You’ve had enough. You’re tired of sitting on the edge of the musical ocean, watching all the other people having fun, and want to get your toes wet. Maybe go surfing at EDM point, drink a few cocktails in the Beat Making Bay, or get your mellow on in the Sea of Ambient. You’ve got the desire, but not the gear. Luckily we here at Producer Confidential have got your back. In this article, we’ve collected some incredible free tools you can use to start making beats in 2021, or 2022, or 2023… you get the idea.
There’s never been a better time to start making beats. The amount of free beat-making tools out there is almost overwhelming, so to help you cut through the noise, the Producer Confidential team put together a list of our favorite plugins to get you started making beats for free. All the tools in this article are for writing music in the computer. And we’re going to assume you have a laptop or computer. But apart from that, they’re all free. 2021 is a good time to be alive as it’s easy to make beats for free and get some incredible sounds from the get-go.
This article contains the most useful free tools to get started making music, including DAWs, instruments, plugins, and education. If you’re already a producer, don’t worry. There are plenty of great tools and resources here, even for intermediate and advanced producers. If you’re past the beginner stage, you’re better off skipping straight to the Instruments section. Ok, let’s go.
A digital audio workstation or DAW is the main software you’ll use to write music. There are a lot of free DAWs out there, including some free ones which are full-featured. But we’re listing two free versions of some of two of the most popular DAWs for producers and electronic musicians. That way, you can upgrade to the full version when the bug really bites. And both DAWs come with large communities of users, which you’ll be glad of once you inevitably have run into problems.
Garageband is Apple’s built-in free DAW. If you own a product running Apple software, you already have access to it. The product is surprisingly full-featured, allowing you to do many things you can do on its bigger brother, Logic, but with a less steep learning curve. Logic‘s workflow is geared towards more serious music production. Garageband even has features that aren’t available on Logic, namely being available on iOs. So if making music on the move is a key consideration, then Garageband has got you covered.
For more tips on making music on the move, check out our article: Making moves: 4 tips for producing music on the go.
Garageband is the easy-to-use baby brother of Logic. Given that it’s free, you could do worse than learning its ins and outs before graduating to Logic. You’ll be able to bring your Garageband projects with you to Logic, and keeping Garageband as your iOs DAW gives you a way to sketch ideas away from your computer.
Ableton Live Lite
Ableton Live Lite is Ableton’s Lite version of their incredibly popular Live DAW. Live, as the name suggests, was created as a solution to performing electronic music live. And because of this, its layout is set up for that. Lite’s features are largely the same as other DAWs, but because of its performance pedigree, its workflow is a bit different.
Lite isn’t technically free software; it’s similar to Garageband as you get it free with many pieces of studio accessories. So if you’re planning to buy a keyboard or drum pad, there’s a good chance it will include Lite. Ableton’s community is primarily electronic musicians, unlike Logic, which is used by a broader array of genres. Using Lite could speed up your time looking for answers online. At the very least, you’ll end up on fewer rock or metal forums looking for answers –I’ll let you decide if that’s positive or not.
If you see live performance in your future and want a DAW with a solid community of electronic musicians, then Ableton Live Lite is ya boy.
The artist previously known as Fruity Loops, now FL Studio, and Cubase also have free versions and good user communities. Both of these DAWs are also available completely for free on each company’s website. FL Studio, in particular, is beloved by producers for its intuitive experience. And Cubase has been around for ages, touted by artists like Infected Mushroom, and has a wealth of information and tutorials online. All DAWs largely do the same thing, so pick the one which appeals most to you. Or better yet, pick the one your friends use so you can copy their workflow and get help when you get stuck.
Audacity is a free, open-source DAW. A lot of radio producers and voice-over artists use it as it’s great for tracking speech. And while not great for general music production, it gets a mention here because it’s got a useful noise reducer built-in, which is perfect for removing hiss or other artifacts from samples or cleaning up poor recordings. It’s worth having somewhere on your machine just for that one feature.
So you’re all DAWed up now it’s time to make some noise. All DAWs will have some instruments and a built-in sampler. But if you want to expand your sound production palette without worrying your bank account, here are some great free synths and instruments you can use to get your neighbors banging on the walls.
Vital is so good it’s almost criminal. It’s basically a free version of the popular Serum synth. It looks great, sounds great, and is easy to use. And a great place to get started if you want to design your own leads and basses. The only downside is that Vital is reasonably new, and there aren’t as many resources available for it as there are for Serum. The upside is that you’re 190 dollarydoos richer, and given how good Vital is, there will be more than enough tutorials available for it in no time.
There is a paid version of Vital, which offers more presets. So if you do want to spend less time learning to use it and just play with existing sounds, it’s a time saver. But as far as an intuitive synth you can use to get deep on sound design, you’re going to struggle to find something better than Vital at any price.
Do you want something less synthetic? Spitfire Labs has got you covered. You’ll need to download the Spitfire App, but then you’re free to download a literal ton of sounds. Spitfire has everything from autoharps to pipe organs and all for the very reasonable price of free. While Spitfire isn’t as flexible as a dedicated instrument player, like Kontakt, it does offer an incredible breadth of sounds and textures. Many of the sounds are perfect for film composers, but with a bit of creativity, you’ll be able to work them into your beats.
Bonus: Your voice
There’s no better instrument for getting the ideas in your head into the real world than your voice. Timberland, in his Masterclass, beatboxes his rhythm ideas and then manipulates his voice or replaces it with drum samples later. Jonas Aden likewise will record ideas into his phone and then process them later to fit his tracks. Your voice is an incredible tool you can use to get ideas down, and then you can manipulate or replace the sounds later.
