Top Free Music Creation Software

Rock your own jams with a digital audio workstation

Teenage boy with digital tablet listening to music at home
Hero Images / Getty Images

Once upon a time, the online marketplace exploded with free digital-music creation software. After roughly 2015, however, many of the free offerings either migrated to a paid model or no longer received updates. Most of the best music-creation tools are free to try but require payments on either a monthly subscription basis or for the entire application. Some of them are even online-only tools with basic free-to-try levels and then paid subscription tiers.

Digital audio workstations power the creation of music using computers and electronic instruments. Although the list of free DAWs has shrunk in recent years, you can still nab some decent software for free.

Darkwave Studio editor
Darkwave Studio main editing window.  ExperimentalScene / Daniel Werner

DarkWave Studio has been designed with the beginner in mind, but can also be expanded for advanced use. It uses virtual machines that can be linked together to produce a wide range of sounds (similar to Propellerhead's Reason software). The true power of DarkWave Studio is its support for VST plugins that expand the program's capabilities. You can either purchase these, or use free VST plugins from sites such as VST 4 Free. When you have finished your masterpiece, it can be recorded using the HDRecorder plugin to create your digital music as a WAV file. More »

Ardour main screen
The main screen of the Ardour digital audio editor. Ardour.org / Paul Davis  

An open-source project, Ardour offers standard recording, editing and mixing capabilities.

Ardour's feature set is robust: In addition to a wide range of standard mixing tools, it allows for audio or MIDI imports, direct recording, soundtrack editing and video soundtrack extraction, MIDI composition tools and a range of file formats and plugins. More »

Using GarageBand - Track Options
Using GarageBand - Track Options. Joe Shambro - About.com

Apple has offered its powerful GarageBand software for free in macOS for years. This tool is optimized for music creation—it's not as fully featured as most DAWs, but it can import and edit multitrack compositions and insert a range of custom sounds like drums and cymbals directly into a project.

Despite its simplicity, GarageBand is a well-designed program that will help especially beginning music composers to get started with a gentle learning curve. More »

Audacity Main Screen
Audacity Audio Editor. Image © Mark Harris - Licensed to About.com, Inc.

One of the granddaddies of the free audio-editing software world, Audacity is a completely free cross-platform program designed to record and edit audio projects.

Unlike some of the other tools that feature inserted digital music, Audacity's claim to fame rests with its direct-recording and track editing tools. Audacity is extensible through a range of free VST or LADSPA plugins. More »