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A lot of DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) offer free versions of their audio recording software that can get you started whether you're a podcaster, musician, or aspiring audio engineer on a budget, and you're trying to bootstrap your recordings.
If you don't have the resources (money) then you need to be resourceful to still get the job done. These audio recording software free versions have their limitation, but if you're just getting started I think limitations are good so you don't get overwhelmed.
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Best Free Audio Recording Software
Pro Tools First/Protools
I am biased towards Protools because I use the full version right now in my home studio. The stock plugins are great and it's probably the most used DAW in the recording and mixing world, especially audio professionals at the highest levels in music and film.
Here is a link to the system requirements and the different download versions for Mac and PC. So read this a figure out which version of Pro Tools First will work with your setup before downloading. This can save you a lot of headaches!
Below is a snapshot from Avid's website displaying the key feature comparisons from the free vs Paid versions of Protools. You may have to zoom in your computer screen to see it better.
Below you can check out the free version of Protools first, or check pricing on the full paid version. Protools offers a subscription option, or you can buy it in full if you prefer not to pay yearly/monthly. Support and update plans vary. You can also visit Avid here.
Here is cool video showcasing Protools and what is new inside Protools 12.
Audacity is a free open source audio recording software and has become very popular over the years. I've never used it, but I've heard it's great and offers all you need to properly record, edit, and mix inside your home studio. It's FREE so why not take it for a spin before you spend big money on other DAWs? Here is a features page on their website. It works with Windows, OS X, and Linux operating systems.
Cakewalk By Bandlab
This DAW looks amazing! It has all the elements that I pay for in my current DAW and in 3rd party plugins I've purchased and subscribe to. I have not used it or heard how it sounds, but I'm sure it competes with all the other DAWs. It is a very popular free Windows based software.
It has an award winning UI (user interface), Unlimited tracks, and an Industry best audio engine. What!?
It's designed to emulate the look and feel of an analog console. If it offers all it says it does for free then this is a no brainer! Try it out!
If you're a Mac or Apple device owner then don't forget about the FREE Garage Band software! Some of you literally have a DAW in your pocket.
It has tons of recording, editing, and mixing features, music lessons, built in virtual session drummers, virtual instruments and more.
You can easily create your next musical project or podcast with this software.
Garage Band Download Page (Mac)
Paid Audio Recording Software
Some still offer Free versions or Demos
I believe Mixcraft is for Windows but can be used with a Mac when running "Bootcamp". This was one of the very 1st audio recording software packages I used way back in the day.
I can't remember all the bells and whistles and I'm sure they have upgraded a lot of them in the newer versions, but this can get the job done!
Some Key features...
Record unlimited audio and MIDI tracks, 15 virtual instruments, 28 effects, two samplers.
Library of over 7800 professionally produced loops and samples.
Trigger auto-sync audio and MIDI clip grooves live or in the studio with Performance Panel.
Load and edit video files and still images with ease. Render complete video projects to popular mats DVD creation or YouTube upload.
One-click publishing of music and videos directly to YouTube, Facebook, Sound cloud, Mix cloud, Vimeo, and Twitter. Burn directly to an audio CD!
From The Mixcraft Website...
Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, 8, or 10 (32 or 64 bit)
2 GB RAM
1.8 GHz Dual Core CPU (Quad Core or higher recommended)
Sound card, USB, or Firewire sound device
Please note: Mixcraft 8 Pro Studio requires Internet access for the integrated Melodyne activation.
Translated into 20 languages: English, Chinese Traditional and Simplified, Dutch, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, Danish, Hungarian. Slovenian, Hellenic, and Korean.
Mixcraft is a Windows based product that can be used on a Macintosh computer running bootcamp.
Harrison Mixbus is according to their websit...
"is a full-featured digital audio workstation for recording, editing, mixing, and mastering your music. With dozens of DAWs to choose from, there's only one that is designed to work like a Harrison, with an analog paradigm that embodies form, function, and sound. Where other DAWs use a computer paradigm, MIXBUS grows from Harrison's distinguished 40-year heritage of platinum records and blockbuster films, such as Thriller, Graceland, and Spider-Man. MIXBUS is the first full-featured DAW with true analog style mixing."
This DAW looks very interesting and intuitive. I've heard a lot about this software and how great is sounds, and how easy the workflow is. If you're looking for the out of the box analog warmth inside your DAW maybe give this one a good hard look!
Presonus Studio One
Presonus not only makes great mixing consoles, interfaces, speakers and more, but they make a powerhouse of a DAW in Presonus Studio One.
I like that it has a built in Mastering section. It just has a TON of features. It's a one stop shop. Check out this video from Presonus on the key features. Here is a link to Presonus Product Page
It's great for songwriting and composing on the fly. Super customizable and tailored for the musician and producer. It even has Melodyne (popular pitch and timing plugin) built in. I had to pay for this with my DAW!
Check Pricing Now
Logic Pro X
Logic Pro X is another DAW by Apple and is exclusive to Mac users. It is Garageband's big brother and is as popular and as widely used as Protools in the professional audio world.
It is all you will ever need for a Pro DAW. It's a Recording, Mixing, and Editing beast of a software and can do so much more.
Here is a cool video showing you just a few great things Logic Pro X has to offer. This is an older video, so I'm sure it has a lot of updates and cool things added to it.
Here is the full list of features webpage for Logic and where you can purchase it from Apple.
FL Studio 20
FL Studio is also one of the world most popular DAWs and used by tons of musicians and producers.
It's a one stop shop to compose, record, edit, mix, and master with all the software you would ever need inside a professional DAW. Check out the full product spec page here.
It has over 20 years of development behind it, so you know you're in good hands.
