Music and technology have become inseparable friends, and more and more often musicians are using software to create original music rather than doing it purely organically. But accessing that software can be difficult, in particular because most musicians – especially if they’re just starting out – are on a pretty tight budget for investing in the tools they need to create.
However, a big range of digital audio workstations and software platforms that are either freeware or superbly low in price are available for musicians on a shoestring budget. Here are seven of the best free or cheap music software programs available.
Acid Pro Xpress
The Acid Pro series is produced by Sony, and its Xpress platform is free to download. While it will continually prompt you to upgrade every time you close a session and comes with a few limitations (such as ten tracks per project), it is still highly capable and will give you all the basic tools you need to create and record music projects. Ideal for musicians who are just starting out, it’s worth it to invest later in Acid Pro 9 or 10 to get a whole lot more capability, including 20+ tracks per project, sound effects, and increased mastering capability. Acid Pro is visually comprehensive, which makes it one of the easiest DAWs to use.
A free notation program for classical musicians, MuseScore has become a standard among both students and professional composers alike. It lacks a few of the bells and whistles that come with other notation programs like Finale or Sibelius, but this brilliant program provides everything you need to compose easily, including a huge range of instruments, playback function, and parts exportation. MuseScore also hosts a community of classical musicians that share their original compositions and arrangements, offering up good resources to arrange other works and collaborate with other composers.
One of the original freeware DAWs, this simple but versatile program is available on Windows, Mac, and Linux systems. It is best suited for editing audio tracks, but it’s highly capable – and if pushed to its limit, it is even capable of turning out professional recordings and entirely original tracks if your machine has decent hardware resources. Audacity is especially useful to audio producers who are just starting out, but electronic composers will find it useful, too.
Garageband is exclusively for Mac users, and this densely-packed DAW comes complete with 250+ track capability, MIDI function, professional audio editing tools, and everything else you might need – or want – to produce professional quality sound. Even better, Garageband is free to OSX users, and rumors of a Garageband simulator for Linux users are afoot.
Hydrogen is a free drum programming sequencer for Linux and OS X, and is especially handy for audio producers or anyone who does beat-heavy music, like hip hop or drum n’ bass. Hydrogen allows you to build, layer, and edit drumbeats, and even offers up swing and syncopation functions – all in a visually comprehensive environment.
Rosegarden dates to the early nineties, and was originally built for Linux. Now available on Windows machines as well, Rosegarden is a complete DAW and MIDI, making it an ideal tool for electronic composers and keyboardists. It has a bit more of a learning curve than some of the other DAWs on this list, but its robust design and capability make it well worth the effort to master.
Giada is a curious little program designed for live electronic music producers and DJs. It has a super minimalistic interface, but don’t let that fool you – you’ll want to read the FAQ for this program. It best shows its mettle with live sampling, but can also be a good supplementary tool for studio production.
All of these software programs represent a range of different applications and usability. No matter what you compose, one of these programs – or more than one – will give you what you need to produce professional quality music to share with your fans.