MUSIC COMPOSITION RESOURCES
I’ve been doing sound design for a while and one thing I’ve noticed about people who are trying to get into this field is that they lack the proper resources and tools to do so.
Hopefully this guide may help you narrow down from many free choices.
There are many professional grade Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) as well as many free ones. All essentially do the same job. It mostly depends on the person using them. However, each DAW has a different workflow and may be unforgiving to beginners.
Also, please don’t pirate any software. There are plenty free choices and the ones that cost money are worth it anyway.
- soundation.com - Browser
This is a website that’s accessible to virtually everyone. It’s fairly easy to get familiar with. The UI isn’t the most intuitive and they have a limited selection of instruments as well, but it’s free and in-browser too. They as also have a fairly large sample library that you can use for inspiration or even for your tracks.
Overview: Good for putting together quick ideas and can be used for practicing composition. Not good for getting into more advanced composition.
- soundtrap.com - Browser
I see many people being recommended to this website. It’s well made and functions like a mini-DAW, if you will. The main feature of Soundtrap is its large quantity of loops that you drag and drop onto the track. This is a perfectly viable way of producing music but it can lead to bad habits such as only being able to use samples instead of drawing out notes. Also, it’s a trial version anyway so a lot of features are heavily limited unless you’re willing to pay.
Overview: Good for getting a feel for other DAWs and learning song structure. Not good for learning music theory or sound design.
- Cakewalk - Free
This is also recommended by many people and for good reason as well. It has all the capabilities of paid DAWs and has a pretty straightforward UI in my opinion. The quality of Cakewalk is great and Bandlab is a trusted name too. Cakewalk is an amazing place to start, especially since it’s free. Bandlab also releases updates and they have tutorials as well. However, Cakewalk is only available on Windows computers.
Overview: Outstanding performance all around, and it’s free.
- Pro Tools First - Free
Pro Tools First is a powerful DAW that keeps many features of Avid’s full version, including quality time and pitch editing, good audio recording and mixing, and even has the full version of Xpand!2 synthesizer, which is great for a free DAW. But, Pro Tools First only allows up to sixteen tracks (compare that to FL Studio’s 500 tracks), and the CPU usage can be intensive. Also, there is no external plugin support, as Pro Tools has their own plugin formats (RTAS: Pro Tools 10 and below; AAX: Pro Tools 10 and later).
Overview: A good choice for small projects, and good for recording as well. The UI is good, but can also get a little cluttered at times.
- Waveform (Tracktion 7) - Free
Another free DAW, Waveform 11 (formerly known as Tracktion 7) was originally released for $59, but was upgraded and split into two different versions: Waveform Free and Waveform Pro. Waveform has generally positive reviews and has all of the features a paid DAW would have. The UI is fairly easy to understand and editing/drawing MIDI is very easy with many features to help speed up your workflow. Waveform also includes an easy to use drum machine as well as synths with many presets to start you on making music.
Overview: Very good choice with ease of access in terms of UI and instruments.
- SoundBridge - Free
One of the newer DAWs, SoundBridges’ developers focus on simplicity in their software. It’s amazing for new producers and has an easy-to-navigate UI. There are all of the features you would find in other DAWs and the functionality is great. It even comes with a powerful MPC-like drum machine, and there is full VST support, as well as many professional-grade effects and plugins. It runs on both Windows and Mac, with 32 and 64 bit builds.
Overview: Perfect for getting started, and is an amazingly effective tool for music composition. New builds also come out regularly, adding more features and changes.
- MPC Beats - Free
Created by AKAI Pro, a prominent name in the music industry, MPC Beats is a DAW designed as an introduction to music production. Built with compatibility in mind for (mostly AKAI) hardware, the UI is very straightforward and easy to navigate. Since AKAI has many hardware products for composing, much of MPC Beats is focused around recording, live play, and sampling; they offer over 2GB of musical content. This isn’t to say that MIDI and note drawing isn’t possible, though. There’s also a paid version (surprise, surprise): MPC2, if you’re interested in upgrading.
Overview: Good entry-level choice, but may be limiting towards higher-scale projects. Perfectly integrated Virtual Studio Technology (VST) and hardware support.
- Studio One Prime - Free
The free version of the Studio One suite, Studio One Prime is a very versatile tool that comes with much of the functionality that Studio One prides itself on. The user interface is fantastic and it comes with many high-quality native effects. Some very distinct flaws are the lack of external VST support, which can severely limit production, and it only comes with one virtual instrument, albeit the solid quality. One last thing is that the CPU usage for this program is very lightweight should run fine on pretty much any computer or laptop.
Overview: Great for a starting point in music, and can be easily upgraded to higher versions of Studio One. Good UI, but heavy limitations regarding instruments.
- Podium Free - Free
Podium Free (like Podium) is a very good tool for production, and can be used for both beginners as well as advanced musicians. One of the main selling points that the Podium series prides itself on is the intuitive and natural UI, which can lead to a fast workflow. One limiting factor of Podium is the fact that it doesn’t have multi-core CPU support, while most computers use at least quad-core processors. This means that you’ll have to try to keep your projects less demanding in terms of CPU usage, and you may have to optimize Podium in case your computer can’t handle it well. Also, there is no ReWire support which means some VSTs you want to use won’t be compatible.
Overview: Great workflow and a great DAW overall. You can also upgrade to the full version of Podium.
- LMMS - Free
LMMS is a more widely known free DAW, based off of FL Studio’s structure and UI. It’s a good tool and can run on Windows, Mac, and Linux. It also can host many VSTs and is compatible with plugins, as well as its own software.
Overview: Good (and cheap) alternative to FL Studio as well as other DAWs, great compatibility and functionality.
- Ardour - Free
Ardour is a DAW primarily focused on recording, especially when it comes to actual physical instruments. It’s very quick and easy to record, and has a pretty powerful mixer. However, the piano roll isn’t as good as other DAWs. It has good MIDI support as well. Ardour is compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux, and it’s even open-source as well, holding an active community.
Overview: Very easy for recording, mixing, and editing. Not recommended for drawing in notes or composing within the DAW, if that makes sense.
- Audiotool - Browser
Audiotool is an in-browser music production platform. It’s easy to get started, similar to Soundation, but it also has very limited capabilities. There are 5 synthesizers and 3 drum machines, which isn’t much but there are massive preset libraries to search. One very important thing to note: the workflow features a modular synthesis approach. Meaning, you arrange “devices” and connect them in different ways to create and modify sounds.
Overview: Might be limiting to some newer composers but it helps with understanding modular synthesis. Has a small but great community.
Very basic software with emphasis on audio recording. GarageBand is automatically included on Mac and Music Maker is pretty much just the Windows version of GarageBand.
Overview: OK for a starting point, maybe, but definitely not for anything serious. Also has bad export options.
These are the most viable options you’ll have. There are no doubt more under-the-radar programs but everyone should be able to find something on this list they like.
Keep in mind these are all free, although many of these have paid, full versions that you can upgrade to. I’ll make another guide soon about DAWs that cost money.
Hope this helped!