When I first started writing songs, I was very eager to put them out on my social media and hear what my friends would have to say. To that point, I still wasn’t serious about putting out music with decent sound quality. Making music was a fun thing for me and I solely did it whimsically. But ever since I wrote my first song, the drive to write more kept burning up and I started writing more songs. Those days, I would simply record them on my phone or laptop and put them out without any editing.
With every new song I wrote, my motivation to make music kept getting bigger and I took it more seriously. Since my friends were really enjoying my songs, I was getting pretty encouraged to write more. Even then, certain things were holding me back- no decent-sounding instruments, no recording equipment, and no software to edit them. I saved up to buy a USB microphone because an audio interface setup was still expensive. The microphone was a level up from what I was doing. Now I had some confidence in the audio quality of my songs and thought that people could listen to them with more enthusiasm.
Discovering a free DAW
During the first few months of recording, I would constantly use Audacity because of its simplicity and easy UI. However, there were still limitations to the software and I had to look for something more sophisticated. Given the fact that unlike an audio interface or a MIDI controller, a USB microphone generally doesn’t come with decent software packages.
What I was looking for was a free Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) and some virtual instruments to layer on top of my guitar recordings. After digging up a few weeks on the internet, I discovered a free DAW called Cakewalk. Being new to recording, I was completely blown away by the fact that the software was free.
Cakewalk presents you with what you need to start recording and mixing professionally. It has MIDI support, works with most of the external plugins that you download, allows you to create multiple buses and auxiliary tracks in console view, and has built-in plugins including compressors, equalizers, reverb, and many more.
Free Virtual Instruments That Sound Exceptionally Great
Moving forward with arranging my songs, there were certain instruments that I wanted to add to them- mainly strings and piano. Finding workable strings and piano sounds would need some miracle, and I found one. It was Labs by Spitfire Audio. This package of free virtual instruments had everything I wanted. I was more into adding warm orchestral sounds to my songs.
Most importantly, what I wanted were great-sounding strings. After I watched a few demos of the string sounds of Labs on YouTube, I knew I wanted it as soon as possible. I immediately downloaded Labs in sort of disbelief that it was completely free of cost. Other than string sounds, Labs has many other virtual instrument samples like Soft Piano, Modular Piano, Synth Pads, Choir, as well as great-sounding drums and bass guitars.
Being new to recording, I had little clue about how to make things work. As it was recommended that you record between -18dB to -12dB to provide yourself with enough headroom for mixing, I was doing the same for my vocal and guitar tracks. I would often compare my amateur mixes to commercial songs and would never be satisfied with the lack of volume in my songs. More than anything, I had no idea about mastering my songs to boost the volume to match them to the commercial tracks.
Although my mixes were not even close to sounding professional, I made them listenable to a certain extent by watching countless tutorials on YouTube. Luckily, having used cakewalk for all my mixes, I discovered Bandlab’s free online mastering service. I was very pleased with the results I got from the service and as a beginner who had very little patience when it comes to releasing new songs, the free mastering became a lifesaver.
Coming from a guy who was overwhelmed with all the technical difficulties of recording, mixing and mastering songs, these free software encouraged me to keep working as they were great tools to start with.