Great Free Electronic Music Production Software + Plugins


The first (and probably biggest) financial hurdle in getting started making beats is your DAW (digital audio workstation). You’ve probably heard of Ableton, Logic, ProTools, Reason and Cubase – they all do pretty much the same thing, and typically cost more than $500 for the complete feature set. For someone just getting started, this can be a pretty big barrier to entry. What if you want to start producing for free? Beginning producers on a budget, meet Reaper.

Reaper is a low cost and high performance professional quality DAW that sounds amazing and gives you almost all the same core functionality as the other top contenders. In fact, I think the mixing algorithm sounds so good that sometimes I’ll produce a track in Ableton, and then run multi-track into Reaper for the mix down. With full support for VSTs and AUs, it’s a perfect platform for hosting all the awesome plug-ins I’m about to share with you. It also includes hundreds of audio and MIDI processing effects, and you can edit audio, draw automation, layer unlimited tracks, record audio, interface with hardware and MIDI, and much more.

The best part: Reaper has an endless “evaluation” period. That means that you could technically evaluate it forever with full functionality, making it completely free. If you like and are using it, you should buy it for a humble price of just $60, wow!


If you already know what a plug-in is you can just go ahead and skip to the next section – for those of you who are new to this world, a plug-in (you might have hear them called by their various flavor, including VST, VSTi, AU, etc.) is a small “program within a program” that you open from within your DAW and can use to either make or modify sounds. (VST stands for Virtual Studio Technology)

For example, you might have a synthesizer plug-in or a delay plug-in. In either case, you’d first open your DAW, then load the plug-in onto an audio or MIDI track and start making noises. Many DAWs include their own “native” synths and effects – think of plug-ins as third party additions for your DAW.


In the spirit of freedom, we’ll start with a selection of plugins that are absolutely free! That means you can literally go get them right now and start making hits (technically speaking that is). I’m going to divide them into two categories: synths and FX. For the sake of sanity, I’ve chosen 5 in each category to highlight, with an extended full list at the end of the article.

Round 1: Synthesizers and Instruments!

  • Synth 1: best for basics, really impressive tone – warm, fat, and punchy!
  • TAL Synths: especially the noisemaker and bassline, full featured, dynamic envelope, chorus, fx, very malleable and great tone
  • Magic 8-Bit: so much fun, really punky and simple
  • Alchemy Player: amazing tone, high budget sound, perfect for epic moments
  • Crystal: so many options, envelopes, oscillators, complex evolving sounds
  • AutoMat: rager synth award, three oscillators, multiple filters, very clean

Round 2: FX!

  • Rough Rider: a violent beast of a compressor. Basically can turn any sound into a sonic missile that will pummel its way through your mix. Has the amazing ability to keep the “level” the same while vastly bumping the perceived volume and punch.
  • TAL FX (TAL definitely wins the award for the best overall collection of free synths and effects) – I really like the tube, reverb, chorus, delay, etc.
  • SupaTrigga check out for a whole ton of cool free plugins – supa trigga is a nice beat slicer
  • W1 Limiter: super nice sounding mastering limiter perfect for quick shmasters and maximizing loudness on any track

Not everything can be free, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t affordable. There are quite a few plug-ins that deserve a nod for pairing accessibility with pure rawness. One of my favorites is the Sausage Fattener created by Dada Life, which makes pretty much anything sound nasty and fat. With just two main knobs, it makes creating fat filthiness about as easy as eating a sandwich. Nothing else quite compares and I highly recommend picking it up!


So now that you have an awesome DAW loaded full of fat synths and FX, it’s time to get to work. Fortunately you still have money to buy a burrito – after all, it’s hard to be inspired when you’re hungry and broke.

This round up is far from comprehensive, and there are a lot of awesome plugins out there that I didn’t talk about or perhaps have never even heard of! As a Mac user, I focused on plugins I can use, but of course for the PC people there are probably way more awesome options and I envy you. We’d love to hear your opinion in the comments, so go to town and make sure to share links if you’re referencing anything.

Additional Recommended VSTs Places To Find More Free Plugins

One of the most important parts of making beats is samples: subscribe to our newsletter to get regular sound packs in your email from Mad Zach or check out this Mad Zach tutorial to learn how to make your own samples! 

bramdawfree dawfree production toolsfree vstsmad zachPlug-insProductionproduction toolsreasonRecord Producerrough ridersausage fattenersmart electronixsynth 1TALVirtual Studio Technologyvsts
Comments (69)
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  • Sara Castro

    thank you so much!

  • David Tarbill

    Just ran across this article. The info is exactly what I was looking for, but I noticed this came out in 2013. Are there any new plugins that can be added to the list? I’m still a Reaper guy!

  • Shafat Karim Tishat

    Where do I get the download link? I’m not finding it in the article. 🙁

  • Matheus Moreno Nascimento

    How can i install Automat since it comes without the .dll file?

  • Patrick

    This is exactly what I’ve been searching for I’ve done a lot of research my self already but this is by far the most helpful. Thank you

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  • Topher Dance

    This was humorous and extremely helpful! Great video Mad Zach. Much thanks to you sir!