Plugins are the condiments of music-making. Sprinkle on a bit of compression here, add a few sprigs of saturation there, and smear on a generous helping of reverb to excite those musical taste buds. There are so many free plugins out there, but we’re starting with the more basic condiments here – there’ll be time for you to learn about star anise and Himalayan sea salt later. For now, focus on the basics: compression and reverb. And luckily, there are some great free plugins for both.
Reverb is the butter in your musical kitchen. It helps everything else taste great and brings all the sounds together. And, like butter, it’s easy to overdo. All DAWs come with reverb plugins. But for a bit more flavor, you should check out the free reverbs below. wants
For that 80s reverb vibe, you could do worse than Reverb 4. And given how popular the 80s sound has been recently, this reverb could give you the flavor you’re looking for. It’s got an intuitive design and great sound. What’s not to like?
Supermassive and FreqEcho are two plugins from Valhalla, both of which are stretching the definition of reverb a bit, but god, they’re good. And if you’re looking for more psychedelic or otherworldly reverb, both of these will help you achieve more mind-bending.
Compression is the salt of your kitchen. It helps to bring out the flavor of the original sound so that it stands out more in your mix. If you’re a new producer, you’ll be surprised how often you reach for a compressor throughout your career. Your DAW will have built-in compressors, but for a bit more flavor, try:
Rough Rider is a compressor that’s been around for over ten years. According to the manufacturer’s website, it’s been downloaded over half a million times. The most recent incarnation of the compressor was updated to include a side chain, which will be integral if you’re producing music where the kick drum needs to bump.
OTT started as a preset within Ableton Live. And due to popular demand, Steven Duda made it into an independent plugin. As the name suggests, it’s an over-the-top compressor, a multiband compressor in this case. It smashes the dynamics in three bands (low, mid, and high) and can make some sounds really pop. Download it, play around with it and see how over the top you can get it.
Some spice for the sauce
Once you’ve got the basic plugins dialed in, you’ll want to add a few spices to make your sauce really pop. There are too many plugins out there to mention, so we’re singling out two, which are a bit fun and a bit useful.
Lo-fi it’s super popular at the moment and cometh the hour, cometh the plugin. Izotope put together Vinyl, a plugin that emulates sampling from old vinyl. It comes with scratches and vinyl wind-down effects, and you can even select the era you to emulate. Add it to an instrumental sound in your mix to make it sound like you’ve sampled it. Izotope has some other great free plugins, including Ozone Imager and their Vocal Doubler, which are also worth checking out.
Saturation Knob is the one knob to rule them all, according to Softube. And given how easy it makes to improve snares and guitars or add overtones to basses, it’s easy to see why. Saturation is low-key distortion, so it is really useful in bringing out the character in individual sounds.
There are two ways to get better at making music: making music and learning about making music. Particularly when you’re starting, there’s so much to learn. But never fear. We live in the internet age where you can literally learn anything online. It doesn’t matter what you want to learn; someone has already written an article or made a video explaining it. A few of our top picks are:
Andrew has a lot of great resources, including his Learn music theory in half an hour, but he also has a full playlist of music theory and production videos. And he has a series called 4 producers 1 sample where you get to see four producers start with the same sample and then flip it in completely different ways. His channel is geared more towards electronic music, but there’s a lot to learn here, regardless of your genre.
This channel has many great resources, including how to write better melodies, better chords, and a 30-minute video on recording and mixing vocals. But for me, the most useful videos from Jonas are his 50 and 100 music production hacks. Because all the tips are short, so you can try them out quickly in your productions. And with 150 tips, you’re bound to find some that will help you with whatever you’re working on.
Now for hip-hop production’s self-proclaimed voice on YouTube, Curtis King. Curtis has lots of great videos on creativity, writing raps, and being an artist, and some of his most watched videos are on the business of producing beats. Some of his most popular production videos include 4 plugins to improve your sound design and turning a bassline into an 808, along with studio sessions with other producers.
KSHMR has some great videos on his channel dealing with advanced music production techniques and creativity. Some highlights include Making your sound more interesting, Making a powerful drop, and Creative uses of pitch correction. He also gave an hour-long talk at ADE called How to stop making beats and be an artist. KSHMR isn’t for beginner producers. But once you’re hitting a production wall, his tutorials can be the thing you need to move forward.
One of the OG music production publications, see also Sound On Sound. They’ve been banging out videos almost since the beginning of YouTube. And have been getting some big-name artists to boot, with videos featuring Martin Garrix, Nicky Romero, and Four Tet breaking down some of their most famous tracks. Along with a ride-along video with Avicii remixing a song from scratch. It’s hard not to be inspired by something on this channel.
Underground Electronic Music School
Hailing all the way from the great country of Belgium, Underground is an electronic music school that posts accessible music production tutorials. Their content is more technical and focuses on the technique of production, with videos like Music theory for techno, How to learn any synth, and how to use poly meters. Along with recreating the sounds from artists like Stephan Bodzin and Four Tet. A great resource for anyone interested in making electronic music for people who wear leather on nights out.
There’s never been a better time to start making beats. You can literally make a whole album with free beat-making tools –the power is yours. When you’re ready to make investments in making music production check out the Producer Confidential Production Stacks. The Production Stacks are packed full of samples from world-class producers designed to help you level up your music.
If you’ve got all the tools but still struggling with starting tracks check out our article on how to make a beat when you’re not feeling inspired. Or if finishing tracks is your problem, we’ve got a three-part guide on finishing tracks, Finish your f*cking tracks, for the inevitable time you can’t seem to get your beats finished. Don’t worry; it happens to us all.