Music has transcended from the traditional musical instruments like piano, guitar and flute to the virtual world of computers. Be it a Mac or Windows PC, you require a Digital Audio Workstation, commonly known as DAWs to begin your journey into the world of music composition. There are literally a dozen options out there, where you could spend a considerable sum to purchase a paid software, but this is all about best free recording software options of 2021. After all, no newcomer will be willing to spend hundreds of dollars on a software program unless they are familiar with it and find it easy to use.
When you go for a paid program, you obviously need to feel comfortable with the interface, its primary features and be able to compose music easily. Free recording software is a good quick start solution, where you can know all the basics of recording, editing and mixing to find out whether you can really handle the task.
Before venturing into other alternative choices such as online recording sites, let’s focus primarily on standalone free DAWs, which are considered as the most trusted and professional method to understand sound recording.
Free DAW software programs
Before you download and check out one of the free products available, know the fact that you won’t be able to get into the professional world without making the big jump. Products like Logic Pro X, Cubase and Avid Pro Tools are the paid workstations where you learn a lot, besides being able to actually compose music for consumers.
Here are a couple of benefits that you gain and some drawbacks that you should know.
- It’s free (almost!) and that’s good news for most beginners
- The features are usually easy to learn
- Works on most computers and doesn’t demand powerful hardware specs
- Professional grade features like adding plugins, instruments will not be available
- The complexity of the software and its UI is limited which may require you to re-learn from the start, when moving to a paid software
Before we actually review the product, it is very important to know that Audacity is 100% free and is one of the most trusted, popular, free DAWs available right now. In fact, it has been around for many years now and has an impressive set of tools for you to make use of. The free software is lightweight and goes easy on the hardware, allowing you to install it on most computers.
The user interface in Audacity is extremely limited when compared to the parallel sound channels and plugins you might see in more advanced programs. However, it acts in favor of the software, because it is a great addition for beginners who are still new to sound recording and want to learn more about it. The workspace is clean and most features can be accessed through the top menu bar.
When it comes to recording, you get all the basic features including; the ability to record multiple channels, control levels and prevent clipping. The advanced set of tools will allow even a demanding user to customize their recording as they please and the software comes bundled with a range of effects. It is also compatible with VST plugins. An added advantage is that, beginners will mostly have an entry-level computer with limited RAM and power. This lightweight software works great even when it is fully loaded with multiple channels and a large amount of plugins.
- Exceptional value for a free software that costs next to nothing
- Great user interface that is easy to learn
- It is bundled with a large collection of effects and compatible with VST plugins
- Being a free software, obviously it will be limited when it comes to using multiple instruments with it
- The interface may not allow complex mixing, unless you can tweak the available features to their level best
- The perfect DAW for all beginners and moderately experienced sound engineers and music composers
- If you have already invested a lot in sound equipment and computer, but require a quick, free software, Audacity is a great choice
Garageband is a popular name among Apple fans and Mac OS X users. The digital audio workstation has been around for a very long time and it is surprising that the company which owns the biggest software, the Logic Pro X also made a free program as this one. It can easily be considered as the lite version of the original DAW software being used in the professional industry.
Throughout the years, Apple engineers have ensured that they roll out timely updates to Garageband to keep it updated. The recent and most intuitive update is the Flex Time, Flex Pitch which you can adjust using the touch bar found in the newest MacBook Pro laptops. Primarily designed for beginners, the software has a collection of piano and guitar lessons. It also bundles a range of stock AU plugins, 28-virtual drummers, great effects for making EDM, Indie and Deathcore sounds.
Garageband is free to download from the Apple store. You can also add up to 255 tracks to mix them, add reverb and alter the equalizer. It’s the perfect spot for guitar lovers as the developers have included a cool interface filled with pedals, cabinets and stompboxes that you can mix with your guitar tunes, to bring those amazing musical tunes to life.
- Designed for Mac OS devices and works great on all compatible Apple devices
- A great software for piano and guitar lovers to learn the basics, besides composing music
- Easy to learn and the user interface is captivating on iPad
- Some of the best features are reserved for Logic Pro X which is a paid software
- Works only on Apple platform and not on Windows PCs
- Users who have already invested in the Apple ecosystem like MacBook Pro, Mac and iPads can just download it for free to get started
- Bundled guitar, piano lessons are great starter pack for music composers who are eager to get quality guidance
When you consider the top 5 digital audio workstations available, it is hard to skip the Presonus Studio One 4 which is the latest offering from the development team. While the product is primarily a paid version of the software available in two different variants, the company offers a third one. Named the Studio One 4 Prime, it is made for starters and users interested in getting their work done using a free software with some limitations.
Some of the unique and impressive features of the product include; the intuitive drag and drop feature, the Song Page which allows you to do arrangement, composition and mixing in the same page, musical search using keywords and the amazing choice of VST plugins and native instruments. When combined together, they allow you to create the best music, but some of these features might obviously be limited in the free version.
The Presonus Studio One 4 Prime is among the best free recording software options of 2021. The software mixes some of the best features found in both the basic Studio One Artist program and the more expensive Studio One Professional software. It is bundled with nine native effects and allows you to handle at least 1GB of loop. The software works both on Mac and Windows making it a very versatile application that doesn’t cost you anything at all.
