Best Free Music Creation Software

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Introduction

Welcome to Best Free Music Creation Software! If you're looking for some high quality freeware tools to start recording and producing music on your computer, this article will serve as a great starting point. Before you download the software which is recommended in this article, it is very important that you understand the concept of VST (Virtual Studio Technology) plugins. These plugins will be used as add-ons for your music making application, just as you would use additional hardware instruments and effects in your real world studio.

Another thing to consider before you jump into your first digital recording session is making sure that your computer is powerful enough to be used as the core of your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). Almost any multi-core machine with 2 GB of RAM memory or more will be sufficient for your first steps into the world of digital audio production. Finally, make sure that you've installed the proper ASIO drivers for your audio interface. These will ensure that your system will run with minimum latency, making it possible to play virtual instruments in real time.

 
Discussion

A brief explanation of VST plugins

VST (Virtual Studio Technology) plugins are essentially "mini applications" which are loaded in standalone programs called VST hosts and used to expand the host program's functionality. VST plugin technology was developed by Steinberg for use with their commercial products. However, the technology became so popular that we now have thousands and thousands of different VST plugins and hundreds of applications capable of loading them. It is now possible to build a completely functional virtual music studio for cheap (or even even absolutely free).

VST plugins are classified as either effects (by far the most numerous), instruments, or MIDI effects. In the rest of this article, we will focus on freeware applications which are able to load these plugins, thus making the backbone of your virtual music studio. We will also point you to several good sorces of quality free VST plugins.

A brief explanation of ASIO

ASIO (Audio Stream Input/Output) is a special kind of audio interface driver protocol which is developed in such a way to ensure minimum latency. This technology was introduced by Steinberg, the same company which developed VST plugin technology.

Most professional audio interfaces and sound cards are shipped with a corresponding set of ASIO drivers. In case you're using a generic audio interface, such as the ones which are often integrated on computer motherboards, make sure that you download and install ASIO4ALL. This universal set of ASIO drivers will ensure that even your low budget sound card will run with minimum latency. 


First up: LMMS -Linux Multimedia Studio

LMMSLMMS is a free open source MIDI sequencer/composer for Windows and Linux.

Ease of use: When I first ran Linux Multi Media Studio I initially found it a little bewildering. On startup one is faced with what appears to be a battery of complex looking expandable windows, none of which bear any similarity to other applications I have used. Thankfully, LMMS is very well supported by it's own online user community, with forums and wiki style user guides and tutorials. It does not have the raw simplicity of DarkWave or the beautifully presented single window GUI of Temper, but don't be put off by this: once you get going with it, LMMS is a pleasure to use. Of all the apps I have tested since starting this category (and prior to), LMMS took the longest to fathom, and apart from the piano roll editor it is not (in my opinion) intuitive at all, but it's worth taking the time because the rewards are great.

Functionality: Where to start? As a stand alone application, one would be hard pressed to find a more comprehensively full featured and versatile free music creator than this. There are so many instruments and effects to choose from, it's difficult to know where to begin, so I recommend using the LMMS wiki. No inbuilt or plugin recorder is necessary since your music can be saved to wav, should you so choose. LMMS supports .ogg (look it up) and .wav sample files. It supports VST, VSTi and LADSPA (again, look it up) plugins. The onboard Beat/Bassline editor removes the need for a separate drum sequencer and is a very nice touch: LMMS really is a "one stop shop". Maybe somewhat paradoxically, this app is so good I'm finding it hard to know what else to tell you about it except this: YOU NEED TO TRY THIS SOFTWARE!

Performance: As with the other apps reviewed I am initially road testing it on my laptop: I should mention that the laptop has a dual core cpu, three gb of ram and duplex sound capability, so I don't know how any of these apps would perform on an older lower spec laptop. If they don't run well on the laptop, I run them on my desktop pc. Thus far, LMMS hasn't been anywhere near my desktop pc and like Temper, it is ultra stable. Amazing freeware. Until or unless I find a better app, LMMS is king of the castle. A winner.

UPDATES

  • New version of LMMS released. Users of older systems should read this.
  • Note that you'll be asked whether or not you want to install the Babylon 9 toolbar during the 4th step of the install process.

Next up: Temper from AngryRedPlanet.com.

TemperTemper, the current offering from AngryRedPlanet, is a fully functional MIDI composer / sequencer / recorder.

