If you’re a music production beginner, this is where you will find the best music software for your studio. The article lists digital audio workstations, virtual instruments, audio effects, and other essential tools for composing, mixing, and mastering your music.
We included the best music-making software from each category to help our readers get started with making music on a computer.
All music software on the list is compatible with Windows and macOS. We tried to include Linux-compatible applications whenever possible.
Consider the production software listed on this page as the main building blocks of your music studio. These are the essential instruments and effects for music production.
So, what is the best free music production software in 2024?
Music Production Software (2024 Update)
These are the best free music-making programs on PC and Mac:
- Waveform Free – best free digital audio workstation
- Studio One Prime – best free audio recording software
- Audacity – best free audio editor
- Surge – best free synthesizer
- TX16Wx Software Sampler – best free sampler
- Decent Sampler and LABS – best free sample players
- TDR Nova – best free equalizer
- DC1A – best free compressor
- Limiter №6 – best free limiter
- OrilRiver – best free reverb
- Komplete Start – best free software bundle
- Kilohearts Essentials – a collection of simple plugins for all tasks
Waveform 12 Free is a free digital audio workstation developed by Tracktion Corporation. The DAW is the core of every music production software setup, and Waveform Free is the best one you can get for free.
This mighty music-making tool works on all major platforms (Windows, macOS, and Linux) and provides all the features necessary for recording and mixing a professional-sounding song.
Waveform Free can record audio and MIDI. It features an audio mixer with built-in effects and advanced features like automation, track analysis, and more.
Most importantly, Waveform Free can load VST and AU plugins. You can expand your music production workspace with hundreds of freeware VST plugins, such as synthesizers, samplers, effects, and more.
However, we recommend Studio One Prime if you’re a singer/songwriter who only needs a multi-track recording application without VST plugin support.
The hard truth is that no freeware DAW is perfect, though. If you can spend some money on music production software, the digital audio workstation should be the first item on your shopping list.
Reaper is the most budget-friendly DAW on the market. It costs $60 for a discounted license and offers a generous 60-day free trial.
Some people just stick to using the trial version of Reaper for an infinite amount of time. But if you use Reaper to make music, be fair and support its developers by purchasing a license.
Other popular DAWs are Ableton Live, FL Studio, Steinberg Cubase Pro, and Bitwig Studio. Logic Pro X is the logical choice if you’re on macOS, and our favorite pro digital audio workstation is Studio One Pro.
If you’re a Windows user, Cakewalk by BandLab is a highly recommended free DAW. However, we picked Waveform 12 Free because it works on both major operating systems.
If you don’t want to use VST plugins and just need a free music production program to record and edit your songs, try Studio One Prime or Pro Tools First.
More info: Waveform Free
Studio One Prime
Studio One Prime is the best free music production software for singer-songwriters. It is a streamlined free DAW for audio recording and simple mixing tasks.
The free edition of Studio One comes with a built-in set of high-quality audio effects. These include a channel strip with EQ and compression, reverb and delay effects, flanger, chorus, and even the basic version of Ampire and Pedalboard (guitar processing effects developed by PreSonus).
It is important to note that the free DAW from PreSonus can not load VST plugins. This means that you are limited to using the effects included with the freeware version of Studio One. Also, you won’t be able to load any virtual instruments in it.
Users who need access to more advanced features can upgrade to Studio One Artist or Studio One Pro.
Another impressive free music recording application for singer-songwriters is Pro Tools – Intro. It is based on the popular Pro Tools software by Avid. Like Studio One Prime, it has some limitations (mainly the inability to load external plugins), but its simplicity can suit less demanding users.
Still, we prefer Studio One Prime’s intuitive workflow and overall usability.
So, Studio One Prime is one of the best options for musicians who need a DAW to record audio right now.
More info: Studio One Prime
A music production setup is not complete without an audio editor. Audacity is the best free audio editing software on the market, and it is also a great free recording software.
