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Free Software

  • I love software – so open ended and open to creative possibilities. Here is my guide to my favourite free software for music.

  • It is also easy to get lost in options, so get to know a few really well, as well as exploring all the weirdness.

  • Good software costs money but don’t discount all the small freeware gems either – my first albums could not have been made without Destroy FX freeware! Unfortunately they no longer work with 64bit systems.

  • I always recommend the Computer Music magazine freeware – they have a pretty incredible array of exclusive cutdown versions of commercial software that comes with every copy. It is a mixed bag but covers some great ground. Some highlights are included below.


Autodafe Drum Machines – an incredible free resource, available both as a Kontakt instrument and as a self-contained VST/Audio Unit. Featuring a whole heap of sounds sampled from dusty machines of the past, ranging from the classic to the trashy. A no-brainier for anyone making electronic music.

Zebralette – u-he make great instruments and effects, their flagship synth being the Zebra, capable of nearly every type of synthesis and a real sound design playground. Hans Zimmer is a big fan. Zebralette is the generous free version of the big one. Up there with the very best freeware. It’s about to get a big update to version 3.

Audio Damage – recently released a whole bunch of their old commercial software as free downloads. Great quality and often creative.

VCV Rack – no brainer if you’re interested in modular. The full price version can also be used as a VST but not necessary to use it.

Vital – for me, the best freeware synth. Has some very unusual and useful features. Not the warmest sound, as is usually the way with Wavetable synths, but super flexible. You can also pay for extra presets. Also see MicroMusic AI, which offers a sound creation AI, similar to the kind of thing done by Synplant 2.

Aalto CM – the version of Aalto that comes with Computer Music. This is the mono version of the full commercial one, which is my favourite ever software synth. Essentially a Buchla.

OTT – The default track smasher for all modern producers. Use this compressor with care as it squashes everything but no doubting its abilities. I like Waves MV2 as a more subtle paid equivalent.

Tokyo Dawn – These are the best of the free mixing processors. Really they are pro level but generously offered for nothing. Nova is an absolute essential, being the only free dynamic EQ available. Dynamic EQ essentially offers compression on specific frequencies so is a mixture of a multiband compressor and an EQ. The other standouts are Limiter 6 and the Kotelnikov compressor. The focus is on clarity and transparency so these are not the plugins to add flavour, but they are perfect replacements for your stock compressor and EQs. All plugins are also available commercially in more fully featured “Gentlemen Editions” so you can support them that way. The last I checked, their website had been blacklisted for some reason, but dig around and you should find them. Essential.

Fullbucket – this guy is a legend. Björn Arlt makes all his synths and effects for free. Lots of good ones. Especially the Korg KS3000 and Minipops.

Spitfire LABS – For samples that come from high end recording sessions of high end musicians this is unbeatable. Mainly real instruments but creatively recorded…..I use mainly Spitfire sample libraries for my scoring work.

DiscoDSP OB-Xd – freeware version of their Oberheim emulation. Has a super fat analogue sound and is essential. The price listed is optional, but after using it you won’t mind paying them.

Joey Sturgis ‘Sidewidener’ CM – Again, a free cutdown version with Computer Music. One of the secret weapons of good production. Stereo width adjustment without causing phase problems (where stuff goes weird and silent on mono speakers)

Valhalla SuperMassive – mega-lush reverb/delay. Pro quality.

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