Ease of use: A very polished product, Temper has undergone a long process of evolution. It is the newest incarnation of Sequitur, and has a very clever and user friendly GUI. I was composing on it in next to no time with no major problems. This application will also host VST's, but only when an ASIO driver is installed on your machine. There are various ways of recording with this app, again depending on your setup.  If you get stuck, there is a full online manual which can also be downloaded and integrated into the application help facility. Added to that, there is a forum on the AngryRedPlanet website.

Functionality: Temper works straight out of the box and has over a hundred onboard sounds, so no need to worry about VST's right away. The pattern editor, config panel and sequencer occupy the same window, which makes everything nice and accessible. Sounds can be switched easily, and without VST's the confusion factor is limited: I consider this to be a good thing, at least until you know what you're doing. Effects can be applied, but without VST's  you are limited to what's onboard: again, this is not a drawback thanks to the selection of available sounds. The cut and paste facility in the pattern editor is a major time saver, and this extends to cut and paste across different tracks  which is a nice feature. I particularly like the graphic note indicator / finder.

Performance: This is so ultra-stable and durable on my laptop, even with several layers of sound, I haven't even tried it on my pc: no need (I will be road testing this app as part of a full suite of freeware recording apps).This is great to play with on a laptop, but for serious use it should be run on a serious machine with a proper sound card and an ASIO driver installed. Excellent freeware. The longer I play with it, the more I like it.

This product is not licensed as freeware, but fear not and I shall tell you what the developer told me:

Temper's been on hiatus for awhile and I've been debating what to do with the license. I currently think of it as donationware -- you can do anything you like with it, and if you end up using it, I'd appreciate payment.

and goes on to say:

Buying a license removes the nag screen and gets you a couple of esoteric features that likely no one but me has ever used.  If I suddenly found out someone was using it to make commercial music without a license, my reaction would be closer to 'cool' than 'money please'.

Many thanks to Eric Hackborn @ AngryRedPlanet, your generosity is appreciated by all here at Gizmo's.


DarkWave Studio, by Daniel Werner @ Experimental Scene.

DarkWave StudioA VST Plugin requires a VST host, just as a browser plugin requires a browser, and DarkWave Studio ticks that box very nicely: this application is a combined VST Host, Sequencer and Recorder. DarkWave Studio is actually every bit as cool as the name suggests. A very clever, minimalist GUI, neatly separated into three workstations and a recording bay. The first workstation is to dock and configure your plugins: this is the VST Host. The next is the pattern editor: this is where you create the components of your music. Finally, the sequencer, where you assemble the components of your music.

Ease of use: This software is so cleverly designed, it is virtually foolproof. It is a blank canvass on which to create one's masterpiece, not cluttered with a load of bells and whistles one can't even understand. The plugins, however, are as simple or as complex as you want them to be. The help file will get you started.

Functionality: Again, very clever, very easy to use. It did not take me long to figure the tao of DarkWave Studio, and it really is easy to set up and configure, allowing you to install virtual effects racks, keyboards, guitars, percussion: whatever you like. It's best to use a small number (4 or 5) plugins initially, as things can get a little confusing and cluttered, and run them through a virtual mixing desk.  The pattern editor is easy to get on with, and even moving from one workstation to another is hassle free due to the tabbed toolbar.

Performance: Supports 64 bit OS but there are limited free 64 bit VST's. Requires a reasonably powerful system for best. I had to use the 32 bit app (for availability of plugins) on a 64 bit OS:  The program was a little fragile on my laptop, but usable once the limit was found. This program should be run on a desktop pc with a reasonably good sound card (e.g Soundblaster Audigy): this will enable you to install Steinberg ASIO driver or equivalent, and once correctly configured, you may immerse yourself in the DarkWave Studio and live the dream. Or, you may choose to compose ringtones on your laptop, and since the recorder saves as wav, you can just convert it to .mp3 and away you go. Excellent Freeware. Nicely done.

Editor's Advisory Note: DarkWave Studio is now bundled with OpenCandy. See this article for more information.


Hydrogen by Alessandro Cominu@Hydrogen. Hydrogen

Hydrogen is a drum sequencer for Windows and Linux. I've tried a few free drum sequencers and found none of them to be close in either functionality or overall useability to my commercial drum tracker of choice. Hydrogen is different and I am well impressed with this full featured freeware drum tracker.