  • marpaung

    visit also my room

  • Croggy

    My favourite FREE DAW is definitely MuLab, You can only have up to 4 tracks in the free version but it is definitely worth it

  • Deval DjPapabear Burnett

    I would just this program just to master a cd. I have toast 10 and the problem is, Setting my starting point with my ending point of the waves. When I have my marker indicators set to what I want them to be set, it cuts off my vocals and I have to set the waves with a little space from one another, So none of my music gets cut off. Is it good to use this program to master a cd.

  • Susboi

    Do any of these plugins work on Maschine 2.0?

  • Kyle

    Reaper costs money after 60 days

  • Luis Hernández

    I’m just trying to get started in production and this DAW looks very solid. Are there any good references or tutorials for EDM?

  • D.E.

    jeskola buzz, PD (pure data), resolume…

  • thisisrios

    how do you install these on mac?

  • WeareTroubador

    Fromage: It’s a classic, and the quality is just awesome. I love assigning the cutoff freq to an envelope, cranking up the distortion, and commencing head banging…but maybe that’s just me:

    You-a-Shock: This is the same software as FL Studio’s “Sound-Goodizer,” which is just several presets from Image-Line’s “Maximus” mastering plug-in. It’s what you’d expect, crazy to simple to use, great sound, but very little flexibility:

    Kairatune: Futucraft’s sweet free synth. It’s awesome for sci-fi sorts of sounds, and the presets are great fun. This guy doesn’t get enough attention, I think:

  • Cyribro

    I just found this… There’s a free stereo enhancement tool for when you master a track… I don’t know if Reaper comes with one stock or not, haven’t got to the mastering part of music creation yet.

  • Cyribro

    two really good synths I’ve ben using are Zebra2 and Zebralette… I’m making a song right now using only reaper, the sampler that came with garageband (literally all my drums are being routed in this sampler and drawn in the piano roll… it’s pretty epic..). Zebra2 and Zebralette. Luckily I bought some neat packs off of beatport a while back and they came with some midi files in it. I can totally use one of those and just use one of the synths to get the sound I want and alter them anyway I need to if I feel like something is missing. It’s pretty useful.

    Zack, I am wondering if you can do a tutorial on how to master in Reaper… I was watching many different YouTube videos about how people swear up and down Reaper is better and works faster than Pro Tools, but I’m not seeing them master so I don’t have anything to back them up..

  • Anonymous

    AND DON’T SLEEP ON OSZILLOS MEGA SCOPE!!!! An oscilloscope plugin is a godsend if you have trouble visualizing or otherwise comprehending waveforms and basic sound design.

    • bug56

      Thanks for this! Seriously fantastic plugin. I remember in the days when I used FL I’d play around with wave candy when doing sound design, and I was looking for something I could use with ableton.

  • Anonymous

    MeldaProduction has a really robust free plugin suite; in particular they have a very nifty parametric eq which has lots of useful visual aids. It can be set up to label different areas of the audio spectrum, very useful if you think about things visually or if you’re having trouble remembering the drop-off point for sub-bass and… not-sub-bass…

  • Shawnyd

    Great VST’s!! Is anyone else having issues using magical8bit on Live9? The file i received from the site is a .component

  • Jefra

    don’t forgot: you don’t need a whole lot of plugins to make a good track. just use a few, and become really familiar with it. you’ll create better tracks that way.

    • Chauffe

      well said!

    • cjcuevasm


  • Cyribro

    Anyone know where I can find a good free drum machine plugin? I would like to not have to sweat putting in my own snares and kicks on the grid..

    • Chauffe

      Its not free but I really like the simplicity of this one:
      Assuming you got a drum pad midi cntrlr.
      $50 clams for the full but they gots a free demo to check out.

      The best though HAS to be Native Instruments’ Battery 4
      $200 bones full but so totally worth it!

      Besides those there is always:

      Im checking out “AM VIRTUA DRUM” right now
      Will report in an hour or so what I think of it

      Cheers yo! 🙂

      • Chauffe

        SR202 is nicer… 16 samples capable and you get some alright kits with it… of course its all about routing each element to your mixer and improving the sounds and re-sampling, compressing, eq’ing, verbing, flangering, and glitching. Have a good one 🙂

        • Cyribro

          I couldn’t get SR202 to work in reaper for mac.. am I doing something wrong? what link did you use?

    • Anonymous

      Try the demo version of Addictive Drums. It comes with just a few kit pieces, but all of the effects are available. It’s really great for learning the basics of treating drum samples, and the full version is a little cheaper than Battery.

  • Connor

    can someone please explain how to download these? i am using my mac and they download in seven seconds but dont open up as the actually app. Im very confused.

    • Cyribro

      download then go to Mac Hard Drive>> Library>> Audio>> Plugins>> Components

  • SKYVER**

    You can have demo versions from NI from all kinds of synths. They run only 30 minutes but all your tweaking is stored in your DAW.
    I use Logic Pro and when it tells me my 30 minutes are over I just quickly change the instrument to a Logic instrument and back to the NI instrument, thus avoiding the 30 minute demo issue. or you create something and then bounce it so you have it as an audio file.

