I often see requests for cheap/free recommendations for music making applications, tools, and resources. Since I once used a mostly free lineup I thought I would point out some of my top picks.
Who is this information good for? Primarily, people who are either beginning to compose music and/or those wishing to do it on a very strict budget. Many people are not able to afford commercial libraries, especially when they're only starting to get interested in making music. Music stuff is expensive, you feel me? I feel you, bro. Secondarily, I will alert to freebies that I uncover during my fancying about on the Internet. These mentions will often benefit musicians out there who own commercial libraries running with Kontakt Player. Kontakt's my BFF. Fistbump.
DAW: Digital Audio Workspace: Ya'll need one.
What does a DAW do?: A DAW is going to be your wheelhouse. It can often be a one-and-done shop. You can create music directly inside, apply several instrument library formats, apply additional MIDI controller effects, edit velocity data, and access a host of essential mixing tools such as pan, reverb, compression, equalization, and filters.
What are some inexpensive options? LMMS and Reaper. There are tons of DAWs out there but if you're on a budget these two options really stick out to me. Both have wonderful community support with a host of effects, plugins, and tools to enhance the user experience. LMMS is completely free and Linux compatible. I personally use Reaper and still feel no pressure to change software even with all the other options on the market. LMMS is still a great software but I find Reaper more flexible and find it more powerful. It comes with a generous 60 day trial and a personal license is a very modest $60.
Notation Software: Not everyone wants it, not everyone needs it.
What does Notation Software do? Notation software essentially gives you free reign over a giant piece of sheet music to create the whole score of your composition. You can select the entire cast of instruments you'd like to appear in your song and write on these staves with notes and expressive text just as you'd see on a piece of finished sheet music. You can export a MIDI from these softwares to then import into the DAW and work from there.
Who benefits from notation software? Notation software is completely optional and very situational depending on how you experience music. If you read sheet music proficiently and are not comfortable with a piano roll/MIDI keyboard; you might benefit from making MIDI files in a notation software. If you don't know how to read sheet music and want to, I dunno, PM me. :
What are the inexpensive options? MuseScore is probably your best bet for free notation software. Fully equipped with keyboard shortcuts and a decent community; it probably has the most range for freeware. While MuseScore is not my first pick Finale and Sibelius run pretty steep without a student discount. However, they both have decent trial times. Personally, I've used Finale for over a decade because I got a really baller discount in school and upgrade pricing is affordable.
Audacity: Just get it. It's free.
It's extremely useful for small adjustments and no nonsense looping. I like to spin a number of finishing touches on my tracks with it as well. It's completely free and has massive community behind it. You may not do a ton with it but you'll likely find a use or two.
There are a lot of free soundfonts out there, thousands upon thousands I'd say. Yet, it can often feel overwhelming for a beginner to collect enough to feel like they're well-started. The selections below probably do not compare to most commercial libraries but they are easy to use, accessible, will dip your toes in, and when worked with still produce a very pleasing (and somewhat old school) sound.
Sonatina Symphonic Orchestra is a bank of, you guessed it, orchestral instruments. A lot of them, too! Every major section is accounted for fairly well. The original bank comes in the .sfz format. There is a .sf2 conversion easily found via Google search if you prefer to work in that format.
DSK offers a wide variety of beginner friendly VSTs for free. You can find everything from orchestral, to synth, to world. The guitars, drums, synths, and world instruments are particularly good for costing goose egg. Not all of these are home runs but you'll definitely get a lot. A fair bit of warning is these VSTs can be pretty RAM hungry. However, if you prefer to work in .sf2, .sfz, or in a different format; for a $50 donation (often on sale for $25) you can get the entire DSK library in a different format. I personally purchased the .sf2 format and I am extremely happy with that purchase. Definitely recommended and will circumvent the memory issue if you're running a laptop or mid-end PC.
Newgrounds has some collections out there. It's a simple Google search and there too many to be found to name so just have a look! You might need to sift through and find your own favorites.
About sf2midi.com. I used to visit and recommend this website all the time for access to a breathtaking mountain of .sf2 resources but their website has been 404'd since October of last year. Their Facebook page has also been inactive since that time and leaves no indication that a new domain has taken place. At this time I cannot find this website anymore but should I find it taking new form I'll be sure to make a note of it.
Kontakt Player Freebies and Cheapies
Are the commercial library owners still awake? This section is for you. If you already own a product that is powered by the full version of Kontakt Player there are many cheap and even completely free VST plugins to be had, and many of them are quite unique and generous. These selections can help round out a library with some interesting odds and ends. Keep in mind that many of these sites require memberships to access materials. It's not that fun, but it is what it is.
Logic Pro Blog
Guitar Rig Presets
I had a request to add some microphone suggestions. I'd never profess to be a huge expert on recording mics, but I do own some that don't drive me clinically insane. Now, unless you get a great hand-me down these won't be found free but I think they are super affordable for the results they give. These are the two microphones I use to record all of my sound effects.
Unidirectional Microphone: I tend to really like using these for voice recordings and direct sounds. Many of these tend to pick up less background noise, hence the reason I like it for the purposes I described.
My current unidirectional microphone is the GLS ES-57. It tends to hover around $30. You will also need to pick up a microphone stand and a wind screen for it. Wind screens are very nice to have, even when it's not windy. Also, pop filters are about $5. Use one. Also, this is a line-in microphone. Don't be me and forget the cable.
Omnidirectionial Microphone: I think these excel at recording ambiance and nature noises. Think of these as being more "3-D." Also, the one I'm listing here is portable. Fun. Fun. Fun.
My current omnidirectional microphone is the TASCAM DR-05. Now, fair warning. It's commonly found for $80. So, it isn't the cheapest device but it's a very wonderful device that makes very clear recordings which is why I'm recommending it. This microphone does take some practice because it is highly sensitive. I remember capturing the trickle of a fountain that is on the first floor while standing on the second floor. Noise removal can be done during editing but it's best to pick up the wind screen made specifically for this device as it helps take the edge off some background noise, not just wind.
[SIZE=10.5pt]And other music makers, please by all means, add your recommendations as well![/SIZE]
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