Ease of Use: This is so easy to use it's difficult to see how you could go wrong: pattern based sequencers are much of a muchness when it comes to the actual pattern/song creation, and this one is good and intuitive. Again I am running the application with no MIDI hardware, just using it as it comes with the preinstalled GMKit. A nicely laid out GUI with everything right there where you need it makes Hydrogen a pleasure to use, but that's really the least of it with this app.  The main point for me is that i knew exactly what i wanted to achieve with this app before i even downloaded it and i was not disappointed: it's nice when that happens. The Hydrogen team give support on their site forum and other resources (user manual, additional drumkits etc) are available on the main site.

Functionality: The facilities most of the free drum sequencers i have tested lack are present in Hydrogen. The ability to change the time signature from 4/4 to 3/4 and the facilty to export each drum as a *.wav file are vital if a freeware app of this type is to stand any chance against my commercial ware: granted it is not imperative that a drum sequencer exports as wav (or other file types), but it saves a great deal of hassle if you are multitracking.
The facility to change the parameters of each drum in the instrument rack is a great feature: this allows the user to adjust the sound and duration of any instrument to create a new instrument. The onboard mixer is handy and I like the way each beat can be divided into smaller instances using the resolution function. I like everything about this application.

Performance: Very light on system resources and ultra stable. Full featured. Excellent freeware.


With a little patience and experimentation, pretty much anyone could be making music or beats with these three applications in a relatively short space of time. To sum up, you don't need a doctorate in ST transform and Quantile normalization to make music with any of these superb free apps, so go to it and enjoy.

Good place to find free VST plugins and other useful free apps:

Useful resources for music makers:

A forum thread is now open for discussion related to free music creation software here.

 
Related Products and Links

You might want to check out these articles too:

Best Free Audio Editing Software
Best Free Music Notation Software
Best Free Software to Cut, Split or Merge Audio Files

 
Quick Selection Guide

LMMS
5
 
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Hugely full featured
N/A
0.4.13
21.6 MB
32 and 64 bit versions available
Free for private use only
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows XP and higher/ Linux
Temper
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Easy to use and very light on system resources.
N/A
http://www.angryredplanet.com
1.4
3.0 MB
32 bit only
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows XP and higher
DarkWave Studio
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Easy to setup and use.
Not really suitable for laptops. Bundled with OpenCandy
http://www.experimentalscene.com
3.8.7
2.46 MB
32 and 64 bit versions available
Free for private use only
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows XP and higher
Hydrogen
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Easy to use and very light on system resources.
N/A
http://www.hydrogen-music.org
0.9.5
5.3 MB
32 bit only
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Linux, Windows XP and higher

 
Editor

This software category is maintained by volunteer editor komanderkin. Registered members can contact the editor with any comments or questions they might have by clicking here

 

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Comments

by MaiaRNBsoul on 30. January 2014 - 2:21  (114072)

Hi komanderick,

I've just installed LMMS 0.4.9

I was wondering if there was a way to program instruments by using my laptop/computer keyboard rather than using the pencil?

I'm a noob at this software. Will be looking out for tutorials to help me out.

Thanks for the article. Its very handy. I've been on the lookout for a music program for windows. Cheers.

by komanderkin on 30. January 2014 - 12:36  (114083)

sicknero has already offered a great answer below, so i'll just add to that.

i'd also like to recommend MIDI Yoke (http://www.midiox.com/myoke.htm) as a free virtual MIDI port to which you can input a virtual MIDI keyboard like Free Piano (http://sourceforge.net/projects/freepiano/files/) or VMPK mention above. let me know if you need more help with this!

by sicknero on 30. January 2014 - 14:58  (114085)

Thanks Komanderkin,

I've been having a play with LMMS and the piano roll does support PC keyboards so extra software isn't necessary for it.

@MaiaRNBSoul, the piano roll is the window that shows the notes grid and has a piano keyboard down the left side ... with your project open you just select the track you want to work on, click the piano roll icon at the upper left (it has a piano keyboard graphic on it) and then you can use your PC keyboard to play whatever instrument is loaded into the track. The piano roll in LMMS has play/record buttons etc. Hopefully this is what you meant in the first place : )

A productive discussion anyway ... I'd not heard of Freepiano before and really like it!

by sicknero on 30. January 2014 - 10:36  (114079)

Hi ....

