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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.
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
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.
Next up: Temper from AngryRedPlanet.com.
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:
and goes on to say:
Many thanks to Eric Hackborn @ AngryRedPlanet, your generosity is appreciated by all here at Gizmo's.
DarkWave Studio, by Daniel Werner @ Experimental Scene.
A 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 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.
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 places to find free VST plugins and other useful free tools:
Useful resources for music makers:
A forum thread is now open for discussion related to free music creation software here.
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