Wednesday, October 7, 2020

MUSIC TECHNOLOGY: The Ultimate FREE Computer Music Setup.


There's loads of amazing free computer music software out there that can get you started (and a whole lot more) on your journey into computer music production. Developers often produce free cut-down versions of software to introduce you to items with price tickets or sometimes to attract traffic and sell advertising space on their websites. 

But given the amount of freeware out there, how do you make sense of all the available products, which is the best in each category and what are the best products for your application, and to avoid going down roads and looking at products that aren't relevant to you?

Well, here are my thoughts on some of the best freeware out there and together they make up a really powerful computer music system. Like a commercial DAW with packaged instruments and effects, but drawn form different sources and all completely FREE! And much better than any of the 'entry-level' or 'interface packaged' DAWs out there. 

I've selected what I think are some of the best products in all the essential categories:

Digital Audio Workstation. To do your recording and programming as well as
hosting your instruments and effects processors.
Drum Machine. A drum machine instrument with step sequencing. 
Rompler. A 'rompler' is a sample based plug instrument that tends to cover the basic/essential everyday sort of sounds. Pianos, bass drums, etc. 
Sampler. A freeware sampler for sampled instruments, drums, beats and loops. 
Analog Synthesizer. An analog synthesizer for synth bass, lead, pads and polysynths.
Digital/Wavetable Synthesizer. Digital/wavetable type synthesizer for digital synthesizer type sounds.  

Digital Audio Workstation. 

Soundbridge. (see screenshot above)

My favourite freeware DAW is undoubtedly Soundbridge. It offers all the basic sequencing and recording functionality that any songwriter, music producer, or soundtrack writer would want with a really powerful, great sounding on-board suite of effects (reverb, delay, chorus, etc.). 
It has a really powerful 4 band parametric EQ available for each track. 
Soundbridge also has unlimited VST support, allowing you to load as many VST plug-ins as your computing power will allow. This is a really important feature as many of the 'packaged' or 'entry-level' products from the bigger software houses tend to limit this functionality. At the time of writing Pro Tools basic, for example, offers no VST support and Cubase LE allows 2 VST instruments to be loaded. Ableton Live Lite is limited to it's 8 Midi tracks. So despite being freeware (or perhaps, more accurately donateware) Soundbridge really is a better option than the budget entry-version products from Steinberg, ProTools, etc. 
Despite it's powerful features, Soundbridge is pretty easy to learn and use with lots of online resources available from their website. 
Soundbridge DAW really is the freeware bargain of the century, but that's not all Soundbridge have to offer because they also have the best freeware drum machine instrument there is.......


Ritmix is Soundbridge's freeware drum machine VST instrument. Naturally, it works with Soundbridge but also any 64-bit VST compatible host.
And it really is a top-notch product. It's difficult to think of a feature that commercial products have that it doesn't.
Most computer musicians would have a drum machine of some sort in their collection of instruments and at least one is usually provided in most commercial DAW packages.  
I regularly use ReDrum within my Reason software package and it covers everything it does and more. 
RitMix has 16 drum instruments/channels with full editing for each instrument including pitch, duration and even bitcrushing. It also features the same 4 band parametric EQ from Soundbridge for each drum instrument.
Sequencing is via the usual 16-step pages with patterns of up to 64 steps. 
The user interface is colourful and really easy to use and navigate. 
So we'll add Ritmix to your 'suite' of freeware music applications.

More information and download links for Soundbridge and RitMix are available from: 


Emu systems really pioneered the idea of the 'rompler' via their series of Proteus hardware modules in the late eighties and nineties. A Rompler is an instrument stacked with the most popular sounds used by musicians every day. Acoustic instrument such as piano, electric piano, bass, strings, braaa, etc, but also synth type sound such as popular led and bass sounds. 
Quality freeware Romplers are not easy to come by.   

There are Soundfont players and free instrument hosts such as Steinberg's Halion Sonic SE3 but you need to look for the files to load into them. 

I would probably go for IK Multimedia's Sampletank which in it's current incarnation is Sampletank 4 Custom Shop. Designed as an introduction to the larger Sampletank collections is still offers fifty instruments.....including piano, drums, basses and some synth sounds. 

More information:

A Freeware Sampler:

So I guess what we need next is a sampler to handle all our beats, loops and sampled instruments. 
Here there probably is only one choice with the freeware version of CWITEC's free version of the excellent TX16Wx
As software samplers go, this can pretty much handle everything from simple beats and synth loops through to drum kits and sampled instruments. 
It has to be said it's not the easiest of instruments to get your head around. For me, it really has a few more 'layers' than it needs. It's a 'multi-timbral' capabilities seem to over-complicate things unnecessarily as you can always open more 'instances' of it for sequencing more than one instrument. 
However, it really is a potent product with in-depth sample editing and synth style programming. it really covers everything that, say, the NN-XT that comes packaged with Reason would cover. 
The freeware version has most of what you need but you do need the full (paid for) version if you want the time-stretching capabilities and one or two other facilities such as the arppegiator. 

Freeware Virtual Analog Synthesizer.

Analog synthesizers are an essential part of most modern pop, dance and electronic music tracks for synth basses, pads and leads. 
Here we have quite a lot of choice with loads of freeware virtual analog out there. 
I've gone with U-HE's Tyrell N6. 
A really powerful sounding software synth with a simple, easy to use single page interface and one or two innovative features such as variable position oscillators
I used the Tyrell N6 in my introduction to synthesizers blog post. 

Tyrell N6 was developed for a German website called Amazona and you can download it there:

Digital/Wavetable Synthesizer

Finally, a wavetable/digital synth to add 'something different' and, as a lover of arpeggiators, maybe something that has such a feature. 
Here, I've been a bit loose with the word 'free'. Not strictly a piece of freeware but it's available on the cover disk of every copy of Computer Music magazine alongside loads of other free instrument and effects plug-ins. Current cover price of Computer Music is £5.99 so it's almost free. Given everything else you get including a copy of the magazine, you could 'cost it in' at a few pence. 
Anyway, the synthesizer of which I speak is Synapse Audio's DUNECM wavetable virtual polysynth. 

It's capable of whole host of synthesizer type sounds including string and choir pads, lead sounds, plucked sounds, analog polysynth recreations and it's easy to use syncable arpeggiator it's great for electronic and dance music. 

It has since been succeeded by a DUNE 2 and now a DUNE 3 which would be well worth checking out but to me this is the best 'freeware' synth 'bargain' around. It's my 'go to' option for so many sounds. 

I've developed a number of synth patch packs for this instrument. Here are some of the demo tracks below. 

No download link for DUNECM just head down to your Newsagent and pick up this month's copy of Computer Music magazine. 

So there it is. A complete freeware 'suite' of software instruments alongside a fully functioning DAW with a great sounding set of effects to program and record your tracks with. All for virtually nothing (a few pence if you count DUNECM). 

A much better solution to really any of the 'entry-level' packaged DAWs that come with audio interfaces or the budget versions of many commercial packages. All you really need is a bit more time to do the separate downloading and a very worthy and powerful computer music production package is yours for zip, nada, nothin'..... 


The information contained within this blog post is offered on an informal basis and is correct to the best of my knowledge. I accept no responsibility for outcomes arising from the mis/interpretation or use of this information and/or associated download files. Always download files via security/scanning software. 




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