Whether you’re starting music production as a hobby or planning to become the next Tiesto, it’s best to begin with free music production software. Later on, when you evolve into an advanced user, you can switch to premium options that give you more freedom and variety of tools.
We picked out some of the best platforms out there that will enable you to create music without any live instruments.
1. GarageBand (Mac)
When it comes to beginner-friendly digital music production, GarageBand is very much your number one option. It’s completely free, easily found on App Store, and it teaches even beginning musicians how to use some powerful tools.
GarageBand also happens to be one of the easiest platforms to create great sounding music. It allows you to create a song with over 200 tracks and even has an option of adding a virtual session drummer.
However, even with all its visual simplicity, it can be rather intimidating to jump into. If you find the platform’s tools and features somewhat overwhelming, use our step-by-step guide on how to master GarageBand and get the most out of the software.
In order to speed up your learning process, we recommend installing it on all your devices (Mac, iPhone, and iPad). iCloud allows you flexibility, as you’re able to work on your music no matter where you are and which device you’re using.
If at some point you feel you’ve overgrown the platform, you can transfer all your GarageBand files and progress to Apple’s premium music production software, Logic Pro. While GarageBand is availabe only for Apple devices, there are plenty of decent GarageBand alternatives for Windows.
2. DarkWave Studio (Windows)
An alternative for PC users, DarkWave Studio is free music production software that supports Windows platforms from XP to 10. It doesn’t require much storage space, great for music production on laptops, and is easily found (and downloaded) online. Note that DarkWave Studio is free, but comes with adware.
The platform features Virtual Studio, Pattern Editor, Sequence Editor, and Multitrack Hard Disk Recorder. Using the pattern editor you can select and edit digital music patterns. The sequence editor allows you to line up patterns to play in any arrangement and mix the track patterns together. The HD recorder tab includes recording options for streaming audio. The program also includes 19 different plug-ins which you can use to add virtual effects to the tracks.
With this many options and settings in separate windows and menus, using DarkWave Studio may seem a little difficult at first for a complete beginner. However, you can find tutorials and other beginner support available online should you get stuck at any point.
3. Audacity (Windows, Mac, Linux)
Audacity is a popular alternative to GarageBand. Unlike the platforms we already covered, Audacity is a digital audio editor, not a digital audio workstation (DAW). Its main purpose is manipulating audio data rather than helping you organize lots of different audio bits into a coherent whole. Although, you can certainly do that if you want to.
With Audacity, you can edit samples, songs, process audio files, as well as export files into a wide range of formats, such as MP3, WAV, and AIF. The interface is simple and easy to pick up. At the same time, the great variety of effects and settings can be tough to wrap your head around if you don’t have any background in audio engineering. You can expect to spend several days before you get comfortable using this software.
The tool is available for free download on PCs, Macs, and Linux machines. Audacity is one of the most used audio software and is a great way to get started in audio production with a simple to use interface and easy navigation.
4. LMMS (Windows, Mac, Linux)
LMMS (which used to stand for Linux MultiMedia Studio) is cross-platform music production software, available on both Mac and PC as well as Linux. It’s suitable for all levels of music producers and is a good fit for a beginner.
LMMS has five editors that will help you create melodies (Song Editor) and beats (Beat + Bassline Editor), as well as make your own mixes (FX editor) and arrange samples. LMMS also has a wide variety of instrument synthesizers.
Among other good qualities of LMMS is its compatibility with external software. The program supports VST and LADSPA plug-ins with which you can mix a multitude of extra effects into the music track. You can export your files into MP3, AIF, and WAV as well as transfer files from different music production software.
5. Ableton Live 9 Lite (Windows, Mac)
Ableton Live is a great digital audio workstation designed for live performance, remixing of songs, music recording and much more. However, for a beginner, figuring our Ableton Live and its multiple versions can be complicated. Not to mention the software’s price tag (over $350 for the standard version).
Ableton Live 9 Lite is a version of this digital audio workstation that you can get for free. It’s available on both Macs and PCs and is a taster of Ableton. The lite version comes with certain limitations, such as having only eight recording tracks. It also features a selection of effects and instruments to create professional quality audio and allows you to add MIDI equipment, like keyboards.
Once you get familiar with this music production software, you can upgrade to the full license and get extra 4GB of sounds. Ableton is fairly easy to use, which makes it great for learning the ropes. It is also an industry standard software used by many producers and musicians to record and create.
We’ve compared Ableton and FL Studio if you’re curious.
Choose One That Suits You Best
This list is only the tip of an iceberg — there’s a great variety of music production software out there. Researching and reading about other people’s experiences with it helps, but the best way to find your favorite option is by trying some of them out. And with all these options available online for free, you’re hardly losing anything by doing so.
When you’re ready to move onto something deeper, check out the best free music production software for audiophiles and consider upgrading to a computer made for music production.