Music production software, better known as Digital Audio Workstation or DAW, is a central piece of music production equipment.
DAWs are used for recording, mixing, and mastering music – so, it’s where music production actually takes place.
But building a home recording studio can be quite an investment, and that’s why saving money on a DAW seems like a good idea, at least in the beginning.
Luckily, there are some free DAWs out there worth checking out.
To help you make an informed decision, we rounded up a list of the best free DAWs for making music in the market right now.
All of these DAWs are popular and reliable, and they won’t cost you a dime.
GarageBand DAW is hands down one of the best free DAWs you can find.
First of all, GarageBand is a household name in music production, and this respected DAW is used by professional producers and musicians around the world.
GarageBand allows its users to play, record, create, and share music without hassle, so it’s a good choice for beginners.
It has a modern design and user-friendly interface, and it provides an array of realistic amps and effects.
That said, GarageBand is ideal for making beats as it offers a variety of built-in instruments and thousands of loops from popular genres like EDM, hip-hop, and indie music.
It supports 24-bit recording and third-party plug-ins, and it has a ton of useful tools and features such as time quantization, automated panning, drumming, and pitch correction.
And if you install it on all your Apple devices, you can easily work on your music wherever you are.
All in all, if you’re looking for a free DAW that won’t let you down, GarageBand is a safe choice,
2. Ableton Live Lite
Ableton Live is one of the most popular DAWs out there, and it’s a top choice for seasoned producers as well as those who are just starting out with music production.
Live is designed to be an instrument for live performances as well as a tool for composing, recording, arranging, mixing, and mastering music.
It’s ideal for crafting beats, reworking sequences, and creative sound generation, and it provides a wide range of instruments and generators.
Now, Ableton Live Lite is the stripped-down version of Live.
It comes with many hardware products for free, and it offers an easy way to write, record, and produce music.
It provides a total of 16 tracks with any combination of audio and midi channels and allows up to four inputs and outputs at the same time.
So although it doesn’t provide the same set of features as Ableton Live, Live Lite is based on Live’s workflow, and it’s actually a great choice for anyone looking for a reliable DAW.
3. Cubase LE
The first version of Cubase digital audio workstation was released in 1989, and the DAW still has a reputation for being one of the best music production software on the market.
That said, Cubase is another household name in the world of music production.
Cubase PRO provides professional mixer quality, a fast and flexible workflow, and handy tools suitable for all genres.
And LE is a free “lite” version of Cubase Pro.
With Cubase LE, you can record up to 16 tracks of audio and up to 24 virtual instrument tracks.
The free DAW also comes with Steinberg’s excellent VST plugins and libraries for its HALion sampling platform.
You’ll only be able to record 8 audio tracks concurrently, but this is more than enough to start with.
If you’re looking for a beginner-friendly DAW that won’t cost you anything, you should also check out Audacity.
Audacity is available for Windows, macOS, and Linux, and it’s very flexible and easy to use.
It has a multitrack editor that allows you to record and edit multiple tracks simultaneously.
And it allows you to record live audio through a microphone or mixer and edit your tracks with Cut, Copy, Paste, and Delete options.
Tracks and selections can be fully manipulated using the keyboard, and you can easily use effects and plug-ins or you can write your own plug-in.
In a way, Audacity is more of a digital editor (with recording options) than a DAW, which makes it suitable for beginners who want to make music without delving into the details of audio production.
However, this is a quite powerful editor, and it’s a very useful tool for audio editing and mixing.
5. Tracktion Waveform Free
When it comes to the best free DAWs for making music, Tracktion Waveform Free is also a great option.
This is a fully functional freeware DAW that can host VST and AU plugins and works on PC or Mac.
It also supports MIDI and ReWire and provides everything you need to make good music at home.
With a clean, user-friendly interface, it’s very easy to navigate, so it’s suitable for beginners.
And when you acquire some skills and want to gain access to more features and possibilities, you can upgrade to Waveform Pro.
6. Pro Tools First
In short, Pro Tools is the industry standard for DAWs.
