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The Go-To Guide For Making Music FOR FREE

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In this day and age, it’s pretty easy to get started making music on the computer if you want to. Only problem is, it looks like you have to pay for good programs, right? WRONG. There are many programs out there to use that are completely free of charge. No torrenting, no illegal downloading, no paying.

NOTE: Most of this pertains to making electronic music, but many of these programs can record live instruments as well. You’ll need a mic or recording device though, which cost money.

Alright, here’s some of the basic devices you need. All work will have to be done in a DAW, or Digital Audio Workstation. In your DAW, you should be able to manipulate audio or MIDI files to your liking, and in most cases be able to use VSTs (you’ll learn about those a little later).


Your choices of free DAWs (you may want to download both, and decide which you like better. Or just keep both.):

Reaper. This is a really nice, free DAW that can basically do anything you want, including support of VSTs and audio recording.*

Audacity


If you want to pay for your DAW, there are many choices available. Note: this is certainly not a full list, just some of the most popular.

Ableton Live is one of the most popular DAWs among producers and DJs alike. It supports almost every sample pad or keyboard you plug in, VSTs, audio recording, sample libraries, grooves, and more. Most popularly used by deadmau5 and Skrillex. Full demo for 30 days.

Reason is chock full of effects, synths, and samplers. Many producers use this and wire it into Ableton for extra freedom.

Logic is the go-to DAW for those using Macs. Although many DAWs can be used on Macs, Logic is specifically designed for them.

FL Studio is a great DAW for everyone. Although people have dissed it for being a beginner’s toy, many popular producers use this today, including Avicii and xKore. Tons of cool stuff here, and a nice free demo to boot.

 
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Now that you have your DAW, you need instruments, right? Here’s what you should download. A few types of synthesizers, maybe an equalizer (EQ), filters, and maybe some distortion, reverb, delay, flanger, phaser, and more. If you’re going for realistic sounds, you may want sample libraries as well. All of these fall into the category of VSTs, or Virtual Studio Technologies.

In my research, I’ve found that paying for your synthesizer after careful research yields the highest quality synths. But some free ones are very good. NOTE: VST plugins are for WINDOWS. AU plugins are for MACS.

Also, to learn about the different types of synthesis and how to use synthesizers, read these.


Some great free synths:

Oatmeal is an amazing free synth. The original design is somewhat ugly, but you can download free packs of sounds and skins here.

TAL Noisemaker, TAL Elek7ro-II, and TAL Bassline are all extremely versatile and pleasing synths. All of TAL’s synths and effects are amazing, actually.

Common (but expensive) synths. NOTE: Again, not anything near a full list:

NI Massive is the most commonly used synthesizer for dubstep at the moment. Makes some crazy sounds.

Sylenth1 is great for stabs and trance-y stuff as well as dirty basslines.

IL Harmor is made by the same people who make FL Studio. All-around great synth, but can be a little confusing to use. I still haven’t figured out much of this one yet.

Albino 3 is yet another good synth commonly associated with dubstep.

 
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Free effects:

Again, TAL’s line of free effects is great.

Cockos ReaEQ is a parametric equalizer you’ll need.

Atlantis Filter comes with the Atlantis synth as well, but you can opt out of the synth. I recommend getting both the filter and the synth.

Ohm Force Fromage is another great filter. Get Ohm Force OhMyGod if you can find it for a good comb filter.

Blockfish Package are 3 compressors/gate/de-essers. Simple, work well.

Honestly, I wouldn’t pay for effects unless you’re trying to be professional. The quality of free effects is so good that it’s possible to create songs with almost the same quality.


And for the sample libraries (some of my favorites):

Boy in a Band

Cyberworm’s Sample Blog

The BIG Sample Site List

Freesound


 
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Keep in mind, these are just the TOOLS you need, not the TECHNIQUES you need. It will take a lot of time and dedication to get good sounds. There are plenty of tutorials for whatever you need to know, and it’s easy to just Google them to find them out. But here’s a few forums and links to get you started.