Do you mean a way to input MIDI data using your keyboard? If so there might well be an option for that already in LMMS ... I downloaded the prog but haven't got around to trying it out yet.

If LMMS doesn't have this ability built in then my favourite combination for it on my laptop is VMPK (Virtual Midi Piano Keyboard) which lets you play your PC keys like a keyboard and also send MIDI control data (e.g. volume, velocity, filters etc) using your mouse wheel or a rotary knob on the GUI.

To use VMPK with a program like LMMS, you will also need LoopMIDI by Tobias Erichsen to connect VMPK to LMMS - it installs a driver and GUI which lets you create virtual MIDI ports inside your PC so that in this instance you can connect the MIDI Out of VMPK to the MIDI In of LMMS.

It's all pretty simple and user friendly, let us know how you get on : )

VMPK - http://vmpk.sourceforge.net/#Introduction

LoopMIDI - http://www.tobias-erichsen.de/software/loopmidi.html

by komanderkin on 30. January 2014 - 12:29  (114082)

thanks for the great answer! much appreciated!

by Mobilis on 28. December 2013 - 14:51  (113246)

Hi

I have a DD305 drum kit and am looking for a bit a free software to send the recorded stuff to so I put it on audacity. I have the USB lead.

Anyone know how to do this?

Dave

by komanderkin on 28. December 2013 - 22:58  (113258)

does your drum kit send MIDI messages through the USB output? if so, get MuLab Free or Podium free and select your drum kit as the MIDI input. load up a software drum kit and render your performance as a WAV file. you can then load it up in Audacity!

by Duck on 29. December 2013 - 21:55  (113268)

Hi (I couldn't log in again so have just made another name)(Mobilis old one)

Thanks very much for your speedy reply.

Yes the electronic drum kit plugs into the pc usb port.
Its a physical kit with sticks etc.

I put Podium on pc and it recognizes the kit when setting the midi input.

Still not sure how to actually record using Podium. Is it just a medium to get audacity to record it or something else?
The adverts for this kit state you can connect it to a pc. Whether that means also transferring a saved file from inside the drum kit or not I don't know.
The kit itself records and saves the drumming.
But I need to get the drumming on the kit onto the pc like it says ......
Either from a saved file or real time recorded.

A bit worried the advert has overstated, like some do, about the product.
I only got it because the drumming could be transferred onto my pc.
I hope I haven't wasted £100 .....

What do mean when you say load up a software drum kit? I'm very sorry I'm new to this particular form of midi/pc gear.

Thanks Bro. mmm sorry I assumed you were a bloke , lol

by Duck on 30. December 2013 - 15:27  (113278)

More information :)

I have tried in Podium:

Starting a new project
Got a track open
Got device folder thing: Zynewave : Drummatic 3

The bottom right hand side midi indicator is flashing when I do a beat on the DD305 drum kit.
So it's picking it up.

mmmmmmm but what to do next ........ ?

by komanderkin on 3. January 2014 - 20:36  (113392)

Hi Duck! Sorry for the late reply, I was away during the holidays.

You want to record a MIDI performance with your drum kit. A MIDI performance (as opposed to audio) only contains note data. In other words, it will capture all the drum hits you played on your drum set and these can later be applied to any virtual drum kit.

Since Podium is picking up your MIDI data (the flashing lights suggest so), everything should work OK. Are you getting any sound from Drummatic 3 when playing the kit?

If not, it's possible that your drum kit is sending the notes which aren't triggering this exact virtual instrument.

Try installing Drummix Beta Edition (it is free) and loading it up as a VSTi plugin in Podium:

http://www.bluenoiseplugins.com/plugins/drummix/beta-edition/

Let me know what happens!

by NoteBender on 25. December 2013 - 12:22  (113192)

I am learning how to play the keyboard/piano and I began to think it would be nice if I had a piece of software that would allow me to enter in a tune's melody (by individual note) and bass line so that during playback I could chord along with it on the keyboard.

A must would be the ability to transpose a tune into another key once it was entered and change the speed of playback (I've used Audacity once or twice for slowing tunes down).