Open-source and fully cross-platform, Audacity offers a wide selection of tools and effects for audio editing and recording tasks.
Audacity is developed by volunteers and receives frequent updates almost every month. It is lightweight, stable, and intuitive enough to be used by beginner music producers.
Audacity can also load VST, VST3, AU, LV, and LADSPA plugins. The plugin support lets you edit audio files in Audacity using your favorite third-party mixing and sound design tools.
More info: Audacity
Surge XT is the best free synthesizer plugin and one of the most versatile free instruments on the market. If you’re looking for a more user-friendly alternative, we recommend the Vital wavetable synthesizer by Matt Tytel.
This open-source synthesizer is based on the discontinued Surge virtual instrument by Vember Audio. The developer published the source code, allowing the open-source community to improve the software.
The synthesizer features three oscillators with multiple synthesis types, complex modulation, built-in effects, and numerous presets. The interface is now more intuitive than the previous versions, making Surge XT more suitable for beginners.
Surge XT is an open-source instrument that rivals some of the most popular synthesizer plugins on the market. It is a must-have sound design tool in any music production software collection.
More info: Surge XT
TX16Wx Software Sampler
TX16Wx Software Sampler is the best free sampler plugin for your music production studio and one of the best alternatives to Native Instruments Kontakt.
The plugin can load WAV, AIFF, Ogg, and FLAC files. It can also handle SoundFonts, SFZ patches, and Akai and EXS presets.
Of course, the TX16Wx Software Sampler can also be used to create sample-based patches.
TX16Wx Software Sampler features a powerful mapping editor, a non-destructive sample editor, built-in effects, time-stretching, unlimited modulation sources, and even the ability to record audio. You can capture any sound from your digital audio workstation and treat it as an audio sample.
TX16Wx Software Sampler can be used as standalone music production software or as a VST, VST, AU, and AAX plugin in a compatible digital audio workstation.
Most music-making applications, free or paid, will include a sampler instrument. That said, TX16Wx Software Sampler offers an advanced feature set for a sample-based music production workspace.
If you think the TX16Wx Software Sampler is overly complicated, consider Grace, an intuitive freeware sampler instrument that only works on Windows.
More info: TX16Wx Software Sampler
LABS is a free sample player plugin by Spitfire Audio. It is easy to use and powered by some of the best-sounding free sample libraries on the market.
The interface is streamlined, with only a few controls. LABS doesn’t provide many possibilities for sound customization.
It does, however, offer a fantastic collection of sound packs. All sound libraries are designed by Spitfire Audio, one of the leading sound labels.
The LABS instrument collection covers everything from acoustic pianos to drums, cinematic sounds, and experimental instruments.
More info: LABS
Decent Sampler is another excellent sample player plugin. It is compatible with hundreds of Pianobook sample libraries.
The plugin is an excellent choice for music producers who need an alternative to the more expensive Kontakt libraries. Unlike Kontakt, developing libraries for Decent Sampler does not involve license fees, making it a more accessible option for a broader range of developers.
While Decent Sampler is not intended to replace Kontakt or to be the most sophisticated sample player available, it provides a user-friendly and cost-effective solution for accessing a diverse and expanding collection of sound libraries.
The platform has recently seen a significant increase in sound library offerings, thanks partly to efforts like Frédéric Poirier’s conversion of over 100 Pianobook libraries to the Decent Sampler format.
More info: Decent Sampler
The two most crucial mixing tools are an equalizer and a compressor. These two audio effects are the essential building blocks of every music production studio. Along with the digital audio workstation, they are the most essential pieces of music production software.
TDR Nova is the best free equalizer plugin to add to your music-making software toolbox. It is a four-band dynamic equalizer with an additional high-pass and low-pass filter.
TDR Nova can handle all sorts of mixing tasks as a dynamic equalizer. You can use it as a basic parametric equalizer, a dynamic EQ, a multi-band compressor, a de-esser, a wideband compressor, or even a simple audio filter.