    Really nice you have free versions of Reaktor and Kontakt, and a couple of free instruments with them (Carbon2, Spacedrone, Newscool, Mikro Prism,…)

  • Golden Galaxies

    I tried the W1 Limiter, it’s a great little plug-in. Thanks!

    • Mad Zach

      thats awesome!

  • KaTaNa

    And what about Audiotool ?
    it’s completely free, it’s online, you have a community to chat with and you can learn from others….
    Well even if i used ableton (and still a bit now) but audiotool is so cool and simple.

  • JM

    I feel like Synth1 isn’t compatible with Live9… Am I right? Or am I doing something wrong…?

    • Ryan

      Im having the same problem i think since its 32bit you have to bridge it over to work with 9

      • Ryan

        check out jbridge it worked for me

  • Chauffe

    Another Sexy Article!!! I’ve had RoughRider for a couple years now. Loved it! After spending scrilla on so many comps…I find that I still use it to get Heavy Nuclear on Snares with a dash of verb and presission eq and, light on saws, squares, and oscilator stranglers, sometimes i get nutty and wash my vox with the guy… crazy!… yup RoughRider is totally helpful when you wanna turn a chirp into a banger!

    Quality Shit Boy! Still can’t believe it was a freebie!

    I would also recomend: Paulin Le456 It’s a pretty sick Bass Amp that works well if you want your synths to scream and kill all flying creatures within a 15 mile radius and sometimes even beyond that perimeter due to late ressonance reflections 😉

    Also get your hands on some dBlue Glitch… You will not be sorry! Those 3 VSTs should be in everyone’s arsenal in my most humble opinion.


  • Brian van Wienen

    Can you use a midi controller like the midi fighter for reaper ??
    Can you make a video of it ?

  • Richard III

    Probably the first free plug-ins I used when i started remixing and producing:

    You get a free compressor, limiter, gater and parametric EQ.

    Hope you’ll enjoy them as much as i still do

    • Anonymous

      Nice find! Thanks 😉

  • Joe

    Sigh… using VSTs on a Mac seems to be the worst of both worlds

  • Scott Wozniak

    I’d like to point out that the full Logic Pro 9 is $199

    • Franzel Puro

      For mac though. windows users a bit screwed

  • genjutsushi

    nice overview; Reaper is excellent.

    I have a couple of tips to add. Firstly, get soundflower from Cycling74 for free. Lets you route audio from one program to another. I used to use this to get beats i had made in FLStudio into the cut down Novation edition of Ableton that came free with my Launchpad. Also great for sampling from Youtube etc. In fact most of the entry level control surfaces and controllers come with great packages of software.

    Secondly, use your student card (if you have one!) to get great discounts off big name software. Ableton, NI, and Propellerheads all have (or had) a scheme. Check their websites.

    Lastly, Apple sell the full blown Logic Pro 9 for £139 in the Uk through the App Store. This used to be hundreds more. Includes just about everything youll need to produce in one package.


    I Love how you guys help beginners! I think djtt is one of the best learn-sites, if not the best !

  • Fauxfaux

    Thank you, this is awesome! While not as affordable as Reaper, I’d like to also mention FL Studio as a good option. Ranges from $100 to $300 depending on the bundle you get, which is still a fraction of Ableton, and free upgrades for life. (Caveat: it’s only for Windows.) I bought it on the recommendation of a friend who’s been making records with it for years.

    • EchoRanger

      Seconded on FL Studio, I’ve been using it for over 10 years, its an excellent scratchpad for producing. A big bonus is that the entire program can be used as a VST plugin into another DAW like Ableton.

      • Cyribro

        I’d like to note that I’ve seen Laidback Luke, Sidney Samson, Afrojack and Avicii all using FL Studio. I also believe that Deadmau5 has reportedly used it as well.

        I jumped on Reaper and purchased it right away, so far I really like it, I just wish I had a step sequencer that routed to the main mixer… I wonder if I can rewire or something to make it happen.

        Has anyone used Massive for Reaktor? It looks pretty dope… iZoptope has one as well, but I think all the different drums just get routed to one single channel in the mixer.

  • DJKG

    how do I use the TAL vst in Maschine or in Cubase?

  • foxhill

    Reaper is amazing. It’s so easy to use yet so powerful. I’ve always promised myself that once I get my first label release, I’ll buy a license for it.

    • Brendan

      Try if you want to release without a label.

  • JGMG

    TAL Tube and Rough Rider are serious business, thank you very much for the heads up on those sick [FREE!!] plug-ins!

  • Robert Wulfman

    I used to produce in audacity. I don’t recommend it, but it’s doable.

    • Adrian

      Auda is an editor, there is really big difference between editor and daw

    • Chaser720

      I use audacity for quick sound edits but production would be very difficult. Great free software though.

    • Luis Hernández

      If you use Audacity for production then you are doing it wrong, dude. Try LMMS, for free.

      • Robert Wulfman

        oh, I use ableton now

  • Porkchop Eleven

    This. Is. Epic.
    Big ups Mad Zach, downloading all of these right now

    • John Joseph Tamayo

      how to download?