, of course, unlocks all advanced features. Just thought you might like to know.
What also holds true for each of these plugins is that they are impeccably designed. For the most part, it doesn’t get much better than this (especially for free!).
These VSTs are compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux.
I’ll offer an overview of the four plugins available:
If you’re recording in noisier environments, then you’re absolutely going to need a quality gating plugin to help you clean up your tracks. Even if not for that, guitars tend to be noisy and need a little help in this regard.
Renegate might be one of Auburn Sound’s most straightforward offerings. It’s a simple full-band gate plugin with a smooth, natural sound and easy operation. Its main value proposition, though, is that it simplifies gating for the end user by keeping the complex operations under the hood.
This is fantastic tool for practical and creative gating (like rhythmic gating) purposes alike.
Panagement is a spatialization plugin that allows you to place your tracks exactly where you want them in the mix, add distance with reverb, and perform other complex functions to take control over your stereo tracks.
The binaural distance panner helps with positioning, the reverb allows for distance modeling, and the LFO allows for new possibilities like reverb ducking.
The full version also comes with delay and the PGMT-400 chip, not included in the free edition.
Whether you’re looking to add some interest to boring, ordinary instrument tracks, or make certain the right ones “pop” in your mix, you’ll be thrilled with what Panagement can do for you.
Couture is designed to give you more control over dynamics, especially in the domain of attack.
This VST lets you make drum tracks more dynamic and punchier, eliminate “clicks” in drum samples, take entire busses and make them less dynamic, add a bit of compression and saturation, de-ess notes and vocals, inject life into lead synths, and more. Basically, if it has something to do with dynamics, you can probably do something using Couture.
Just know that in the free version, the saturation module is deactivated.
Getting dynamics to come across in a mix can sometimes be tricky. This plugin can help.
This certainly wouldn’t be the first mention of Graillon on MIDINation, and it might not be the last either.
This is a multi-function pitch shifter, corrector, and bitcrusher that can be used to modify voices in any way you see fit. Yes, it does autotune too, including T-Pain robo-voice style sounds.
The free edition gives you access to just the pitch shifting and correction modules, but all told, that’s still quite generous and helpful.
Download: Auburn Sounds
MFreeFXBundle by MeldaProduction
Here’s another bundle that’s repeatedly come up in our guides here at MIDINation (but usually when we’re talking about one of the included plugins). The MFreeFXBundle is the perfect place to turn to when you need a lot of high-quality effects in one go and don’t want to go scouring the web endlessly looking for the right tools in every category.
Included in the MFreeFXBundle are 37 effects in the categories of analysis, saturation and distortion, dynamics, equalizer, filter, mastering, mixing, pitch, reverb, and stereo. That ought to build out your library in a hurry.
Based on the popularity of autotune, we often find ourselves talking specifically about MAutoPitch, but honestly, this is an excellent plugin suite from top to bottom, and unbelievably, you can get it for free. All the plugins are simply designed but are modern and attractive too.
To be fair, it does work a lot like the Auburn Sound plugins. You get all the minimum viable features for free, but if you want to unlock everything, you’ve got to upgrade for $72, which is honestly still kind of a steal.
This bundle features plugins suited to adding effects to instruments, analyzing your mix, mastering, and a great deal more.
Overall, this is a great resource to add to your toolkit. The MFreeFXBundle is Windows and Mac compatible.
LABS by Spitfire Audio
In this instance, we’re not talking about a specific LABS VST instrument (such as Soft Piano, Strings 2, or Textural Pad) but rather all of them as a collection.
We frankly couldn’t be more in love with this entire free collection of instrument VSTs, which include various guitars, drums, percussion, organs, pads, keyboards, pianos, mandolin, strings, bells, choir, and more.
This is an insanely useful collection of plugins for composers (if not a must-have), and great tools for music producers and engineers (regardless of genre) too.
If you’re looking for VST instruments that sound like the real thing, you’re going to like LABS. A lot. Listening to the samples alone should give you a good idea of what these plugins make possible, and it’s not a bait and switch (ever notice how some demos use fully treated tracks to make their virtual instruments sound better?).
You just never know when you might need to draw in a variety of orchestral, keyboard, or guitar instruments, and LABS has got you on lock in terms of the subtle, beautiful, and unique sounds they provide.
If I’m looking for a high-quality sound, LABS is often the first place I look, because I trust their quality. Of course, they don’t always have exactly what I’m looking for, but their selection is considerable.
As I see it, though, there are basically two downsides to LABS VSTs.
The first is that they aren’t terribly configurable or customizable. For the most part, you get what you get. Each plugin offers minimal customization, but given the quality of their sounds, this is easy to overlook or forgive.
And to be fair, you can still pan and add effects to the tracks, so you can do some shaping and molding manually.
The other fun part is that each LABS series plugin requires about 2 GB of space on your hard drive. Not a big deal if you’ve got yourself a TB drive or higher, or a dedicated music making machine, but otherwise it can feel significant.
The LABS series plugins work on Windows and Mac.
