Software you can get free or nearly free
I like to write lyrics and have done so for a very long time. There have been periods in my life where I was a serious musician and dedicated and then I shifted my attention to other things as time went by.
Even so, I never lost my love for music, or for writing songs and lyrics. That is where a great deal of the drive to build guitars comes from. An instrument I would like to use, something I will actually play and enjoy, and something that will make things easier for me or make creating music a better experience for me.
When it comes to an audio DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) I had no intention of investing huge amounts of time, effort and money into software if I didn’t have to. And, there I so much out there that it seemed impossible to me that I would be able to look it all over, download it, test it and come up with likes and dislikes, but over the last few years I have done that.
Most of what I chose to use comes from the Public domain in the form of Open Source or freeware. Let’s face it, if you want to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars there are plenty of places that will gladly take your money and sell you something. But if you are like me and you simply want to record your demos of your lyrics and music you can get by with a lot less. I won’t be the one to say that you might be able to squeak by all the way with this stuff, but there are some that do and I think maybe you could.
Audacity: Audacity is what I use to record with. It is free open source software you can download and use just as it is. Or, you can download it, search the Web for VST plug-ins, load it up and use it like that. There are hundreds of VST plug-ins that are free or open source that will work with Audacity. This software records from a Microphone input, Guitar cable to USB. It recognizes and takes audio feeds from your computers ports for Line In. When I am using this to record something from another piece of software I simply use a short patch cable and run my external front panel headphone jack straight into my front panel Microphone jack. I then start Audacity, find that input and I am set to record that audio. You can use a program called Jack that is supposed to be able to join other pieces of software to this audio interface, but I have never had luck with it, and an 1/8 inch stereo patch cord for less than a buck does the trick nicely. And, I am not recording more than one input at a time.
Once I have all of my audio recorded to Audacity I can open it in the window as above and blend or mix it. I can also try different filters on the audio, stretch it, shorten it, take care of latency issues, pretty much anything I want to do. When I am satisfied with it I can save that final render as a WAV or MP3 file, and of course I can store all the separate components as Audacity Project files so that I can do another, different re-mix at some future date.
Get it here: http://www.audacityteam.org/
Chord Pulse: Chord Pulse is a nice, easy to use piece of software. This is one of the tools I use to lay out my music. Every project I do starts here. If you have a basic knowledge of music structure, specifically chord structures, you can easily build your basic song here in just a few moments. I play out the song on one of my guitars, note the chords and changes, and then lay it out on the interface for chord pulse. I may have to play with it a bit, beats per minute, the style I want behind it, but once I have that locked down all I have to do is play it.
Chord Pulse adds a bass-line, drums and the basic chording, or complex chording if I take the time to lay it out. Whatever I lay out is what it will play, backed with a drum-line and a bass-line too.
Once I’m happy with it I can export it as a MIDI file, or save it as a project to use within Chord Pulse if I intend to add more pieces, lead, bass runs, that will be used within the song.
Once I have the basic file I can take the BPM into Hydrogen and beef up the drum beat, or save it as a MIDI and use it in LMMS and add more backing tracks to it, or swap out instruments via sound fonts or VST plugins. Really, the possibilities are endless. A note: Chord Pulse is not freeware, but in my opinion it is well worth the money at under $30.00 U.S.
Get Chord Pulse: http://www.chordpulse.com/
LMMS: LMMS is a full, open source, as in free, DAW. All the things I use different software to do it can do in different ways. I use it more and more as I learn its capabilities, and I suspect a day will come when I use only it to create a song from start to finish because it has those capabilities.
It can read and play sound-fonts. It can assign a MIDI part to its own file and it will allow you to assign different instruments to that file. Was it a piano piece? Well you can make it a Sax piece, or a bass run, or even a drum beat. Let your head take it where you want it. You could very easily spend days playing with your MIDI import file and sequencing it until you get it where you want it. Or, you could spend a few moments with it and be satisfied.
It uses VST and LADSPA plugins. It reads MIDI and it saves to a native format for your project files as well.
I often use layers in my writing and sequencing, and LMMS is perfect for that. It is also a perfect looping tool. I can do a quick guitar piece, loop it, and have an entire backing.
Once I am happy in LMMS I will send it to Audacity via the patch cable and save it as an Audacity file.
Get LMMS now: https://lmms.io/
Hydrogen: Hydrogen is Open Source Software. Free for all uses private and commercial. I use Hydrogen to supplement my drum beats, but it can be used for much more than that. For me it is easier to learn as I go, and so I stick to the features I want from the product and pick up the other bits and pieces as I go along.
Hydrogen is user friendly. You can put together a beat in just a few moments. For me, I bring my info over from Chord Pulse in the form of style and Beats Per Minute. That BPM is really all I need to get a beat going that will sync with my original beat nicely, and either supplant it completely or compliment it nicely. That’s it. When I am done I can save that beat as a MIDI and take it over to LMMS or chord patch it directly to Audacity. Either way I have want I want. I tend to save all the musical pieces I generate as MIDI files so that I can use the VST functions in LMMS and swap out instrumentation.
Get Hydrogen Drum Machine: http://www.hydrogen-music.org/hcms/