The two best things about TDR Nova are its flexibility and user-friendliness. Despite the plugin’s advanced “dynamic EQ” capabilities, even total beginners can use its basic equalization features. The advanced dynamics controls are switched off by default and ready to use if required.
More info: TDR Nova
DC1A is the best free compressor plugin. It is not the most feature-packed compressor effect, but I can certainly say it’s the most intuitive. I use DC1A in every mix because it is so easy to get it to sound right.
Many music production beginners find the concept of dynamic range compression hard to understand. With DC1A, you only need to apply the correct compression amount. The rest of the magic will happen under the hood.
DC1A is the first compressor effect to add to your arsenal if you’re only getting started with music production software. More advanced music producers and experienced audio engineers should download TDR Kotelnikov, the best free mastering compressor on the market.
If you’re looking for a simple free compressor inspired by vintage limiting amplifiers, check out BPB Dirty LA.
More info: DC1A
A limiter is an essential tool in the audio mastering stage of music production. It is also useful for mixing, but mastering is impossible without a limiter.
Mastering your most important projects is a task that should be outsourced to a professional mastering engineer. However, owning a good limiter plugin is essential when mastering demo songs and song previews. And quite honestly, it’s fun to mix and master an entire song using only free music production software.
With that in mind, Limiter №6 is the best free limiter plugin for your music-making application.
Another excellent free limiter plugin is LUveler by Thomas Mundt. It is less advanced than Limiter №6 and more suitable for beginners. And we also recommend the excellent Frontier limiter by D16 Group. Both plugins are worth adding to your free mastering collection.
More info: Limiter №6
A lush-sounding reverb effect is the secret ingredient of every great mix. That is why a high-quality reverb plugin is essential in every music producer’s software arsenal. The best free reverb VST plugin right now is OrilRiver by Denis Tihanov.
OrilRiver is a free algorithmic stereo reverb plugin that can rival the sound quality of even the most expensive reverbs. It is a very flexible effect, capable of simulating small rooms, grand halls, cathedrals, and any type of space you can imagine.
It’s worth noting that OrilRiver offers complex functionality, but the well-designed user interface and intuitive controls make it easy to use, even for beginners.
The included presets cover the most used types of reverb sounds. Press the padlock icon next to the preset browser to lock the value of the Wet knob when changing presets.
More info: OrilRiver
Komplete Start is a beginner-friendly collection of virtual instruments and effects by Native Instruments. It is the perfect bundle to kickstart your music production software kit.
The collection includes Kontakt Player, Reaktor Player, and a handpicked selection of synthesizers and sound design tools. To get started, install Kontakt Player and download some of the free libraries for Kontakt.
With Kontakt Player, you’ll have access to dozens of deeply sampled virtual instruments that you can play for free in your DAW.
More info: Komplete Start
Kilohearts offers a free collection of audio effects and utilities that can handle most mixing and sound design tasks.
If you’re not entirely happy with the effects included in your DAW, expand your audio toolkit with Kilohearts Essentials. The bundle includes reverbs, delays, compressors, limiters, pitch shifters, and many other tools for mixing, mastering, and sound design.
All plugins feature simple interfaces that get you straight to the point. They are streamlined, intuitive, and user-friendly.
More info: Kilohearts Essentials
Music Production Software – Summary
We listed the best free music software to help you get started with music production. Over time, you will build your music-making software arsenal to handle all production and mixing tasks.
It’s essential to know your music tools. Instead of downloading dozens of freeware plugins and several DAWs, pick only a few and learn how to use them well.
Remember, practice makes perfect, and this is also true when it comes to producing music. Spend more time practicing and making music than downloading software and searching for that “magical VST plugin” to make all your tracks sound amazing. It doesn’t exist.
Start with the music production software listed here and slowly expand your collection. Happy music-making!
For more free music production software, return to our Free VST Plugins page.