Download: Spitfire Audio
MT Power Drum Kit 2 by MANDA AUDIO
Most drum plugins are romplers and samplers – tools of a similar nature, often emulating 808 style sounds. Which is great for hip-hop, pop, and electronic music. But what if you want realistic drum sounds for folk, rock, alternative, blues, fusion, metal, jazz, and other genres? It is even possible to find a quality drum plugin without spending an arm and a leg?
And the answer is – MT Power Drum Kit 2.
Before this VST, I either had to capture live drums (which isn’t necessarily bad – just expensive or time-consuming) or use the built-in drum machines on my guitar pedals and desktop guitar units.
Now that I’ve got MT Power Drum Kit 2, you could say that making demos has gotten a lot easier.
This free drum sampler puts a realistic sounding acoustic drum kit right at your fingertips. Plus, the sounds have been pre-processed with EQ and compression to make them mix ready.
If you’re not much for recording MIDI tracks or drawing in your own beats, you can use the Groove Library as a starting point. This is a huge bonus, especially if you have no idea how to craft drumbeats (it can take some getting used to).
This VST also comes with a built-in mixer, so you can easily pan and change the volume of the snare, kick, toms, and cymbals. You can also increase or decrease compression of each.
Have a listen to the demos on the website and you will quickly begin to see just how powerful this VST is (although it might take a bit of work to make the drums pop like they do in the demos).
This great plugin is compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Download: MANDA AUDIO
Libra by IGNITE AMPS
IGNITE AMPS has blessed us with a multitude of free VST plugins, mostly for heavy, hard rock, metal guitar and bass.
Libra, in effect, is an Impulse Response (IR) loader designed to work as a cabinet simulator for guitar and bass. But what makes it unique is that it allows you to mix and match up to eight IRs simultaneously. For each IR, you’ve got access to level, resonance, hi pass, lo pass, and delay controls for additional sound molding.
Basically, to do this in real life, you would need eight cabinets, eight free channels, and eight mics on all of them. You might need multiple heads to power all the cabs too. Take a wild guess which is more efficient.
Libra also comes with a Cartesian Mixer, which you can use to mix your IRs graphically, while maintaining the balance of each IR.
The usability of a guitar or bass tone often comes down to the individual. But just because the guitars are already recorded, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re stuck with what you’ve got. You can further tweak and customize using a great plugin like Libra, which can help you achieve more professional sounding results.
No doubt, there are a ton of great guitar VSTs out there, but we figured this one would be worth highlighting, especially since it’s usable in a variety of musical situations (not just for heavier genres).
Download: IGNITE AMPS
Nembrini Audio’s free guitar effects were recently brought to our attention, and we were pleasantly surprised by what’s on offer. Here we will be looking at several free analog rack style effects they’ve created for guitarists (as replacements for digital effects pedals), but we would be remiss not to point out that Nembrini Audio has a ton of other free and paid plugins for guitar (including a Clon Minotaur and 808 overdrive).
Not to mention, these plugins can work on instruments other than guitar, including voices.
Here are the analog rack series of effects, you can get for free.
Analog Rack Delay
There’s nothing quite like an analog rack delay, is there? It just sounds so… warm.
This VST comes with controls for input and output, time, offset, feedback, mix, sync/off, on/analog, and power. Overall, quite simple, and easy to control.
This basically goes for all Nembrini Audio VST plugins, so I won’t talk about this again, but we do like the design of their plugins a lot. They’re quite professional and visually appealing.
Although designed with guitar in mind, the delay can work on other instruments.
Analog Rack Noise Gate
We’ve looked at Nembrini’s Analog Rack Noise Gate in the past.
What makes this one essential for guitar is that amplifiers tend to buzz and hum a lot. Sometimes, in a full mix, you can’t hear it, but at other times, depending on the guitar and setup, it can be noticeable and even intrusive – especially if you’re trying to create a clean mix.
Analog Rack Noise Gate is perfect for removing some of the subtle artifacts that can make guitar tracks less pleasant to listen to.
Analog Rack Cleaner
The Analog Rack Cleaner is effectively a high pass/low pass filter to eliminate rumble and high frequency harshness.
With the help of this plugin, you can shave off the part of the guitar sound that doesn’t contribute to the mix, while leaving more space for voices and other instruments.
The cleaner, incidentally, can also work on voices and other instruments, depending on the frequencies you want to clean up or eliminate.
Analog Rack Chorus
Chorus is another favorite effect for guitar, and because it was used quite extensively in the 80s (hair metal, new wave, pop, etc.), it remains a go-to to this day.
The Analog Rack Chorus may not be the most feature-rich of choruses available. But it works a lot like a guitar pedal, which makes it perfect for its intended use. Besides, that was Nembrini Audio’s goal.
This is a great sounding chorus. Give it a try and see for yourself.
Download: Nembrini Audio
Top Free Music Production Software, Final Thoughts
So, what will you be downloading? Which music production software caught your interest?
We have no doubt you’ve come across a few promising DAWs, VSTs, and other music production tools you want to add to your collection, or at least some new places you can go to poke around for additional finds (such as IGNITE AMPS, Tokyo Dawn Records, Nembrini Audio, and others).
Don’t forget – we’ve got plenty more guides like this on MIDINation, so if you’re looking for more, check out our other guides on DAWs and VSTs too. Wishing you all the best with your next recording project and hope you enjoyed our list of free music production software.