Subscribe
Buyer's Guides

The Best Free Music Production Software: DAWs That Don’t Cost a Penny!

As soon as the letters ‘D’, ‘A’, and ‘W’ are placed together, you may feel the financial sweats coming on. Indeed, Digital Audio Workstations are not cheap, especially the big names like Ableton Live and Logic Pro. Should this be a barrier of entry for musicians and budding producers wanting to enter the world of music production software? Hell, no, we say!

Here comes the Headliner guide to the best free music production software. That’s right — having a DAW that delivers results can be gloriously free. Sure, they might not have the depth, huge range of sounds and power of Cubase or Pro Tools, but these free music-making software are brilliantly capable of starting you on your music production journey. The programmes below offer a surprising amount of tools and features, some even rivalling the (much) more expensive names.

Waveform Free

Here’s the thing about Waveform Free. It’s an older version of Waveform 13, Traktion’s paid-for DAW, so you’re nonetheless getting a professional music production software kit that simply isn’t Waveform’s newest, most polished version. Other free DAWs aren’t able to boast this, hence why it’s appearing top of the Headliner league table. Best yet, you will receive yearly updates to the software without having to upgrade to paid. Your audio and MIDI track allowance is completely unlimited, and all the audio unit and VST connectivity are there. Just to reiterate: this is a full-blown DAW, completely free of charge.

VIEW PRODUCT


Apple GarageBand

You simply cannot discuss the best free music production software without mentioning the OG, GarageBand from Apple. And if you are of the Apple persuasion, there’s a strong argument that this is your best option. The hand of GarageBand can be heard in famous songs — one of its drum loops was used in Rihanna’s number one hit Umbrella, and Justice, one of the biggest electronic acts on Earth, are evangelists for their use of GarageBand. If you do wish to eventually go for a paid-DAW, GarageBand will prime you perfectly for Logic Pro, bearing a pretty close resemblance. If you can swallow the 255 tracks per song limit, you will not find a more capable piece of music-making software that costs £0.

VIEW PRODUCT


Cakewalk

Another contender for the best free music production software is coming up on our sonar now, and it is Cakewalk. Yes indeed, the free DAW that used to go by the title Sonar is available and free to download under a new name, having been rescued from calling it a day by BandLab, who decided to make it a free product. Note that it’s for Windows users only, but otherwise enjoy unlimited MIDI, instrument tracks and audio. It’s all expandable, so you can add your favourite plugin effects and VSTs, however there is plenty bundled to keep you going initially. Cakewalk is arguably the most advanced free DAW on offer, to the point where you’ll wonder how the download didn’t leave a big dent in your bank account.

VIEW PRODUCT


The best free versions from the big guns

If you do see yourself eventually investing in one of the big-name DAWs, a great approach is to try one of the light, free versions of the software before making the monetary commitment. Just be wary that once you download, you may receive relentless upselling to upgrade to the full version. Also note that the features will be strongly restricted compared to the full versions, unlike the free and feature heavy ones above like Cakewalk and Waveform. There is a reason the names below are so lauded, at the end of the day!

Cubase LE

Steinberg’s free version of Cubase, LE. Cubase is deservedly part of the core of the most-used DAWs among both music professionals and hobbyists, and LE offers a great way to test the Cubase waters. With over 5GB of sounds and loops, 23 audio VST effect processors and their HALion Sonic SE 3 and Groove Agent SE 5 included, this is a fantastic option for the Cubase-curious among you.

VIEW PRODUCT


Pro Tools Intro

If you’re a beginner, this DAW which is renowned for being the choice of hardened music professionals might not be the one speaking to you. But, Pro Tools Intro lets you casually take the famous DAW out for a spin before you put any money down. It has full audio and MIDI capability, while offering 36 of the instrument and effects plugins taken from the full version. The non-linear clip launching, editing and mixing workflows are great. Files from the Intro package are compatible with the full Pro Tools.

VIEW PRODUCT


Reaper

The free version of Reaper only lasts 60 days. But then again, a personal license will then only cost you $60, which is not far off from free in DAW terms anyway! It is curiously an advanced DAW that takes some time living with, but offered at a beginner’s price. If you want your music software preloaded with instruments and loops this might not be the one for you, but if you want all the editing capabilities of a Cubase or Pro Tools at a fraction of the price, try the free version of Reaper for a month or two.

VIEW PRODUCT


Universal Audio Luna

Universal Audio don’t just do top-notch audio interfaces and effects plugins, but are in the music production software game also with Luna, their Mac-only free version of the Luna Pro Bundle, priced at $199. The main difference being that the Bundle version is, true to its name, bundled with lots of the very best effects plugins from the UAD catalogue. Otherwise, you get the full and unlimited version of Luna, with Oxide Tape Extension, Shape Toolkit Instrument and ARP Arpeggiator.

VIEW PRODUCT


Ableton Live Lite

There are a lot of top musicians and producers who talk about Ableton Live with religious fervour, and the Lite version lets you buy into the hype without buying, as it were. Ableton acolytes love the DAW’s famously fast, fluid and intuitive workflow, combining the joys of both the studio and live performance into one place. In the free version, you can do a testrun with up to two send and return tracks, 16 scenes, eight audio and MDI tracks, and 16 input/output audio channels.

VIEW PRODUCT


Free Music Production Tools

The next two aren’t quite as powerful as fully-fledged DAWs, but they do offer more than enough features to suit the needs of some, and they’re great fun to use!

Akai MPC Beats

Akai are most famous for their beat-making hardware instruments, such as the physical beatpad MPC, which has been a significant instrument in hip-hop and electronic music since the late ‘80s. Their take on free music production software is what they lovingly call a ‘beat-making DAW’, centring around the classic MPC style of music making. It has a piano roll, a sample library, and, as the name suggests, their signature 4x4, 16-pad drum sample grid. It’s not all about drums and beats, though. Bassline, Tubesynth and Electric are the three plugin instruments, joined by 80 effects plugins. As you’d expect, it all connects superbly with Akai’s huge line of MIDI keyboards and pad controllers. Beats has everything a beginner needs to make music.

VIEW PRODUCT


AmpliTube Custom Shop

Rounding out this list is one for the guitarists out there. If you’re an axeman, then AmpliTube Custom Shop may be the best free music production software with your name on it. This guitar rig modelling app is the free version of AmpliTube, offering you guitarist dreamland: three mics, two rack effects, four amps, nine stompboxes, and a digital chromatic tuner. Those aforementioned amp models were created in collaboration with the big guns: Fender, Ampeg, Orange, and Mesa Boogie. If you’re someone who likes recording guitar straight into your computer, AmpliTube is well worth strumming into.

VIEW PRODUCT


Free Music Software FAQS

There are several ways to make your decision-making process easier here. Firstly, everything above is free, so it’s simply a case of downloading and trying the ones that resonate with you. A key thing that will inevitably shape your decision is whether you are working from a PC or Mac. GarageBand, for example, is Apple-only, meanwhile, Cakewalk is a Windows-exclusive.

Also, note that the different free music production software packages suit different skill levels. Cakewalk, despite being free, is a pretty advanced DAW, which is fantastic. However, you may find it doesn’t get you started with music production as breezily as a Waveform Free or GarageBand.

Hopefully, you are now well-convinced that commencing your music production journey needn’t come with any financial anxiety whatsoever. Let those songs and beats pour out of you with the DAW that’s meant for you!


Further Reading:

Best DAWs for Music Production