My recommendations for free music making resources

Discussion in 'Resource Support' started by Ms Littlefish, Dec 17, 2014.

  1. Ms Littlefish

    Ms Littlefish Dangerously Caffeinated Global Mod

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    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.


    Software


    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.  :wub:


    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.


    Soundfonts


    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.


    VST Cafe


    Sampleism


    [SIZE=10.5pt]VSTBuzz[/SIZE]


    99Sounds


    Logic Pro Blog


    EarMonk


    Guitar Rig Presets


    Equipment


    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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  2. djDarkX

    djDarkX Retro & Remastered Music Guru Veteran

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    A few tidbits to get people in the know.  Basically an addendum to Megan's initial post.

    For the Sonatina Symphonic Orchestra SFZ Library, download it from the original site:
    http://sso.mattiaswestlund.net/download.html

    On that note, please remember that it will hit professional sound quality.  I have it and I've tried.  It's good, don't get me wrong, but it's not an end-all.  If you want that, better start saving up those pennies! ;)

    If you're in the market for good Soundfonts, I can't really recommend any central ones.  Your best bet is to root around SF2MIDI (which was a FAR better site back in the day) and find good Soundfonts.  The biggest hurdle there is the throttled download speeds for non-paying users.  This changed when the website changed years ago.  Some of my old stuff is still there (uploaded by djdarkx), but I don't recommend any of it, really.  Still, the site has plenty of good resources.  I also have some special soundfonts I from various websites that are now gone and I'll probably post them up later as a collection when I have some time.

    When it comes to DSK, I personally don't recommend them for one reason: They are resource HOGS!  I've never had a good experience with them as they would take up almost all of my CPU processing power with a single VST instance.  Maybe others have had better success, but I'm running a Core 2 Quad at 2.4Ghz with 6GB of RAM and they can still bring my computer to it's knees.  Not even Kontakt 5 with various libraries loaded and high polyphony can do that easily.  Just a friendly warning. :x

    As for other VST sites, I can recommend only one: KVR Audio.  They have lists of various VST Instruments, effects and DAWs that are free, demos and commercial.  Some of the free stuff is really very good.

    When starting out, be sure to keep a level head about your resources being used.  If you computer is not very powerful, try for options that are not very resource hungry such as smaller free DAWs and Soundfont/SFZ plugins.  On that note, for SFZ playback, try Sforzando as a powerful, free alternative.  The one bad thing that I can say about it is that sometimes it complains about ending loop points on samples if they are at the very end.  Aside from that, it's never given me any playback issues unlike rgc:audio sfz player, which seems to have been phased out by Cakewalk.  There are still downloads places for it on the net, but it's very old by this point.

    Anyway, I hope this can further help anyone looking to go the inexpensive route.  Don't be discouraged by any of the info I have provided that seems negative!  Music production is not an easy road to go down, but with hard work, you'll be able to churn out some awesome music like Megan and all the other artists on the site!

    Good luck!
     
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  3. UNphiltered_khaos

    UNphiltered_khaos Game Dev. Artist. Veteran

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    *le sigh* I wish my main comp was working so I could get back into music production...It's been like 8 months... :(

    I wonder what is causing your CPU issue, DJ, I have used lots of DSK plugins, (even multiples) and I hadn't ever experienced issues with CPU...Nexus (which is NOT cheap sadly...) on the other hand, always made my comp beg for mercy if I had any other instruments loaded in...
     
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  4. Ms Littlefish

    Ms Littlefish Dangerously Caffeinated Global Mod

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    Hmm, I agree on using less resource intensive stuff when  getting started out, especially when your PC might not be built to handle the memory that VSTs require. I never have encountered the issues with the DSK VSTs myself either, even when I still only had my laptop. But if that is a concern and people are still interested in the sounds, I did mention the $25 donation lets you access their 446 sounds in several other formats including .sfz and .sf2. While no longer free, it was still quite the steal when I started learning to use a DAW. And easy to use.

    I'll check out the other sites and resources you listed and test them out myself. I'd like to somewhat compile a nice list here for everyone to access in the future when related questions come up. :)
     
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  5. TheoAllen

    TheoAllen Self-proclaimed jack of all trades Veteran

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  6. djDarkX

    djDarkX Retro & Remastered Music Guru Veteran

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    Actually, Theo, producing MIDI is good since sequenced data in any DAW is really just raw MIDI data.  When we really get down to it, MIDI is the foundation for any digital music that isn't loop-based.  In fact, with a combination of Anvil and Synthfont, you could essentially have a two-part DAW.  Use Anvil to produce MIDIs and use Synthfont to add SF2/SFZ instruments into the mix with VST effect plugins.
     
    Synthfont is not free, but you have 30 days to try it out.  It's pretty cheap at €15.00 (roughly $18.77), just donate and you'll get a key from the developer within a week (usually the same day).  I bought my copy when it was still in its v1 phase and never regretted it.  Before I started working with VST's almost exclusively, I worked with Synthfont and various Soundfonts (SF2) to "remaster" MIDI music from various sources, mostly from vgmusic.com.  Synthfont also comes in a VST flavor (VST_Synthfont) and the developer made a Soundfont creation program called Viena.  Hope this helps even more!
     
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  7. TheoAllen

    TheoAllen Self-proclaimed jack of all trades Veteran

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    Anvil Studio itself has VSTi support, but you need to buy the accessories. I haven't tested that yet since I'm happy enough just to compose midi.

    There's online converter midi to MP3 that worth to try http://solmire.com

    It uses Soundfount.
     
