If you are interested in music production, choosing your first DAW or Digital Audio Workstation is crucial. Your DAW is, by far, the most vital component you need to produce audio and music. You will be using it for audio recording, editing, mixing, mastering, and everything else in between. Finally, your digital audio workstation will also be home for all the VSTs you purchased. Although some VSTs work as stand-along software, using them within a DAW makes everything more organized.
Some of the best DAWs professional music producers use are often quite expensive, such as Avid Pro Tools, Ableton Live, Logic Pro X, and Cubase. However, because of their integrated features and high-quality virtual instruments, raising their prices are still reasonable. Some of these paid DAWs have a 7-day free trial if you want to try them out.
It’s a good thing that some developers were generous enough to create free-to-use DAWs for beginners who want to learn the basics, and people on a tight budget. However, not all the free DAWs are worth downloading, but I made a list of the best free DAW software applications that you can take download right now to start making music.
- Comes with a massive sound library
- Great for beginners
- Intuitive interface
- Easy to share and render tracks
- Comes with tons of effects
- Can host Audio Unit plugins
- It has a mobile version for the iPhone and iPad
- Has limited editing controls such as fade
- No group tracking
- No mixer in the control screen
- Pitch correction tool is limited compared to Logic Pro X
Platform: Available for Mac OSX, iOS, and iPad OS
Different music producers have mixed opinions about GarageBand. Some say that it is not suitable for professional producers and for creating high-quality tracks. However, some people, including myself, find GarageBand to be a pretty decent DAW.
This DAW is jam-packed with tons of samples, guitar amp simulators and effects, drummers, and VST effects. It also features tons of smart controls that make recording and producing tracks a lot easier.
The instrument library is massive. For a free DAW, GarageBand seems to have powerful synths by Alchemy. If you like GarageBand and want more features, you can purchase the premium version, which is also known as Logic Pro X.
Recording music is very straightforward in GarageBand, especially if you are using a MacBook with a trackpad and touch bar. Mac continuous to integrate their hardware to work well with the software they develop to make our lives a lot easier.
As good as this DAW is, it has some drawbacks, such as its limited track controls. However, you can still create high-quality tracks with this DAW. Artists like Rihanna, Steve Lacey, T-Pain, and Oasis have used GarageBand to produce music.
Although GarageBand has its strengths and drawbacks, it is still an excellent DAW for Mac users and beginners. If you want a complete DAW with everything you need to start creating music, you should definitely check GarageBand out. With GarageBand, you can enjoy and produce complete songs without downloading any third-party software.
Cakewalk by BandLab
- Fast and responsive
- Intuitive interface
- It is essentially SONAR Platinum you can get for free
- You need to download the BandLab assistant before you can download the software
Platform: Available for Windows (64-bit) only
This next free DAW is an excellent DAW. It has all the features of the premium DAW, Sonar. It comes with a variety of different functions, such as a set of useful native effects such as reverbs, EQs, compressors, and many more.
The user interface resembles a traditional console studio setting style. It also includes VST support so that you can use all of your favorite VSTs all in one place. The multi-touch, Bluetooth, and MIDI compatibility let you use tools to make recording easier.
To download this DAW, you will need to install the BandLab Assistant software first. It is a small price to pay to get this fantastic free DAW.
Cakewalk is an excellent DAW for Windows users. It does not have any ads and annoyance that could affect your productivity, which most free software has. If you need a fast and reliable software for recording and producing tracks, this DAW is for you.
Studio One 4 Prime
- Excellent single-window intuitive user interface
- Drag and drop functionality
- External SoundFont support
- Quality native effects
- Same powerful features from Studio One Artist and Professional
- 1GB of loops and samples
- Only works with 64-bit operating systems
- No VST plugin support
- It only includes one virtual instrument
Platform: Available for Windows and Mac OSX
Being the lite version of Presonus’ premium DAW, the Studio One 4 Artist, it features some of the most powerful features, such as the collection of the best native effects. It also includes 1GB of royalty-free high-quality loops and samples. It offers unlimited tracks and mixers, time-stretch, multi-track comping, and full MIDI support.
On the downside, this DAW does not include a lot of virtual instruments and does not support VST plugins. However, you can use third-party instruments from SoundFont.
If you have a collection of virtual instruments or VSTs, this DAW is NOT for you. It supports SoundFonts instead of VSTs, so you will not have use of your VSTs with this DAW. If you are just starting to build a home studio, you can download this DAW and get SoundFont virtual instruments instead. It features an easy-to-use interface and excellent native effects suitable for beginners and pros alike.
- Fast workflow
- VST plugin support
- Intuitive user interface
- Single-core VST processing
- No ReWire support
Platform: Available for Windows only
Podium is a powerful digital audio workstation. This DAW was built for electronic music producers because it focuses on virtual instruments instead of recording audio tracks. However, you can still record audio tracks like a traditional DAW. The podium’s modern intuitive user interface which can optimize your productivity and workflow.
Aside from its decent VST support, the free version of Podium also powerful audio recording and editing tools such as external MIDI support, freeze, and bounce. You get to enjoy the same customizable interface as you would in the paid version.
The drawback to this VST is the limited CPU support. It can only use with one of the available cores of your computer’s processor. Opening too many plugins might affect the overall performance of the DAW. If necessary, consider upgrading your PC.
Despite the drawbacks of the limited VST core processing, this DAW is incredible. You can create high-quality electronic tracks easily with a fast and intuitive workflow. If you are a producer who wants to focus on electronic music, this DAW is worth a try.
