Music Technology ResourcesFor those interested in computer-based music production
I started this list for my students at the University of Central Missouri's Music Technology Program as an exploration of options to supplement the high-end (and frequently high-priced) equipment available to all our students 24/7 in our world-class, professional studios. (Check the above link for more information on our excellent program, faculty, and facilities.) I thought other people might find it helpful.
This list is in no way intended to be comprehensive, but curated to focus on mostly free and/or inexpensive resources for computer-based music production that are:
- High quality (Work well and as expected, do not crash, reputable companies).
- Cross-platform (MacOS and Windows, at least).
- Resources to be used by my students.
It began as multiple course documents and part of my Why Reaper? discussion—which has as one of its goals adding free, cross-platform functionality to Reaper out of the box to make it more comparable with other more expensive commercial digital audio workstation (DAW) packages. At the same time, to create awareness of options that might make it more accessible for students to work at home (or coffeehouses, libraries, parks, breaks on their night jobs, etc.) with differing OSs, new or old laptops, and differing levels of discretionary income.
Some notes are part of my Music Technology Performance, New Technologies Ensemble, Electronic Music Composition, Max and MSP, and Music Composition 1 and 2, and others. I also draw from an instructional resources document I helped develop with my colleague Dr. Eric Honour in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the sudden movement to online instruction.
This page is updated regularly, so check back. Also: please feel free to contact me if any plugins on the list are deprecated, or if there are some (professional quality, cross-platform, free) that you recommend.
DAWs and Production
- Reaper is my go-to DAW. It is cross-platform, fully functions in demo mode, and is reasonably priced. To continue using in demo mode you just need to click the “Still Evaluating” button. They are a very generous company: the demo does not expire. We love it. If you do too, and are financially able, please buy a license after you've used the demo for a while.
- Ableton Live is required for my Tech Performance students and New Technology Ensemble members. There is free “lite” version that works great and comes bundled with MIDI controllers and other hardware. Focusrite, Novation, Akai, Native Instruments, and many others include a free bundled license for Ableton Live Lite.
- Ask around, a friend who purchased a controller might have an extra license on one of their accounts.
- Academic pricing is available for Standard and Suite, 40 percent off. No educational price for the Intro version.
- I love Ableton Live and use it regularly, check out my M4L plugins under Max/Software and KaiGen.
Plugins, samplers, synths, et al
- Komplete Start is a free production suite with 2000+ sounds from synths, sampled instruments, essential effects, and samples.
- Highly Recommended, and FREE. Includes:
- Reaktor 6 Player
- Host for all Komplete Instruments powered by Reaktor.
- Blocks Base
- A free modular synth setup for Reaktor 6 Player – includes a selection of essential Blocks.
- Traktor Dj 2
- Free DJ app for iPad and desktop, made for everybody to mix. With SoundCloud integration and powerful tools for creative DJing.
- Kontakt 6 Player
- An application [sample player and more) that runs all Native Instruments’ Kontakt instruments, as well as a large number of instruments from other companies
- Mikro Prism
- Fully-playable instrument based on the synthesizer Reaktor Prism.
- Tube compressor emulation
- Guitar Rig 5 Player
- Free, expandable effects engine with one amp, 17 cabinets and 13 effects and modifiers. Super-easy to use.
- Reaktor 6 Player
- Highly Recommended, and FREE. Includes:
- Spitfire Labs - free virtual instruments: https://www.spitfireaudio.com/labs/
- IK Multimedia Sample Tank 4cs is free, and operates on both Windows and Mac with 4 GB of content: https://www.ikmultimedia.com/products/st4cs/
- Melda Production has a free sample player with piano, scroll to "free" section: https://www.meldaproduction.com/instruments
- Cherry Audio has a free version of their modular synthesizer environment
- Tal Noisemaker: https://tal-software.com/products/tal-noisemaker
- OB-XD: (Emulates Oberheim OB-X) https://www.kvraudio.com/product/ob-xd---virtual-analog-synthesizer-by-discodsp
- Pg-8x: (Emulates JX-8P) https://www.kvraudio.com/product/pg-8x-by-ml-vst
- Synth1: (Emulates Clavia Nord Lead 2 Red Synth) https://www.kvraudio.com/product/synth1-by-ichiro-toda
- Dexed: (Emulates DX7, loads original DX7 patch files!) https://www.kvraudio.com/product/dexed-by-digital-suburban
- Helm (https://tytel.org/helm/)
- Simple, effective.
- Sample Science (https://www.samplescience.ca/search/label/free?)
- Free samples and plugins with a focus on retro sounds.
- PureMagnetik (https://puremagnetik.com/collections/free-plugins and https://puremagnetik.com/collections/free-ableton-live-packs-instrument-racks-samples)
- Two links, one to free plugins and one to free Ableton packs. Good for percussion sounds and experimental effects processing.
- Full Bucket Music (https://www.fullbucket.de/music/vst.html)
- Free, focus on emulating vintage Korg synths.
- Crystal (https://www.greenoak.com/crystal/about.html)
- Free semi-modular soft synth.
- u-he (https://u-he.com/products/#synths)
- Free synths are at the bottom. Tyrell N6 is of particular note.
- Standalone Only:
- VCV Rack: Open source modular emulation. Runs as standalone.
- VCV Rack: Open source modular emulation. Runs as standalone.
- Brainworx - free products
- Clean Sweep v2. A fantastic, free, cross-platform, Hi-pass/Lo-pass filter/EQ
- bx_solo - Solo features; L (Left channel), R (Right channel), M (Mono sum, mid signal) and S (Stereo-Difference, side signal). You can listen to each component of a stereo mix when working in M/S modes.
