Setting Up a Free DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)

Since you’re reading this, it’s likely that you have a computer and an internet connection. This means that with a minimal amount of work, you can set up your own personal recording studio.

In this article, I’m going to suggest a number of free programs you can download to get your DAW (digital audio workstation) up and running today. I’d argue that with this simple setup alone, you have all you need to record a pretty impressive collection of songs.

[NOTE: This article is a work in progress.]


I’m not going to make specific hardware recommendations here. Ideally, you’ll get yourself a sound card with a number of useful inputs for microphones, guitars, MIDI, etc. But you can also get away with buying an inexpensive USB microphone and USB keyboard for MIDI purposes.


First things first, you need a DAW. This is what you’re going to use to record tracks and ultimately mix your songs.

I highly recommend you get yourself a copy of Reaper. It’s not free per se, but the demo version is fully functional and never cripples. This will give you plenty of time to mess around with it before you decide to fork over the reasonable $60 for a license. If you’re like me, you’ll actually want to pay for it by the time you get to that point.

There are a lot of fine and esoteric debates about which DAW is best. The features that might put Reaper behind some competitors wouldn’t have much of an effect on the average musician. I’ve used it for years and all my complaints are pretty minor. Try it out!


Once you’ve got your DAW up and running, you’re going to want some VST plugins. These act as digital versions of synthesizers, samplers, effects, and processors. These days you can build a pretty solid (and legal) collection without paying a dime. If you don’t know where to start, the following list will give you a great foundation.

If you have a little money to spend, I recommend the ToneBoosters Track Essentials bundle. For under $40, you get great EQ, compression, reverb, modulation, tape saturation, and others. I often use these as my standbys.  (This isn’t an affiliate link.  They’re cheap and sound great, so I think they’re a good place to start.)

And now, the free plugins (I’ll be adding to this list over time):


  1. Elektrostudio Analog Synth Emulations


  1. ReaEQ (comes with Reaper)
  2. BootEQmkII
  3. Antress Modern Black Dragon


  1. ReaComp (comes with Reaper)
  2. Antress Modern Seventh Sign
  3. Antress Modern LostAngel
  4. BLOCKFISH compressor

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John Thomas Mumm has been writing and studying music since 1997. He has recorded hundreds of songs and five self-produced albums. His day job is as an academic philosopher, and in his spare time he writes fiction and brews beer. Most recently, he's started studying the fine art of the cocktail. So far he's finding that the principles of balance in drink mixing aren't completely unrelated to the principles of balance in songwriting.

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