The late Tim Berg (Avicii) was known to use FL Studio to help create his massive hits.
Ableton Live 10
This complete DAW is very popular with Electronic Music producers because of it's great MIDI sequencing capabilities.
It has an extensive sound library that you can use inside your audio productions and is compatible with Mac and PC users. Here is the Ableton product page.
Check out what's new In Ableton Live 10 ...
There are 3 versions Intro, Standard, and Suite and each have different options and price points.
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Today I want to focus on the sometimes overwhelming task of trying to decide what is the best audio recording software, aka DAW (digital audio Workstation), to choose for you next musical project.
I want to focus particualary on 2 types of people.
The Beginner looking for his/her first DAW
The seasoned engineer wanting to upgrade or change to another DAW from what he/she is currently using.
Where do you even start?! There are so many DAWs out there these days that one could spend hours if not days, just searching and reviewing different types.
You have Protools, Logic, Cubase, Nuendo, Garage Band, Reaper, Mixcraft, Ableton Live, Studio 1, Sonar, Reason, and on, and on, and on.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. It doesn’t matter which one you choose. They are all great pieces of software. Have you ever heard the term “It’s not the gear that makes a good engineer, its the skills”?
It’s true. Every single one of the DAWs I mentioned above do the same thing. They all have recording, editing, mixing, and mastering tools that will allow you to create GREAT pieces of music. They may do it a little differently. They may have a different layout, and color schemes, and different looking faders and knobs, but when you get down to the core, they are the same.
I want you to pick one that you…
A. Already own. Most of you probably already have an audio interface, and most likely it was shipped with a free (lite) version of a DAW. Perfect! you’re all set!
I guarantee that any one of the DAWs I mentioned above has youtube tutorials, great reviews, and companies putting millions, if not Billions of dollars into marketing each one claiming to be the best audio recording software on the market.
I also will guarantee you that the every day people like you and me who use a particular DAW will claim that the one they use is the only way to go.
Every single day across the world, great music is being made on every single one of the DAWs I mentioned above, and even the ones I didn’t.
You’re not missing out by using a particular DAW. If your audio interface did not come with a DAW, and you are just beginning then I would suggest using a FREE or “cheap” DAW to get started. Most DAWs have a FREE or LITE version that will get you what you need.
If you are a MAC user then you most likely have garage band already installed on your computer. Start there.
If you are a PC owner, Presonus Studio One offers a free entry level version of the software for beginners.
Here’s a tip if you are a beginner. If you have a friend or acquaintance who is already using, and is efficient on a particular DAW, then maybe consider using that same DAW. That way you have a resource to call on if you run into any problems on how to use a particular function of that DAW.
I want you to be in the mind frame that you don’t have to spend a lot, or any money in order to get a program that will allow you to pump out great sounding recordings, and mixes.
B. You’ve already been using a DAW and you are pretty efficient with it. Awesome! you’re already set!
I understand the urge to want to buy something new because you saw an add on how another piece of recording software will get you the professional results you desire. It’s natural to want to buy into that. But it’s BS.
I don’t disagree that the products being marketed to you are awesome and will deliver you professional results. I do agree with that. But I do disagree that you need to SWITCH from the one you are already using in order to get the results you want.
The cold hard truth is if you are not getting the results you want out of your current DAW then it’s probably your skill set, or lack there of. And thats ok. I’m not harping on you and saying you suck, It’s just you may not have the experience and knowledge you need yet to get you where you want to go. My motto for this site, The Recording Solution, is “knowledge is Power”.
I would suggest investing in some training on your particular software, or looking up more youtube tutorials on how to better navigate your software. I think it’s a waste of time and money to buy a new piece of recording software, when you’re already familiar with one, and then spend hours, days, weeks, learning a whole other platform, because an add said that using their product was the only way to get professional results, and that it’s the best audio recording software on the market.
When I first started, I used Mixcraft. I had no clue what I was doing. It was way back in the day on one of their earlier versions. I think I only spent Like $30 on it. Maybe a little more. But I learned the basics of recording and mixing with the tools available on Mixcraft. Speaking of mixing, I have a video course called Mixing With Confidence that teaches you a complete step by step practical mixing system. It is based in Protools, but you can apply these concepts to any DAW that is on the market.
I have since moved on to Protools, solely because I had friends and professional acquaintances who used Protools and were a pool of knowledge I could draw from. I also invested in some protools training courses and never looked back.
Is protools the best? No, maybe, it depends on the person. It’s all subjective. If it works for you, and you are fast, efficient, and make progress when it comes to recording and mixing, then it’s the best for YOU.
Don’t waste your time or your much needed money chasing that elusive “Better” software. It’s just not worth it.
Put yourself in the shoes of a studio owner today and in the past, that have huge analoug recording/mixing consoles. Maybe they have an SSL, Neve, API, etc. These boards are EXPENSIVE! $100k plus. They are also expensive to install and maintain.
The one thing they all have in common is that they all sound different. Just because one sounds different doesn’t mean it’s better than the other one. It’s just different. Do they all sound freaking awesome if used properly? YES! That’s the key. If you know what you are doing, it does not matter what gear you use to get there. As long as you get there!
They would be insane to try and switch consoles because another one sounds a little different, or they saw an add that guaranteed you magical results by using their brand. It would be a foolish waste of time and money.
cheers to making music!
To get you started on your search for the best audio recording software, below is a list of 10 very good options to choose from. I'm not going to lie, some are pretty expensive, but the good news is a lot offer a "lite" version for FREE! Just remember, you can get to the finish line using any one of these products. Do a little research, find what best fits your needs, and your budget, and then get to work.