Dubstepforum is not just the hub of some famous dubsteppers. There’s useful information on everything from getting that awesome subbass to gain structuring and mixing.

Soundcloud is the place to post your music. Get a free account, make some music, and start gaining followers.

IDM Forums is another great electronic music community.

Dogsonacid’s The Grid is yet another informational forum.

I won’t actually link it, but the music board on 4chan is a great place to promote music.


Good luck and don’t forget—keep experimenting!

 
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Although I haven’t gone over everything in Laxaria’s thread, there are certainly some good programs and tools there. NOTE: Some of these programs are not free; they require sign-up or donation!


Free DAWs:

Audiotool

Ardour

Linux MultiMedia Studio

Soundation


DAWs you could buy:

Acoustica Mixcraft

 
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Notation Scorers:

Noteflight

Musescore


Other Tools:

Aviary Roc

Notessimo

FamiTracker

Sfxr

Musagi

Taron’s Musagi Mod

 
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*Reaper’s latest versions are NOT free, but a bunch of the older versions are. Search around the web for them if you can’t find them on Reaper’s website.

.dll files are the norm for your VST plugins. Generally, you’ll want to create a new folder to house ALL of your VSTs, including their .dll files, then set your DAW to scan for VSTs from that folder. You should be able to use them then. :D

 
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Might as well reserve one more for a “tips and tricks” section. :)

VVV@Rosate: See above post, edited in a bit of info.

 
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I can’t figure these ddl files. A tutorial, perhaps?

 
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Most plugins are in ddl. format. They can´t be directly opened, but inside the DAW

 
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wow! so great, thank you so much1

 
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I found some good programs that may be of help to budding techno artists. Firstly, there is Aviary Music creator, an application for Google Chrome. I’ve mixed a few beats on it and it sounds pretty good. You are kind of limited though because you can’t use your own music. WavePad Sound Editor is pretty neat, although after 30 days you have to buy a license. I’ve been working with MixPad and it’s a good tool to use for a beginner. I’m working on a mash-up of two beautiful trance songs, California Sunshine’s “Rain” and BT’s “Dreaming”.

 
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Just wondering does anyone use MAGIX MUSIC MAKER? or is that not considered anything more than a toy?
So far its the only program that I understand when it comes to making music, and im not a musician so I can’t do like some and just use midis.

 
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Very useful thread!
I’m starting to use AVS Audio Editor, I really like how you can change the pitch to make it sound completely ridiculous.

 
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Originally posted by CallidoraParker:

I found some good programs that may be of help to budding techno artists. Firstly, there is Aviary Music creator, an application for Google Chrome. I’ve mixed a few beats on it and it sounds pretty good. You are kind of limited though because you can’t use your own music. WavePad Sound Editor is pretty neat, although after 30 days you have to buy a license. I’ve been working with MixPad and it’s a good tool to use for a beginner. I’m working on a mash-up of two beautiful trance songs, California Sunshine’s “Rain” and BT’s “Dreaming”.

Wavepad soundeditor gave me a worm. :/

 
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I can’t seem to know how to use the TAL Noisemaker.

 
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While you mentioned Roc, I’ve quite enjoyed playing with Aviary’s Myna. Its for mashups / sampling of longer tracks than roc: advanced.aviary.com/tools/audio-editor

 
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Try this,DarkwaveStudio,its free and its awesome.

 
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Thank you for this, Glomple! I’ve been searching for free music-making programs, and accidentally stumbled upon this wonderful thread.

 
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Thanks alot! Been looking for something like this.

 
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don’t forget that there are some great sites for free VST plug-ins

 
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This is a very useful thread! Thank you for putting these lists together.

 
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In addition to this comprehensive 101, I’d recommend various magazines, such as Computer Music, which come with DVDs packed full of software and samples to use. Though they’re not free, the digital editions cost about as much as a cup of coffee and the software is included with those as well (from Oct 2012 issue onwards at least.) Not to mention a bucketload of tutorials, tips and tricks for newcomers and veterans alike. So it’s definitely a resource worth checking out.

Just throwing in my two cents.