There is a wealth of free & open source software available online, but sometimes the choice can seem a little overwhelming. So...where do you start?
Since I started using computers to make music as a teenager, there have been some major developments that affect how people access music software. I was lucky enough to have been given a CD Rom copy of Propellorhead's ReBirth that my Dad picked up in a sale for £30 to get me started. Whilst my belligerent attempts to force a 303, 808 and 909 out of their Acid House comfort zone to make Jungle were less than successful, the programme gave me the autonomy to begin sequencing and composing my own music. Prior to this, I had been restricted to clumsy overdubs using headphone splitters and a cassette deck, so although the palette wasn't quite right, I was thrilled with the possibilities.
This journey was then taken further when a friend at school gave a legally questionable copy of Fruity Loops (now FL Studio) and I was away. Suddenly I had the means to record and manipulate my own samples, sequence them and create my own compositions. A couple of years down the line and I saved up enough to purchase the software legitimately and continued to make progress. By the time I had finished studying for my MSc in Sound Design at Edinburgh University I had invested somewhere near to £1000 on music software. It quickly became apparent though, that whilst a knowledge of professional audio packages like Logic and Pro Tools was valuable, it wasn't essential and the skills were transferrable - it's not what you have, but rather how you use it. It was telling that my Sound Design colleauges used to also flag up great free/cheap software throughout the course of the degree.
Skip forward a few years and I was working for Drake Music and I found that my colleagues were signposting me to all sorts of different high quality free software that more professional institutions might turn their nose up at simply because of the price tag. More importantly these could be installed on personal, school and youth centre computers to be used long after a project ended. However, it quickly became obvious that it was the expertise of these colleagues that ensured I was gaining access to the top free programs - and this dialogue amongst professionals was vital to keeping a finger on the pulse. You only need to take a look at the slightly overwhelming Free Music Software website to see what is out there - and whilst there is a lot of great content not all of it is relevant.
It is with this in mind that I started wondering what cheap/free software are you all using? To get the ball rolling, a couple of programmes that I have previously used that have been of great use:
- Audacity - Free Audio Editor & Recorder
- Soundplant - Free software to turn your keyboard into a sampler
- Reaper - Affordable digital audio workstation
- iPad Software - 4 free iPad apps from a while back but I'm sure there are way better out there now!
- Pure Data - Free real-time graphical audio/visual programming environment
I look forward to hearing about what you're all using!
Image sourced from PortableApps.com