- VST support
- ReWire Support
- Fully Functional Free DAW
- Works with most operating systems
- No updates and support
- It features an unconventional workflow that might time getting used to
Platform: Available for Windows, Mac OSX, and Linux
For a free DAW, the Tracktion 7 has tons of useful DAW features. It is available for most of the popular operating systems, and also offers full VST plugin and ReWire compatibility. Aside from all the extra features, the Tracktion 7 is a powerful DAW. You can also load video files so you can synchronize audio to video files to create music videos and musical scores.
One drawback of this DAW is that it no longer has support because it is an older version. It is not pretty much of an issue right now, but if file formats change in a few years, it will no longer support the newer VST formats. If you want updates and bug fixes, you will have to download the latest version of Tracktion, which changed its name to Waveform.
Another drawback is the single-panel user interface that differs from the standard mechanics of other DAWs. If the Tracktion 7 is your first DAW, the interface should not be much of a problem since you are just learning how to use one.
Despite the drawbacks, the Tracktion 7 remains a mighty DAW that is jam-packed with some of the best features you can find in a free DAW. I do not recommend this DAW for someone looking for the traditional style of workflow.
- It is an open-source DAW
- VST plugin support
- Includes ZynAddSubFX
- Works with most platforms
- Not user-friendly
- Stability issues
- Does not support audio recording
Platform: Available for Windows, Mac OSX, and Linux
The Linux Multimedia Studio or LMMS is an open-source, free DAW that adapts the design and workflow of the famous FL Studio by Image Line. It was created by a team of talented volunteers so that people can experience a powerful but free digital audio workstation on most computer platforms.
If you haven’t tried FL Studio before, you can try the LMMS, before purchasing FL studio. However, if you have tried the FL Studio demo, you can quickly learn how to manipulate the LMMS. The user interface, however, still lacks bug-fixes and polishing, which makes the experience not as satisfying at first.
Since the developers are continually improving this DAW, it is inevitable that there will be significant improvements with the UI in the future.
What the LMMS lacks in design, makes up for with features. It has several built-in native effects and virtual instruments, including the ZynAddSubFX synth. This synth is one of the most versatile freeware you can download. You can also download other VSTs as the LMMS has full VST support.
One of the most notable features of the LMMS is the built-in beat and bassline editor. The piano MIDI editor works well with creating and editing simple and complex MIDI sequences.
The biggest drawback to this DAW is that you cannot record audio tracks. You can still create full songs with vocals and guitars by importing them from a different DAW, which beats the purpose of simplicity.
Since you cannot record audio, I do not recommend this DAW for producers who want to create full songs using one single app. If you want an all-around app that can do everything in one place, the LMMS is not the DAW for you. However, if you’re going to create fresh beats using some of the most potent synths and sequencers, you should definitely try this DAW. Serious beatmakers will have a blast with this DAW.
Pro Tools First
- AAX plugin support
- Includes Xpand! 2
- Includes virtual instruments
- Over 20 high-quality native effects
- Shares features with the full version of Pro Tools
- You can only store three projects at a time
- A network connection is required to use the DAW
- Takes up most of your RAM
Platform: Available for Windows and Mac OSX
Pro Tools First is the free version of Avid Pro Tools. A lot of professional musicians and producers use the full version of Pro Tools to produce their tracks, and guess what? You can use some of the best Pro Tools features in this free version.
You can enjoy features such as AAX plugin support, Elastic Time and Elastic Pitch functionality, powerful recording and editing, excellent mixing tools, and a fantastic line-up of over 20 native effects. But wait, there is more, you can also use the full version of the Expand! 2 Synthesizer.
The only catch is that you can only store three projects at a time, which is not a big deal. As beginners, you wouldn’t probably make 10 projects at a time, right? Three projects would be suitable for beginners. Plus, after you complete a project, you can render them into a song and delete the project file afterward.
However, by removing the project, you cannot go back and edit sections. Make sure you are pleased with the project, before deleting it and converting it to an .mp3 or .wav file.
This free DAW is jam-packed with some of the best features from the paid version of Pro Tools. It is a fantastic DAW that I recommend for beginners. You can learn on this DAW and buy the full version if three projects at a time just don’t work for you. It may take up most of your CPU data usage, so make sure you have a suitable computer or laptop to run this data-heavy software.
- Reaper is not exactly free, but you can use it for free within a certain amount of time. This DAW is actually one of my personal choices. I did not include it in the list because it is not a free DAW. Reaper may not have a lot of instruments included, but it supports a lot of plugin formats and has a lot of built-in native effects. It is a professional digital audio workstation with professional editing tools that you can use to create albums and EPs. It is only $60 if you decide to purchase the license.
- Music Maker is a free DAW that aims toward beginners. It is available for Windows only, and it comes with all the essential features that you would need to start producing tracks.
- Audacity is an open-source, free DAW that has been around for a while. A lot of people use this DAW for creating demos and podcasts. For a free software, it also has most of the essential editing tools you need to get started. It may not have any built-in instruments and plugins. Still, it does support several plugin formats, including VST, AU, and many more.
- What are the minimum computer requirements for music production? If you want to produce music on your computer without having any problems, you will need at least 4 to 8GB of RAM and a decent processor. If your laptop freezes all the time, even with regular internet browsing, it wouldn’t be suitable for running data-heavy music production software.
- Which is better for recording? Mac or PC? Choosing an operating system is all about user preference. No OS is better than the other, and people will always have mixed opinions about this question. Windows may have more options, but Mac has fewer but safer music production software options.
All of Free DAWs on the list are great for beginners and intermediate producers alike. If I had to choose a couple, I would select GarageBand for Mac, and Tracktion 7 and Cakewalk for Windows.
These three DAWs have all the necessary features you need to produce full songs and full-length albums.
The other choices might not have full features such as VST support and audio recording options; They still have strengths that may cater to your tastes and needs.