Along with Ableton Live, it’s usually somewhere on the top of the best audio production software lists.
Besides being one of the most commonly-used DAWs, Pro Tools offers a variety of loops, effects, and instrument plugins ideal for creating any type of music.
And the free version of Pro Tools, Pro Tools First, is actually the introductory version.
Nevertheless, Pro Tools First offers many cool features.
It allows you to record up to 16 tracks of audio and use up to 16 virtual instrument tracks in a session.
And thanks to its simplicity and basic features, it’s great for those who are just starting out with music production.
That said, Pro Tools First is a perfect first step and a great introduction to a more advanced DAW.
REAPER perhaps isn’t a free DAW, but it offers a long free trial period that allows you to test the waters and make some quality music.
But even if you want to use it after the trial period, it’s actually quite affordable.
Either way, REAPER has a lot to offer.
It’s a fully-fledged, professional DAW with unlimited tracks and full VST compatibility.
It can be used in Live mode for live performances or audio recording and in Studio mode for creating studio-quality recordings.
And it’s completely open-source so you can customize it with user-generated skins and mods.
Moreover, REAPER has a clean and simple interface so it’s very easy to use.
But it’s not designed only for beginners – thanks to its versatility and features, it can be used for a wide range of audio production tasks.
Cakewalk by BandLab is an ideal choice for beginner producers as well as professionals.
It has a simple interface so it’s very easy to get used to it.
But it also has a built-in sequencer for creating more complex arrangements and rhythms.
It offers a variety of effects and plugins, and new features and updates are constantly coming.
All in all, even the free version of Cakewalk DAW has a lot to offer, and if you’re looking for a free DAW to make music, it’s certainly worthy of consideration.
9. Ohm Studio
Ohm Studio is a full-featured DAW that you can download for free.
It’s a good DAW to make professional-sounding music, providing a wide range of virtual instruments and effects.
It also provides support for VST and EQ plugins, but the disadvantage is that it doesn’t have a built-in MIDI editor.
Nevertheless, Ohm Studio definitely deserves a place on this list – it’s reliable, intuitive, and well-designed.
And one of the best things about this free DAW is the music collaboration option.
Ohm Studio has a collaborative design that makes it easy to share your projects with others.
That said, if music collaboration is one of your priorities, you should take a closer look at Ohm Studio.
10. Bitwig Studio
This is a great choice for experienced producers as well as beginners.
It’s similar to Ableton Live, but it does offer a more diverse visual experience.
Bitwig Studio comes with more than 90 instruments, effects, and other creative tools ideal for recording, live performance, and sound design.
Its modulation system allows you to easily modulate any device, and its Sampler features several playback modes, dynamic note-based modulations, and a powerful multisample editor.
And Bitwig’s modular sound design environment enables it to create unique sounds from scratch.
The problem with Bitwig Studio is that you can use it for free for a limited amount of time – you can have access to its features for free for 30 days.
Nevertheless, this is still a good option if you want to test the waters and
Choosing the Right DAW – Do You Know What You Need?
If you’re not sure what to look for in a DAW, you should first about the following questions:
- What am I going to use it for?
- What is my skill level?
First and foremost, you should choose a DAW that matches your level of experience.
Of course, if you’re up for a challenge, you can opt for a more advanced DAW that will make you learn and explore new things.
But a DAW should make your music production process smooth and efficient.
Feeling comfortable with your DAW will help you make better music – and isn’t that the ultimate goal?
Whether you want to create music, mix tracks, or edit audio, learning how your DAW works and getting to know all of its features and options is a must.
That said, do yourself a favor and choose a DAW that fits your level of expertise.
Furthermore, you should conduct thorough research about a DAW you’re interested in and find out things like:
- Software/hardware compatibility
- Audio plugin compatibility
In terms of price, some DAWs can be used for free, but for a certain amount of time, or they offer a limited number of features.
And when you feel like you’re ready to step up your game and your free Digital Audio Workstation no longer meets your needs, you can explore other options and get an affordable DAW that will provide you with extra features and benefits.
But don’t worry – although free DAWs come with fewer features, they usually work well for basic audio mixing and editing.