- bx_rockrack - wonderful amp emulation
- Klevgrand FreeAMP - free version of their amplifying modeler plugin REAMP
- DMG Audio Track Control - Free, many of the utilities from the top and bottom of an analog console channel. Also includes MS Panning, time compensation, and others.
- Izotope: Free vinyl effects, vocal doubler, more.
- Melda Plugins: free audio FX plugins, with analysis tools. Repeats some elements already in Reaper, but a nice option:
- Blue Cat Audio: free suite of plugins including an analysis plugin, flanger, chorus, equalizer, and more.
- Soundhack = awesome creative stuff
- Glitch Machines (https://glitchmachines.com)
- Two great plugins for free, Fracture and Hysteresis. Good for experimental sound design via delays, modulation, etc. Also has multiple free sample packs.
- TAL Software (https://tal-software.com/products)
- In addition to the free TAL Noisemaker synth plugin, they also make free effects plugins, including a vocoder.
- Musical Entropy Spaceship Delay (https://www.musicalentropy.com/SpaceshipDelay.html)
- Good for standard and experimental use. Also includes spring reverb, tube amp, and saturation emulation, as well as modulation, and bitcrushing.
- Voxengo -SPAN - Free Spectrum Analyzer Plugin
- vladgsound - Limiter №6
- TB Professional Audio Tools - mvMETER - VU meter. (Great to use on sends for perspective, so doesn't get rendered.)
- Flux - Stereo Tool v3 - Stereo Imaging And Analysis
- Acon Digital MULTIPLY. Chorus Effect. Each voice is processed with a phase randomizing filter to avoid comb filter effects. Can simulate several performers playing the same tones simultaneously, to widen the spatial image or to create special effects for sound design.
- Free Mastering Suite: included as part of a book, but can be downloaded free, independent of book
- Valhalla Supermassive - "a variety of feedback delay networks, where each delay in the structure can be up to 2 seconds long...from echoes that slowly fade in, to cascading harmonic echoes, to lush reverbs, onwards to reverbs that decay way over the course of minutes.:
- AdHd Tube Leveling Amplifier (emulation)
- Audio Fusion Bureau - SeteChave compressor. No metering, pure fun
- XFER Records - OTT (over the top) multiband compressor. Definitely "over the top," you can create some very interesting effects with it.
- Zynaptiq - SUBSPACE reverb
- MT Power Drumkit 2 is cross-platform, powerful, and free
Mobile App Synths
- Moog’s Minimoog Model D synth app: The Minimoog Model D App is a mobile version of the world’s first portable synthesizer. Free.
Sample Libraries and Sound Repositories
The following are great sources of public domain audio recordings suitable for sampling, processing, chopping, remixing, et cetera:
- The Free Orchestra: Runs inside the free Kontact Player linked above. 1GB of "cinematic sounds taken directly from ProjectSAM’s acclaimed libraries. From orchestral string staccatos and brass clusters to symphonic percussion and dystopian sound design."
- Freesound: A collaborative database of creative-commons licensed sound for musicians and sound lovers
- NASA Space Sounds: https://www.nasa.gov/connect/sounds/index.html
- Archive.org: So much great audio and video
- Library of Congress, public domain recordings
- Project Gutenberg
- BBC Sound Effect Library: There are well over 16,000 sound effects. The sound effects are BBC copyrighted but available for personal, research and Educational use.
- Sample Radar (https://www.musicradar.com/news/tech/free-music-samples-download-loops-hits-and-multis-627820)
- Over 70,000 royalty-free samples. All very high quality, and easy to search through.
- 99 Sounds (http://99sounds.org)
Notation and Composition
- For mind-mapping and organizing compositions:
- Musescore is cross-platform and free. It works great for standard notation.
- Flat.io: For purely online, standard notation. Many students use it for collaboration.
- For people interested in more advanced/complex environments that have a higher learning curve, but that are also free:
- For adding graphic elements, Inkscape is an open source graphic environment offering "a rich set of features and is widely used for both artistic and technical illustrations such as cartoons, clip art, logos, typography, diagramming and flowcharting." Similar to Adobe Illustrator. It is more clunky than Illustrator, but has a nice price point: free.
Visual Programming Environments
- Max: required for my "Max and MSP" course,
- 60 day free demo, $9.99 a month after that, or $59 for a year (student price)
- PD (PureData): Good, free, and open source.
Text-based Programming Environments
ChucK: A programming language for real-time sound synthesis and music creation. Free and open-source. https://chuck.cs.princeton.edu/
Csound: Sound/music programming language/environment. Originally developed in 1985 at MIT Media Lab. Free and open-source. https://csound.com/
Supercollider: A platform for audio synthesis and algorithmic composition. Free and open-source. https://supercollider.github.io/
Online Textbooks, Curricula, Blogs, and So On
- Video introduction to synthesis topics and techniques at SynthBasics.
- Ableton Tutorials/Books:
- The Sonification Handbook (Free online), Edited by Thomas Hermann, Andy Hunt, John G. Neuhoff, https://sonification.de/handbook/
- Miller Puckette’s classic text, Theory and Techniques of Electronic Music, is free online: http://msp.ucsd.edu/techniques.htm
- Nicolas Collins’ first book, Hacking Hardware, is available free from his website: https://www.nicolascollins.com/texts/originalhackingmanual.pdf
- MicParts.com has some great resources for hardware, including video tutorials here
- Austin Mics has some free DIY ribbon mic tutorials at this link.
- Bedroom Producers Blog (https://bedroomproducersblog.com)
- Lists many free plugins, samples, and other tools for musicians.
- Makes an annual, searchable list of the best plugins released each year
- Libraries of free sounds, all recorded at a very high quality.
- Ranges from underwater scuba recordings to garage foley to drones to digitally processed sounds and beyond