One of the struggles often faced by composers is getting access to good software and quality orchestral samples. Acquiring high-end software and samples can end up costing quite a lot, and much of the stuff that is freely available is just not very good. Still, there are a few free resources out there that really are top-notch quality. So whether you are a new composer who wants to get started without making a huge investment or a seasoned composer who just wants to expand your library, this list is for you.
Choosing a DAW
Before you can even start thinking about instruments, you need a DAW (digital audio workstation). These are essentially digital platforms for composing and producing music. There are an abundance of DAWs out there, but here are a few good ones that I recommend for composers. If you are willing to bite the bullet and pay for one, I would recommend going with an industry standard like Pro Tools or Logic Pro X (what I personally use). However, this is an article about free resources, after all, so here are a few good options that will get you started.
If you are using a Mac computer, I recommend Garageband as a solid free option. Garageband is a stripped down version of Logic Pro X, so if you plan to upgrade in the future, this is definitely a good place to start.
- Garageband: https://www.apple.com/mac/garageband/
If you are on a Windows machine, I recommend Cakewalk by Bandlab as a a good free DAW. In the past, this particular piece of software was called “SONAR Platinum,” and at that time it cost $500… so getting it for free is a no brainer!
Spitfire Audio – LABS
This is a great resource from Spitfire Audio, a notable company who has worked with famous composers such as Hans Zimmer and Eric Whitacre. They regularly release new samples, so you should definitely register with them and sign up for email notifications of future releases. These instruments are downloadable in the “Spitfire Audio” app, and will run in your DAW with Spitfire’s own proprietary sample player.
- Spitfire Audio – LABS: https://www.spitfireaudio.com/labs/
“An infinite series of free software instruments, made by musicians and sampling experts in London, for anyone, anywhere. Presented in our own plug-in, they are easy to use, and compatible with any DAW. And in case you missed it — they’re all free.”Spitfire Audio
Native Instruments – Komplete Start
Native Instruments is a staple in the digital audio world. The sample player “Kontakt,” which has a free version included in this bundle, is a must have.
- Native Instruments – Komplete Start: https://www.native-instruments.com/en/products/komplete/bundles/komplete-start/
“Dive into nine pro-grade sample-based instruments, including the PLAY SERIES SELECTION instruments, the spooky KINETIC TREATS, and a selection of vintage synths, acoustic instruments, drums, and more. The package also includes the KONTAKT 6 PLAYER – an app that hosts all Native Instruments’ sampled instruments, as well as a vast range of instruments from other companies such as Spitfire Audio, Heavyocity, and Output.”Native Instruments
ProjectSAM – The Free Orchestra
ProjectSAM makes top tier samples that are used in many high profile soundtracks. “The Free Orchestra” is a great set of instruments taken from various libraries and stitched together in one convenient download. Something to consider is that you will need the “Kontakt Player” to use this library. It is included in the “Komplete Start” bundle I shared above, or it can be downloaded by itself here. Once you have downloaded “Kontakt Player” and “The Free Orchestra,” you will need to follow the instructions given on ProjectSAM’s website to get the library registered and working with Kontakt.
- ProjectSAM – The Free Orchestra: https://projectsam.com/library-category/the-free-orchestra/
“One solid gigabyte of free, cinematic sounds taken directly from ProjectSAM’s acclaimed libraries. From orchestral string staccatos and brass clusters to symphonic percussion and dystopian sound design. Now with new presets and Kontakt Player compatibility!”ProjectSAM
Ivy Audio – Piano in 162
Convincing piano sample libraries can be hard to come by… much less free ones. Ivy Audio breaks that pattern by offering “Piano in 162” for free. This is a solid piano sample library, especially when you consider the price. While it is advertised to work with Kontakt, be aware that it only works with the full version of Kontakt, which can be quite pricey. It won’t work in the free “Kontakt Player” mentioned above. However, there is a version of Piano in 162 marked “SFZ” that will run in the free “Sforzando” player by Plogue, available here.
- Ivy Audio – Piano in 162: http://ivyaudio.com/Piano-in-162
“A staple of classical and orchestral music. Piano in 162 is a sample library of a Steinway Model B grand piano, available in Kontakt, SFZ, and Korg Kronos formats.”Ivy Audio