Plus, since most DAWs are based on the universal music production guidelines, once you learn how to use one, it won’t take you long to figure out how other DAWs work.
Nevertheless, try to opt for a DAW that you’ll use for a while.
Finally, try to choose a DAW that complements your musical style.
For instance, if you want to focus on electronic music, search for a sample-based DAW that has a huge library of sounds and loops.
How DAWs Work
Besides offering an array of sounds and loops you can use to create a song from scratch, DAWs are also widely used to mix and master tracks.
You can use a DAW to finalize your track and get it ready for distribution.
But you can also use it for the early stages of the music production process – DAWs allow you to record live vocals and instruments, and they do so through a microphone hooked up to an audio interface.
DAWs work only with digital audio, so analog audio input must first be converted into digital audio signals – and that’s why you need an audio interface.
This is actually a great overview of how DAWs work:
When recording vocals or instruments, all the recorded tracks are fed directly into the DAW, where you can label, trim, and organize them as you see fit.
But with a DAW, you also have access to hundreds of virtual instruments, and you can create music from scratch, even if you don’t have a lot of experience or musical knowledge.
DAWs make creating music at home accessible to everyone.
They are efficient, easy to use, and they offer plenty of tools for making music.
To sum things up, DAWs can be used in different ways, and they are suitable both for beginners and experienced music producers.
They ultimately cover the entire production process – from audio recording to mastering – and they are, therefore, an integral part of modern music production equipment.
Free DAWs vs Paid DAWs
But is there a difference between free DAWs and paid DAWs?
While you’re still learning the craft, using a free DAW is actually a good idea.
This will help you learn how things work, and you’ll be able to ‘test’ it and see whether you’re really interested in diving into music production more seriously.
But even if you’re sure you want to start creating your own tracks, a free DAW will help you get things started.
Free DAWs usually come with even fewer features, but they cover the basics.
That said, when you acquire the necessary skills, you can invest in a new DAW that is reasonably priced.
A respected paid DAW will certainly enrich your music production process, and it will help you improve your skills.
But until that happens, getting a reliable budget-friendly DAW is a great place to start.
How to Start Making Music at Home
If you’re just starting out, creating your first track from scratch might be a bit intimidating – and that’s perfectly normal.
But if you get a beginner-friendly DAW, everything will be easier than you think.
Either way, it might be good for you to learn how things generally work with DAWs, and what music production normally entails.
This knowledge will let you know what to expect and help you figure out what type of DAW you need.
So, find a way to learn more about music production – find an online music production course or online lessons that will help you get through your first steps of writing a song from scratch.
Generally, before you record anything, you need to set up your equipment.
This normally involves installing your chosen DAW, connecting your audio interface, connecting your microphone, and checking for levels on your mic.
And then you need to run your DAW.
In short, getting your DAW ready for use should include:
- Creating a new track in the DAW
- Setting the track input(s)
- Setting the levels by launching the mixer view and monitoring the level of the meter
- Enabling monitoring (the ability to hear what you are playing)
- Setting the tempo/metronome if necessary
When you’re ready, you just need to press the button and start recording.
Then you need to edit and finalize your track and add background vocals, percussion fills, sound effects, and so on.
When you’re done with the finishing touches, you can start with mixing and mastering.
Mixing and mastering are the most important parts of music post-production, and they will make your track more coherent.
Producers use a variety of tools to mix their tracks, such as EQ, compressor, and reverb.
Once your track is polished, it’s ready for distribution!
Learning how to make music at home is not an easy task, but the most important thing is to learn how to use your DAW and begin – the rest will eventually fall into place.
Best Free DAWs for Making Music – Final Thoughts
DAWs are used to record, edit, mix, and master music, so they’re central to every music production process.
Choosing the right DAW for you is not an easy decision though, especially if you’re a newbie.
But since all of the DAWs we reviewed today can be used for free, you can always opt for a new one in case things don’t feel right.
On the other hand, if you know what you’re looking for and you took a thorough look at each DAW we mentioned today, we’re sure you’ll make the right decision!
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