Although I have a technical background I have next to no audio experience whatsoever and was wondering if the software in this article does what I need and what would you recommend? I'm running Windows 7 on an Intel i5 processor with regular stock sound.

ps - Merry Christmas!

by komanderkin on 25. December 2013 - 17:15  (113200)

all the programs on the list will let you record your melodies and speed them up or down, as well as jam along with them.

since you're a beginner, i would recommend MuLab Free:

http://www.mutools.com/mulab-downloads.html

or Podium Free:

http://zynewave.com/podium-free/

let me know if you run into any problems!

by sicknero on 8. November 2013 - 22:17  (112130)

Nice article and a couple (Hydrogen and Temper) that I didn't know about before which I will have a play with over the weekend. Thank you!

by komanderkin on 25. December 2013 - 17:13  (113199)

thanks for reading!

by dildy310 on 6. November 2013 - 20:26  (112077)

Hi, I just downloaded LMMS and am looking to start producing and I thought this might be a good place to start. My only problem with LMMS is that when I start it up, I get no sound. I went to audio settings and tried to change the settings to my computer speakers, and when I restart LMMS and check audio settings it remains on "Dummy". Anyone know how I would be able to get sound? I'm pretty new to all this I have a ASUS Laptop Model X54C and I'm not sure what type of sound card it is. But the laptop isn't too old so I believe the sound card is ok (at least I think so).

by komanderkin on 6. November 2013 - 23:06  (112080)

try installing ASIO4ALL (it is free) and selecting it as the audio device in LMMS. let me know if it still doesn't work after that.

by dildy310 on 7. November 2013 - 18:43  (112104)

Thanks for the quick reply. So I downloaded it and tried again but did not see the AISO4ALL option for audio. My options are MME, Windows WDM-KS, Windows WASAPI, and Windows Direct Sound. There are sub-options for all of those such as speakers, microphone, input, output, and mapper. I've tried most of them and they don't work or return me to "Dummy" even though I changed the audio settings and restarted LMMS.

by komanderkin on 8. November 2013 - 2:02  (112112)

hmm, i can not re-create that issue here. is your sound card working properly in other audio applications?

for now, i can advise you to try Podium Free. it is a great free program for creating music.

i hope that someone will offer a solution for fixing your problem with LMMS here. i'll also update this comment if i figure it out in the meanwhile.

by dildy310 on 8. November 2013 - 21:24  (112129)

Thank you for the help, much appreciated! :)

by misterdee on 8. August 2013 - 9:20  (109974)

LMMS -Linux Multimedia Studio - Can I load this app onto my MacBook Pro? Cheers in advance.

by komanderkin on 3. October 2013 - 19:56  (111214)

it is only available for Windows and Linux systems!

by Viktor71 on 16. May 2013 - 22:26  (107795)

I've visited and read allot of comments concerning the how to's of making music. And I have to say, this by far beats any forums or what have you on the subject. I've been listening to electronic, dubstep and dance for a while now and have just gotten a urge to dabble with it and maybe make my own. You can guarantee that I'll be picking everyone's brains in here for knowledge and info. So I look forward to it.

Thanks.

by komanderkin on 30. June 2013 - 13:36  (108843)

thanks!

by 68CastImp on 19. April 2013 - 9:34  (107188)

The problem with LMMS is, it,s not that easy to use so is probably not a good idea for a newcomer.

by komanderkin on 19. April 2013 - 9:46  (107190)

well, it's not super-easy for everyone, but it does have the kind of workflow which might fit certain kinds of music. especially beatmaking.

it's very similar to the old versions of fruity loops.

by whatisamatrix on 28. February 2013 - 16:22  (105837)

And again. DarkWave Studio and LMMS are licensed under GPLv3, so it is free not only for private use, but also for commercial use.

by komanderkin on 3. March 2013 - 22:55  (105915)

that's valuable info, thanks for the comment! btw, i've merged your DarkWave Studio and LMMS comments into one, for easier reading and discussion.

by ThePeanutButter500 on 7. February 2013 - 4:07  (105164)

for some reason i installed lmms and it wont show up on my descktop or when i search it

by komanderkin on 7. February 2013 - 15:30  (105177)

can you access the program otherwise, or is it completely missing from your computer?

by pyr0magma on 27. January 2013 - 4:09  (104848)

Hi komanderkin, thanks for maintaining this page. These free stuff, they're free for all to use, privately of course but is there any software that is also free for commercial use as in you make money out of using their software.

In that case, what about plugins or 3rd parties add ons, I suppose most of them require a license but just free for private use.

Do you know any software that is free both commercially as well ? Audacity is one of them but I'm more interested in software instruments.

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