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  8. UNphiltered_khaos

    UNphiltered_khaos Game Dev. Artist. Veteran

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    Years ago when I didn't have a computer set up, for various reasons, I would walk over to the public library and install the trial version of fruity loops. I had 1 hour to crank out as much as I could, then save it into a midi file. Man, that was a pain in the butt! I would have to take screens of all the knob positions, and it was awful! Eventually I bought the cheapie version (Not pro ;_; ) and now I don't have to worry about exporting midi files! 

    Since I am rocking a loaner laptop, I think I am going to try out LMMS... I REALLY miss cranking out circusongs! (get it? Cause I'm a clown :p )

    Funny thing I noticed: I downloaded LMMS from Soundforge, and one of the screenshots shows TB_Triforce. I love TB_Triforce!
     
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  9. Dimitris

    Dimitris Veteran Veteran

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    @Ms Littlefish respect for using Finale, it has a steep learning curve, I've tried but never got around it. A bass teacher that I was working with though wrote whole symphonic pieces with it which was amazing.

    Audacity is free and ok but If you want to produce and master your music also then it can't do much.

    @DjDarkX you are correct about resources. I found that it is good to limit yourself because it makes you creative. I've lost many days playing with sounds and not actually composing any music.
     
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  10. Ms Littlefish

    Ms Littlefish Dangerously Caffeinated Global Mod

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    Oh, certainly. I don't use Audacity by itself. But it's really handy for some things and very beginner friendly. 

    I wasn't aware Finale was considered difficult to use! I've been using it since I was 14 (almost 11 years now) so I suppose it's just second nature to me. I'm classically trained so using a notation device just really clicks with me. 
     
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  11. Dimitris

    Dimitris Veteran Veteran

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    @Ms Littlefish It's because of your training that you find it easy :) It certainly is not for beginners but if someone is having music lessons then it does a great job in teaching the student the staff and the values etc. Through my time with it i only could read time signatures and couldn't compose anything (though I am self taught and maybe that has something to do with it :)  

    By the way,thanks for Sonata, is pretty amazing, I just checked it and will use it in the future!
     
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  12. Oddball

    Oddball Veteran Veteran

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    I think I'll download one of these and start contributing to restaff once i get the hang of it. I have some sad songs in mind that bubbled up to the surface one day
     
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  13. Ms Littlefish

    Ms Littlefish Dangerously Caffeinated Global Mod

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    Hey guys! I want to come back to this thread with some new plans and some massive updates. 

    I think something I would like to include in the future is alerting to freebies that routinely come out through the year. That are Meg approved, of course!

    Before I move on to some of that business I have to shout out to all my .sf2 junkies. Did something happen to the sf2midi website? The link on their Facebook page is dead and searching in Google takes me to a site that at first and second glance doesn't appear to be the same mountain of free soundfont resources. If anyone has any information on a new web address or what happened I would greatly appreciate it. And I'll be very saddened if we've lost this site. It was perfect for getting started with MIDI.

    Now, on to a freebie that I've been enjoying.

    Ambient music is definitely a love of mine and Soundethers have been so kind to publish "Free Fall," a free set of 18 pads and textures on Sampleism.com that are perfect for the job. All you need is a Sampleism account and the latest version of the full Kontakt Player (5.5.1). This is; however, not compatible with the free Kontakt Player, so this one is for my Native Instrument owners.

    http://www.sampleism.com/soundethers/free-fall-freebie?mc_cid=c4b0a43095&mc_eid=d03529560e
     
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  14. Secret Machines

    Secret Machines Villager Member

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    Great thread! I've been checking out the Sonatina orchestra.  not trying to steer anyone away from the forum, but bedroomproducers DOT com has a curated free list and plug-in list that's quite worth a follow.  Also Vi control forum under sample talk at the top of the category "Freebies".  I think it's awesome to have a more game like list though.
     
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  15. Ms Littlefish

    Ms Littlefish Dangerously Caffeinated Global Mod

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    @Secret Machines Ah, I've heard of that site! I'm slowly going to be expanding the freebies section in this thread. I like to test everything I find and give my top picks. 


    Also, I updated the entire OP as some things have definitely changed since the time I made this post. At @BananaThug's request I also added some microphone recommendations. There are a lot of microphones out there and what you're doing really determines the microphone you need. The two I listed seem to fair more then well enough for what I do.
     
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  16. SlySlySly

    SlySlySly Princess Veteran

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    I also use musescore! Working with sheet music just feels good for me. I suggest the general user sound font! It sounds great
     
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  17. Authumbla

    Authumbla Listen To My Soundcloud Fam? Veteran

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    If you're going for a 16-bit sound, William Kage has a ton of SNES soundfonts on his site. Woolyss is also a good resource for various chiptune-related resources - I haven't tried everything, but in their VST section I'd personally recommend Dream64 (It takes a while to get used to the interface, but it can create some pretty cool sounds - Unknown64 is a little more user-friendly but less powerful) and Famisynth (good for simple NES sounds and a good beginner synth).


    If you want to try using the Genesis soundchip VSTs listed at Woolyss, Attack Magazine has an introduction to FM synthesis that explains a lot, and this Reddit post gives a rough guide as to how various harmonic ratios between FM operators sound. I'd suggest reading them first since FM synthesis is really complicated, but can easily create sounds that are hard to create with subtractive synthesis (what Dream64 and Famisynth use).


    If you don't want to be limited to chiptune-related VST's, Synth1 is an absolutely fantastic subtractive synthesizer and has OVER TEN THOUSAND presets available online! I don't have a favourite FM synthesizer, but Bedroom Producers Blog has links to several different FM synths - you'll probably find one you like here too.
     
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