- Easy drag and drop interface
- The product is designed by PreSonus, a company known for their quality hardware and widely recognized in the sound industry
- A small yet efficient collection of effects and plugins for you to use
- Limited choice of native effects plug-ins when compared to the paid version
- Promotes unlimited tracks but only 1 GB of loop is supported in this version
- An easy recommendation for anyone looking to get their hands on a professional DAW without spending a dime
- Intuitive drag and drop interface makes it fun, simple to use for beginners and intermediate composers
Avid Pro Tools is the number one DAW recommended by audio professionals and has a massive fan following around the globe. The software is designed and developed by Avid who is a strong competitor for Apple in the Windows platform. It works seamlessly on both Mac and Windows making it a versatile solution for audio professionals out there. Luckily, the developers provide a free version of their named Pro Tools First.
The version is an extremely lite version of the original Pro Tools but does have its fair share of advantages, besides being free. It is bundled with 16 different audio tracks to choose from and works along with 4 inputs to use while recording. The interface is one of the most widely appreciated aspects of this software which keeps changing based on the plugin, instrument that you use providing a fully customizable UI for work.
While Pro Tools First is completely free to use, it includes a couple of useful AIR effects and bundles found in the base model and the Ultimate version. The bundle includes AIR Chorus, Distortion, Enhancer, Dynamic Delay, Phaser, Reverb, Vintage Filter and a couple of other useful effects. It bundles instruments like the AIR Mini Grand, Boom and Vacuum besides others to get you going with your music production. There are other effects and plugins geared towards other instruments as well.
- An excellent choice of free bundled plugins and effects that allows you to explore the real world of music composition
- Once you get accustomed to this user interface, you can easily upgrade to the Pro Tools version, if you like it, as it is already being used by professionals
- Intuitive and impressive UI makes recording a fun experience with great customizability
- The plugins may be a bit complicated for new users to understand at first
- Some of the more advanced effects are available only in the paid version
- Serious individuals who want to get into the audio platform should definitely consider this one, as it is easy to get accustomed when you switch over to the paid version
- Great collection of effects and instruments that taps your creative side
FL Studio 20 is not a free DAW software but the developers offer an unlimited trial version while limiting some of its features. You can choose to keep using it as long as you would like to and explore almost all of the plugins, effects and instruments available in the program. For beginners who simply want to mix multiple pre-defined sound effects to form a music loop, Fl Studio formerly known as Fruity Loops is the most intuitive software that gets rid of the complex features found in many advanced programs.
Any aspiring sound composer can easily consider FL Studio as the best free recording software options of 2021 because it is easy to learn, has lots of template instruments and sound effects to get you started. Within an hour, you can get your compositions ready. That doesn’t make it any less of a professional program as it has features like multi-track audio recording, time and pitch shifting, MIDI recording and allows composers to use VST plugins, as well as do the multi-track mixing.
The Mixer and the Piano Roll are the most popular features in FL Studio 20 which is available in the free version along with a range of plugins, to create any kind of song. The trial version however, will limit you from re-opening any songs you have already saved. Also, functions like clone channel won’t work, but your composition can be exported in Wav or MP3 format to listen to them on a different speaker. Apart from these, most features are available and plugins found in the top tier FL Studio version is available in the free version for users to explore them.
- Quite easy to learn even if you are a newcomer
- Exciting range of effects to use including the piano roll
- Works on any computer with just 4GB of RAM
- Advanced features found on popular DAWs are not available on FL Studio 20
- Free trial doesn’t allow you to re-edit files again by opening them
- Beginners in the field of sound composing and mixing can give it a shot to learn the basics
- The instruments and effects are fun to play with allowing you to come up with musical notes without a fuss
Why is Online DAW Software Not Reliable?
Online DAWs strongly rely on the speed of your internet connection and there are always issues with terms and conditions when you compose an original piece. Besides, the majority of the websites that you might find in a search engine may not allow you to save your compositions and download them in high quality unless you pay.
A step towards the professional music industry begins with recognized audio software programs such as PreSonus StudioOne 4 Prime and Pro Tools First. They are free with limited features and you always have the option to upgrade.
If you are still persistent on using an online DAW to easily save files online, share it with friends and enjoy unlimited usage within the comfort of your browser, try any of these sites.
Buying Studio Equipment with Free DAW Bundle
When buying studio equipment such as microphones, audio interface, there are specific products available online which includes a free DAW bundle. It provides great value for your investment as you can spend a couple of hundred dollars to get an amazing audio interface or microphone along with the software to use it effectively.
Here are some of the popular picks at different points.
- PreSonus AudioBox iTwo Deluxe Bundle
- Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools
- Nektar Impact LX49+ 40 note Keyboard Controller Bundle with Bitwig Studio
Composing music is a fun experience and these days you have lots of great software tools, reliable platforms and a wide choice of instruments to bring your creativity to the forefront. The best free recording software options of 2021 are what any new beginner needs especially when they want to take a plunge into music composing, mixing and sound engineering before making up their mind about taking it up as a career.
For people who have prior experience playing instruments and would like to know how to mix them for the perfect result, DAW software is essential. The free version of branded tools from PreSonus and Avid should provide you an excellent head start, even if you haven’t already purchased a microphone, audio interface or a professional computer with a whopping amount of RAM to handle all the extra effects.
The best option available is to buy a new audio equipment such as a microphone or an audio interface which comes bundled with one of the most popular DAW programs. They are cost efficient as you get multiple items bundled for a low price and also provide you the hardware support required to start composing as soon as you make the purchase. Everyone else can give free DAW software a quick try to know more about the features, how it works and the nuances of music composing and mixing.