Thanks to advances in computer software, it has never been easier to record your own music from home or on the go rather than in an expensive studio. When it comes to the search for a free and reliable Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) to record music, the internet has a lot to offer. GarageBand is free, easy to use, and comes with an extensive variety of effects and virtual amps to choose from, but it isn’t the only offering on the market. Check out our other picks for the best free recording software, below.
Although MacOS isn’t always the only platform for great software, when it comes to free recording applications, it has the best of the bunch. GarageBand is an Apple-exclusive program that gives you a full audio creation suite with features for audio recording, virtual instruments, MIDI-editing, and even music lessons built right in.
Part of the appeal of GarageBand is how simple it is to get going. Its interface is intuitive and easy to learn, and if you want to record something you just plug in your instrument or device and get started. There is a wide array of virtual amps and effects you can use, as well as drum tracks that sound like they were performed by real musicians.
The sound and loop library that’s available for editing into your own tracks is growing all the time and you can even bring in your iOS devices for wireless control of your set up. GarageBand is the most fully-featured, free application on this list. While you will need to have an Apple device to run it, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better application that doesn’t force you to get out your credit card first.
Avid Pro Tools First
Pro Tools First is a limited version of the main Pro Tools and Pro Tools Ultimate applications, but it’s still pretty capable in its own right. Aimed at singers, songwriters, and musicians who are just getting started with audio recording or want to try out the software before buying, its main limitation is that you can only store projects in the cloud and they can’t exceed 1GB in total size. You’re also limited to 16 simultaneous audio tracks, four inputs, and 16 instruments.
Beyond that, though, the features and capabilities are much the same, giving you a good idea of what the tool can do. For example, you’ll still have access to nondestructive editing, MIDI editor, support for AAX Native and AAX AudioSuite, AIR Xpand!2 instrument sounds, and the UVI workstation.
One upside of not having quite so many features as the premium editions of Pro Tools is that Pro Tools First has less strenuous system requirements. It only needs an Intel i5 processor with 4GB of RAM and 15GB of install space. If you do choose to upgrade to the standard or Ultimate version further down the line, they’ll set you back $30 and $80 a month, respectively.
First released in 2000, Audacity has gone on to become one of the most popular pieces of free software around — and for good reason. The open-source program gives users a wide range of options for recording and editing audio, all tied together with a simple interface, and everything Audacity has to offer is free of charge. Compared to other notable DAWs such as ProTools and Sound Forge, Audacity’s layout is very minimalist. There are toolbars for navigating a track, editing it, and mixing. When tracks are loaded, they will appear as waveforms, and users can edit specific sections of a track by highlighting the appropriate section of the waveform.
Of course, no piece of free software is without its shortcomings, and despite Audacity’s many virtues, it has some issues. The most notable problem is that Audacity uses “destructive editing,” which means that when users add effects to a track, they are actually altering the waveform; these changes happen to the original file, so you can’t go back and undo them later. This isn’t necessarily a problem if you’re carrying out simple tasks — such as editing pauses out of a podcast — but more complex actions like mixing might be difficult.
Ardour is an open-source DAW designed for Linux and available for MacOS and Windows. Its developer, Paul Davis, also invented the Jack sound server for Linux and worked previously as one of the original programmers at Amazon.
Ardour features highly versatile multi-track recording features that include the ability to import video for film scoring purposes, to record and edit non-destructively, and to prepare any combination of individual tracks for recording. Its use of Jack makes it compatible with a number of outside applications, as well. However, unlike other DAWs, Ardour does not come with any built-in effects or instruments and relies instead on the installation of third-party software.
Zynewave Podium Free
In 2005, programmer Frits Nielsen left his position as a user interface designer with TC Electronic to focus his efforts on a recording application he began developing back in the early ‘90s. Nielsen started a company called Zynewave and released a program called Podium — a fully functional DAW with a 64-bit sound engine, MIDI capabilities, VST, and third-party plugin compatibility, and a number of other advanced functions. It was also priced at a mere $50.
Zynewave now offers a free version of its software called Podium Free. Granted, it comes with some limitations — Zynewave has disabled Podium’s multiprocessing capabilities, which hinders the program’s performance under pressure and its surround-sound playback capabilities. Among other limitations, the 64-bit mixer engine and ReWire are both disabled and the MIDI interface setup only allows one input and one output. Otherwise, though, Podium Free is identical to Podium, a program that takes some getting used to.
Once users learn how to use it, however, they will find that Podium Free offers an interface that excels in terms of customization, while offering a suite of effects and other features on par with premium DAWs. The program also never times out or displays a nag screen, and Nielson regularly updates the software to fix bugs and known issues.