The ‘no dough/sound pro’ music studio

There has never been a more exciting time to make music than today. When I first started becoming interested in production in the mid-late 90s, it was very difficult to make a professional sounding track on a rig that cost less than £3000. Nowadays you could easily make one without spending a penny, or at least make a damn good start.

I wanted to write this because I see a lot of people on production groups who’ve only just started making music pirating really high end software to do it. I’m not judging them but I think its a bit counterproductive: cracked software often causes instability in your studio (and there’s nothing more galling than losing work), not to mention the odd virus.More than that though, commercial software is often quite complex or obtuse. This gives them a huge amount of power but actually often makes them much harder to learn on

There are so many amazing sounding pieces of freeware now, there is no reason not start with the clean and legal option.  Even if you start getting serious about producing, and start buying some software, you may find that some of your favorites are still the free ones (I certainly still do).

I am assuming you have a computer running windows (even an old beat up one) and a half decent pair of speakers or headphones to listen to what you’re doing on


A DAW (Digital audio workstation) is the heart of any software studio, it allows you to composite, audio and midi clips into a whole track while giving you options to route those sounds through effects and mix them together. It also hosts external synthesizers, samplers and effects, most commonly using the VST/VSTi standard (in Windows anyway)


Podium free – available here – Although it is a ‘lite’ version of a commercial DAW, it is almost completely fully featured. It has VST support, a clean looking interface and a decent feature list. The only real limitation of the free version is that it will only use 1 CPU core for the main program. This is really unlikely to be an issue when your starting out and your projects are not incredibly complex. It’s also compatible right the way back to 800 MHz pentiums running XP so if you are using an old computer, you may only have 1 core available anyway. It doesn’t come with any synths/effects etc so you’ll need to download some from the list below


Cockos Reaper – available here – It’s the granddaddy of free DAW solutions. Technically not free but rather a fully functioned evaluation copy with a nagscreen that appears after 60 days (and the licences start at $60 if you choose to upgrade). It has good support for a variety of audio formats, VST and even video.  It also comes with a whole range of native effects. I personally find the interface a bit busy, especially in the menus but it makes up for any minor graphical niggles with exceptional functionality.ohm_studio_pricing_preorder_kv

Ohm Studio – available here – Definitely a leftfield option but maybe one you might consider if you like to make music with people (or want to work on the same project from multiples locations). Ohm studio is an online DAW with a local app. This gives you a ‘best of both worlds’ deal where you can still use your own sample/synth/effect collection (supported by the local app) and have full access to the resulting audio online to allow easy collaboration and accessibility



Togu Audio Line synths – available here – A great set of simple (mostly subtractive) synths with a really big vintage analogue sound to them. If you’re new to synthesis they are a great place to start and sound fantastic

crystal 2

Greenoaks Crystal – Available here – This free synth has been around since time immemorial (kind of) but still offers a feature set that would make many commercial synths blush a little. It has a semimodular design meaning it can produce a huge range of sounds, especially ones that evolve over time.  If you’re a beginner it might be a little on the daunting side but fortunately there are loads of user created patches (and even tutorials) all over the web. Available as VST or AU


Kairatune – available here – A more contemporary sounding offering with an unusual (but easy to get to grips with) signal path. Good for clean or fat electronic sounds. Some people have reported its a bit CPU hungry, so maybe not one to use if your using a computer from 2002 with XP installed.

HG fortune

HG fortune synths – available here (click on the developer title for even more) – HG fortune (or Gunter Hager) was a legend in the synth programming community, he created a whole range of synths, mostly aimed at creating atmospheric or unusual sounds. Unfortunately he passed away in 2014 but his work lives on in many many productions NB His website has also expired but his stuff is fortunately being hosted by the internet archive, its not all in one place though so it may require a little hunting around to get the whole set


Double 6 XXL – available here – FM synthesis is much harder to get your head around than the much commoner subtractive synthesis but it creates a really unique sound, think of all those crunchy, dirty 80s synths and chances are that they were using FM synthesis. Fortunately Double 6 provides a good range of presets for you to tweak, or you could just dive straight in… you might make something completely atonal and crazy but maybe that’s just what you want 😉



You don’t necessarily need a sampler in a modern DAW, if you want to use hits or drum samples you can just insert them. If you want to use a multisample e.g. get the sounds of real instruments in your track or to unlock some of the creative possibilities that sampling plug ins unlock

Grace – available here – Gives a lightweight but easy to use approach to sampling and even includes a small library of samples (mainly electronic orientated drums and synths). Its quick to use and has some nice creative options for modulation of the sound and will load SFZ instruments

Vemberaudio Shortcircuit – Available here – If you’re using an old computer for your build. Shortcircuit is a very full featured, easy to use sampler that loads many formats and has pretty much every flavour of modulation and effect you could imagine. People have reported issues using this in a 64 bit DAW though

For ‘real’ instruments, you could find a multisample for one of these and load it up in one these or use a Rompler (Samplers with fixed content) are often a good option.


Orion – available here – provides a lot of the ‘basic’ instruments you might want to have in a sound module (orchestra, band and a some synth/drums)


DSK Romplers – Available here – DSK have created a few different ones for guitars, saxophones, pianos, strings to name a few. They’ve also made some free synths & other goodies


Most DAWs come with a selection of basic effects  (delay, reverb, flanger, chorus, EQ, compression etc.) although if you’re using Podium (or just want alternatives to the built in ones), there are some good packs of these available e.g. the <it disappeared for a while but now its found a new home> Kjaerhus classic series, the very broad open source MDA bundle, or the clean sounding Antress modern bundle

There are also some really stand out free effects for creatively manipulating sound, see follow up article available some point in the future for a list of the best ones. There is one though that I would really recommend


Glitch – available here

Its an absolute classic and one of my favourite effects (paid or free). Glitch allows you to construct patterns of different effects to completely mangle any sound you put into. While it can be used like a musical A-bomb and obliterate your base sound it can also be used to impart any number of subtle effects as well. Even if you think that sound mangling isn’t your thing its worth downloading just to play around with as its very intuitive, and fun.

Apart from some samples (again see upcoming article for good sources) that will pretty much give you a fully functioning studio for nothing. Of course if you enjoy it, you’ll probably want to buy a few things … a proper audio interface, some monitor speakers, high end headphones, commercial DAW, MIDI controller, that commercial synth that you’ve fallen in love with …… etc etc

Trust me it can become a very expensive pursuit but you really can start making music for absolutely nothing

Love and Peace, D