Many people believe that nothing good comes free, and for music producers and audio engineers, this belief extends to hardware and, of course, software. It’s no wonder why – the most acclaimed and widely used audio editing programs and plugins cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars, so we automatically assume the higher the price, the better the software.
While there are tons of quality tools at premium price point, the market is also full of great stuff that doesn’t cost a thing. If you are an independent artist on a budget or just want to save money, you can actually create the highest caliber of professional-sounding music for free. In this article we compiled a list of the best free plugins for music production.
Xfer Records – OTT Compressor
OTT is a multi-band compression present that comes as an Ableton’s preset and as a standalone plugin for various digital audio workstations. Many producers, especially those who work with with dubstep and electro, love its aggressive compression.
The plugin offers depth control for scaling the amount of compression, as well as time control for handling attack/release times of all bands. With its help you can make the louder parts of a sound quieter and the the quieter parts of a sound louder. It’s a versatile tool that helps make music more colorful. Note that the Ableton preset version of OTT has more features than an independent plugin, so Ableton users get more out of it than users of other DAWs.
iZotope – Ozone Imager 2
Ozone Imager 2 is an updated plugin from a well-known Ozone 9 audio mastering suite by iZotope. It’s a multi-band stereo imager with immersive fluid visuals that help you check how the left and right channels are lining up. Full resizability allows you to expand the plugin window to get a good view of the action.
Its “Stereorize” mode turns mono into stereo without the need for reverb or doubling. You can either use “Stereoize I” for a bright phasing effect or go for a newer “Stereoize II” to apply subtler enhancement. With Ozone Imager you can widen and narrow sounds to make them fit in any mix. Adding natural width to your vocals, creating narrow sources to pull focus to musical instruments – all these and more can be done with this powerful (and free!) plugin alone.
Cableguys – PanCake 2
What’s more, you can create your own modulation curves for sharp turns and bends, as well as for more gentle transitions. The plugin allows you to have complete parameter control through automation, and when we say “complete,” we mean it – absolutely everything can be automated, including the modulating waveform shape.
Camel Audio – Camelcrusher
Camelcrusher by Camel Audio is a multi-effect plugin that was bought by Apple back in 2015 and officially discontinued. However, it’s such a good tool that it’s still a production staple actively used by many music makers to this day, and can be downloaded online.
The plugin’s major features are distortion, compressor, filter and master. They can be applied to nearly everything – vocals, basslines, drums, guitars, basslines, you name it. The two different distortion sounds can be blended together to create a variety of rich tones and textures. Camelcrusher can unleash your creativity and enable you to create music in any genre, from hip-hop to metal.
Softube – Saturation Knob
Saturation Knob is one of the best saturation plugins on the market. Saturation adds some sweet analog warmth to the too clean and pristine digital productions, and this is exactly what the plugin does.
This powerful one-knob tool has three distortion modes – “Keep High,” “Neutral,” and “Keep Low.” It fattens up basslines, adds shimmer to vocals, puts more grit to drum loops, and changes the overall vibe of your sound to that of the classic oldschool records we all love. With the simplicity of use and the amazing sound that Saturation Knob helps produce, it’s hard to believe it’s available for free.
Some other plugins you should consider – they are also completely free, so why not?
- Valhalla Freq Echo – for trippy sonic effects and other psychedelic needs.
- LostIn70s Audio Devil Spring Reverb – for vintage spring reverb sounds.
- Tritik Krush – for bit-crushing effects and crunchy modulated colors.
- HoRNet Valvola – for various vacuum tube emulations.
- Audioblast BreadSlicer – for glitch, stutter and break effects.