Image Credit: Andrew Welch
Check out our list of the best free music production software available to download today, with our guide to the top free DAWs for musicians and producers in 2021.
Musicians and producers don’t have to fork out for an expensive DAW before getting stuck in making music. In fact, there’s plenty of good DAWs out there waiting to be downloaded that are absolutely free.
It’s fair to expect some limitations in performance and plugin compatibility from a free DAW, but if you’re just beginning to produce or aren’t fussed about getting technical then sticking with free can be a perfect option. Besides, some of the available free music production software is surprisingly powerful.
We’ve run through the top free DAWs before, so consider this an updated companion version. There’s endless options of digital audio workstations to choose between, but let’s have a quick look at some of the best free DAWs available now in 2021.
Unlimited tracks! Nice effects! Decent virtual instruments! And it supports third party plugins. There’s not that much difference between the free and full versions of Waveform Free.
The DAW has just had an update that makes it even better, with fresh editing features and a new welcome screen.
Compatible with PC, Mac, Linux, Raspberry Pi.
- Computer keyboard MIDI control is awkward to use
Get a taste for life in a professional studio. A lead in to Avid’s original Pro Tools, Pro Tools First has the look and feel of its pricey cousin but for free.
Pro Tools has for years been considered the ultimate industry-standard DAW, but obviously a free version is going to compariatively lack the power and capabilities.
Compatible with Mac and Windows.
- No third party plugin support, unless you’ve bought them through Avid Marketplace
- You’re limited to 16 tracks and four inputs, but that might well be all you need
Apple casually throws in a DAW free with its devices, and it’s crazy easy to use. Recording audio is simple and the interface is easy.
It’s versatile and surprisingly powerful, too. GarageBand is especially good for quickly recording. The virtual Drummer player feature offers a choice of percussionists and drummers to let you produce different great-sounding grooves.
It serves as a lead-in to Apple’s Logic Pro X in terms of layout and workflow, so if you find you’re outgrowing it you can shell out some cash and hop over.
- Only on Mac
You’ll find that LMMS has a similar feel to FL Studio… but free!
Compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux.
- No audio recording
The mother of all free DAWs, and absolutely perfect for beginners. Featuring a simple, clean interface, multi-track recording and editing is a breeze on Audacity.
It’s probably the most popular free DAW out there, and if you’ve little interest in more complicated pro features, look no further.
Compatible with Windows, Mac, Linux.
- No MIDI recording or VST instrument capabilities
Previously released as the SONAR DAW for which you had to part with your hard earned cash, the fact that Cakewalk is now free seems… suspicious. But in fact it’s just fantastic software and up there with the best free DAWs.
It’s unlimited and contains professional-standard instruments and effects, and supports third party VSTs. Too good to be true? It seems not.
- Only compatible with Windows
One of the newer free DAWs, and one geared towards beatmakers. It’s easy to create beats with just a mouse or MIDI keyboard, with a quick workflow so you can jump straight into a project before the musical idea leaves your head.
Bring VST plugins in or use the included sounds, and explore the 80 effects plugins included. Based off Akai’s legendary MPC products, Beats comes free with products like Akai’s MIDI keyboards.
Compatible with Windows and Mac.
- Only two audio tracks, six MIDI tracks per project
Unlimited free DAW with a very user-friendly interface. Third party VST compatibility, plus it’s got a fantastic drum machine plugin. You can add endless tracks.
Compatible with Windows and Mac.
- Always requests a donation on startup
An easy to use browser-based free DAW, great for beginners. It records to the cloud, saving your storage, and its available on any system you can think of, provided you’ve got access to the internet.
You also have access to BandLab Sounds, letting you drag and drop royalty-free loops and samples into your track. Instantly collab with other BandLab users via the chat button.
Free version of PreSonus’ Studio One with a slick interface and workflow. Prime comes with cool plugins of its own, and loops and samples.
It’s a good starter DAW if you’d like to get a feel for professional software.
Compatable with Windows and Mac.
- Doesn’t support third party plugins
A free version of the full MuLab 8 from MuTools DAW with a few restrictions. It’s simple but effective, perfect for if you’re just getting started making music or have limited storage space as it doesn’t require installation.
Recording audio and working in the piano roll are a breeze.
- Limited to five tracks
- No third party plugins
BONUS “FREE” DAW:
Signing up for a free trial of Reaper gives you 60 days free, and afterwards you can continue to use the DAW for free if you can put up with sign-up prompts. Reaper is endlessly versatile and it’s pretty affordable anyway at $60 a license.
Fast, efficient, with huge plugin support and lots of effects.
- Steep learning curve
- Not technically free, with all the guilt that comes with it
The free DAWs that are stripped down versions of their costed counterparts hope to lure you in to purchase the full version one day. It depends on what you’d like to get out of your DAW. Priorities might change as you grow as a producer, or you might find that there’s little need to upgrade.
There’s new free DAWs releasing all the time. Why not do some research and try a few out. The best part about the software being free is there’s absolutely nothing to lose by downloading a free DAW and getting started making music – all it will cost you is your precious time, and you’ll still learn producing skills as you go.
What’ve we missed? There must be tons. Let us know your favourite free DAW in the comments!
Not only can you go from beat to complete pro-sounding song using a free DAW, but you can distribute that song too without it costing you a penny. Sign up with RouteNote today to get your tracks out to all the major stores and streaming services.