Make space on your hard drive as I reveal the very finest free plugins and zero-cost samples, but quiet… it’s a secret…
Really, has there ever been a better time to be a computer musician? Practically every imaginable instrument and effect can be had gratis – you needn’t spend so much as a penny to outfit the virtual studio of your dreams. But with so much free gear out there of wildly varying quality, downloading and sifting through it all to find the genuine plugin gems and truly golden samples is a Herculean task. It’s almost not worth the bother when you could be spending that time doing other things… actually making music, for instance. No, what the modern computer musician really needs is a directory of the absolute best free gear out there, saving them time and effort in addition to cash.
I’ve broken it all down for you into handy categories and to ensure no one is left out, I’ve put the focus
firmly on cross-platform offerings. Each entrant is a true standout for its sound quality and/or unique approach.
- Matt Tytel’s Helm
is one such instrument, with enough analogue-style firepower to fan your creative spark into a veritable conflagration of controlled voltages. Best of all, it’s open-source.
- Samplescience Orion Sound Module
its samples have been collected from license-free, open-source repositories. You could download them yourself, but here, the developer has done that for you, as well as editing and mapping them in order to create a supremely usable instrument. Orion is awesome for a bit of everything, and if you need a touch of guitar, you’ll find it there.
- Ample Guitar M Lite II
if you need a full-blown convincing substitute for a real guitarist, you’re once again in luck, with this instrument, which enables you to craft authentic fingerpicked and strummed guitar passages and even slather on some pedal effects.
- Plogue Alter/Ego
) can give your lyrics a voice–albeit an unusual one!
Many effects can do double duty as both tracking and mixing tools. Pro engineers, for example, often track vocals through a compressor or limiter to tame the signal’s potential dynamic range, and then route that signal through more compression during the mix to level out the track, add a bit of presence or simply to impart the “mojo” of a specific compressor. Thanks to the large dynamic range of modern audio interfaces, we can often forgo the initial processing and apply compression and limiting only during mixdowns; and since we can instantiate as many instances as we like, we can double them up on the same track as needed. This is especially true of plugins like LVC-Audio’s Limited-Z
, a terrific transparent dynamics processor that can be pushed very hard indeed without creating unwanted distortion. Check it here lvcaudio.com
Similarly, savvy desktop engineers often opt to impart the character of classic hardware preamps and equalisers during mixdown. If you want to apply a bit of that old-time hardware pixie dust to your tracks, you can do so without plumping for a costly vintage box. Shattered Glass Audio’s Code Red Free is one of the grooviest examples in recent memory. Designed to emulate the legendary tube-based REDD consoles used in Abbey Road during the 1960s, Code Red Free combines a punchy vintage EQ with the rich sound of the REDD’s preamps. Get it free at shatteredglassaudio.com.
Metric Halo’s Thump subharmonic synthesizer.
Tokyo Dawn Records Nova many producers seek out equalisers with specific functions or character. If it’s functionality you’re after, Tokyo Dawn Records’ Nova has it in spades, acting as a superb parametric equaliser or a dynamic equaliser, offering dynamics processing on each band. Add to that a gorgeous spectral display and you have a plugin that should cost a pretty penny – but doesn’t.
Softube’s Saturation Knob Ridiculously simple, this one does just what you’d think: it adds a modicum of saturation to any incoming signal. There’s not much to learn here, with a mere two controls onboard. There’s the eponymous and slightly intimidating knob in the centre, used for dialing in the desired amount of saturation (fully anticlockwise switches the effect off) and a three-position toggle switch for selecting from the three available Saturation Types (Keep Low, Neutral, and Keep High) to control how the distortion will affect various frequencies – for example, Keep Low will add distortion without compromising the low end.
Noisebud’s Fletchy-Muncher designed to help you overcome the so-called Fletcher-Munson effect by exaggerating the deceptive mid-range frequencies, allowing you to better balance the highs and lows against them. Simply place it at the end of your signal path and let it show you where you might be going wrong. With so many of us consigned to bedrooms, apartments and other shared spaces, such a utility can be a lifesaver.
Samples and Tools
Samples are an integral part of modern musicmaking, and yes, you can have them for free, too. :slight_smile:
BPB GAME BOY DRUM KIT Bedroom Producers Blog is a solid resource for free samples, and that’s where we found one of our favourites, the Game Boy Drum Kit. A pack of 64 24-bit drum samples in WAV format, as an NKI collection for Kontakt users and as a simple SFZ patch. The samples were recorded from a Nintendo Game Boy running LSDJ software and are presented in raw, unprocessed form.
SAMPLEPHONICS HAND PICKED FREEBIE - massive collection of 100 free loops and 48 one-shots drawn from various commercial products. 100% royalty-free, their Hand Picked Freebie is a virtual potpourri of usable, inspiring sounds.
LEGOWELT SMACKOS AMIGA 909 crafted by Danny Wolfers, aka Legowelt, this drum instrument for Ableton Live 9.5 is based on his own Amiga 909 sample floppy disk.
PLUGHUGGER NANOPOLARITY 03 DISTURBANCES - set of 30 samples that originally came from an Access Virus TI Polar before being plumbed through an ancient 16-bit Akai S1000 sampler, then onward through the legendary Eventide H3000 D/SX multieffects processor, this droning, distorted and deathly dark collection isn’t for the faint of heart!