Recording your voice on your computer has never been easier…or cheaper. -says Chris Kennedy
If you are a singer wanting to record yourself and your music at home, you may be interested in some of the several free pieces of software that allow you to make music on your home computer without the need of spending any money.
You’ll often hear these pieces of software referred to as Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software.
They are designed to replace the analogue multi-track recorders of the past and enable you to make multi-track recordings entirely using your computer and a microphone.
There are several different options out there and, although these packages tend to have a reduced number of features when compared to commercial software, they are still capable of producing great results.
We take a look at some of the most popular options:
(Oh yes, if you find any of the terms below confusing, simply go to our user-friendly “Key Terms” guide…)
Audacity has been around for several years now and has versions for Windows, Mac and Linux.
It lets you make multi-track recordings on your computer that you can overdub, edit and mix.
The interface is clean and intuitive to use and is compatible with most audio file formats.
The effects section includes common effects such as reverb, EQ, delay and compression; however, it also supports VST plug-ins (with an add-on), enabling you to add a wide range of extra effects to the software.
This is particularly useful for singers wanting to get a polished vocal sound as there are many high-quality VST effects out there enabling you to add high quality reverb and compression to your vocal recordings.
In addition, Audacity also includes tools to remove hiss and hum from recordings (which is great if you are recording in the same room as a noisy computer), pitch shift and time-stretching functions.
Finally, when your recording is edited and mixed, Audacity lets you export your track as a WAV file to write to a CD or as an MP3 for the internet.
Overall, Audacity is capable of producing competent results when used for recording and mixing audio. However, if your music is more in the dance genre you will most-likely want to look for a DAW with support for MIDI and drum/synth programming.
Kristal Audio Engine is a multi-track recorder, audio sequencer and mixer that is designed to run on Windows PCs.
It is free for personal, educational and non-commercial use and contains many of the usual features that you would expect to find in any DAW software.
The main application provides a mixing console, while the audio sequencer, live audio input and so on are loaded as separate plug-ins.
Like Audacity it lacks MIDI capabilities, however its modular design and simple effects interface will appeal to singers working exclusively with live acoustic recordings.
One nice feature is its ability to monitor VST effects in real time, allowing users to connect a mic or guitar and hear back what it sounds like with the effects added whilst they perform.
Kristal is a very capable piece of software and can be used to record, mix and master your demos.
Many users will also like that the interface is similar in design to other commercial DAW softwares such as ProTools.
Although it is limited to 16 tracks, this should prove enough for most users and the ability to add VST effects should enable you to get the sound you are after.
MU Lab Free
MU Lab Free is essentially a stripped down version of their commercial software which they claim to be a ” user-friendly yet rock-solid musical tool designed to create, finetune and play Your Music!”.
In the free version you are limited to only 4 tracks per composition and only up to 8 VST plug-ins in its database.
If you need any more you will have to look elsewhere or upgrade to their UT or XL versions (25EUR and 75EUR respectively).
As a result of being derived from commercial software, MU Lab Free is a well designed and intuitive DAW software with all the features you would expect to find (including MIDI – which is a plus for keyboard players).
Singers who want to record more sparse acoustic music will probably find MU Lab Free enough to get a basic demo recorded and edited; however, for more complicated arrangements you will need to keep bouncing down your tracks into sub-mixes due to the limited track count.
If you have ever worked on a 4-track machine in the past this should come quite naturally, however if you are used to the editing and mixing possibilities of a full commercial DAW software you may want to look elsewhere.
Traverso is a simple and easy to use software for creating and editing multi-track recordings.
It has an unlimited track count and comes with a useful range of built-in effects. There are also all the usual features you would expect to find in an audio editing application such as cut, copy, move, fade in/out, adjust pan and gain, and normalise.
Traverso is capable of recording up to two channels at one, which is fine if you are a solo singer, however if you work with a band and want to record everyone together this becomes a bit of a limitation.
Compared to other free pieces of software the quality of the effects are perhaps not the best for creating great sounding vocal parts, and the lack of VST plug-in support means you can not use 3rd party plug-ins to rectify this.
One particularly good feature in Traverso that stand out is its built-in CD creator. This allows you to add markers, CD text and then write your CD all within the software.
You can also check and adjust all the levels across your CD to ensure you have good balance between tracks.
This gives you far more control over the track positioning on your CD than on general CD burning software and in itself makes Traverso well worth the download.
Linux MultiMedia Studio
Although primarily designed for Linux users, Linux MultiMedia Studio (LMMS) now also supports Windows and offers several great tools for musicians working with samples and beats.
It is MIDI compatible and is designed to make it easy to create and arrange beats and loops.
LMMS’s interface is quite different to the other DAW applications we have looked at and may take a little more getting used to, however there are several online guides to help you on your way.
One key reason for this difference is that LMMS is mainly designed for people working within dance genres and includes many features that you would typically find on a sampler.
One particularly useful feature of LMMS is its support for VST instruments; allowing you to dramatically increase your sound palate, especially if you are a keyboard player and have MIDI capabilities.
If your music involves beats, synths, loops and samples LMMS is a powerful piece of free software that offers a wide range of creative possibilities.
Its built in looper is also great for singers wanting to explore the possibilities of vocal loops as you can simply record your voice into LMMS’s sampler with a microphone and instantly start to manipulate it and create new sounds.
LMMS does not have the same audio support of the other DAWs we have looked at and, as such, singer-songwriters whose music is predominantly acoustic will probably not find much use for the software, however if your music is more electronic, LMMS is certainly worth trying out.
Overall each software package offers something slightly different from each other and it is likely that the musical style in which you are writing will determine which one you will find most useful.
If you do chose to go down the freeware software route, it is also worth considering the possibility of using a combination of different pieces of software for making your music.
For example: you may want to use the MIDI editing and VSTi capabilities of LMMS to create a drum, keyboard and bass parts which you then export as an audio file into Kristal for recording and editing you vocal and guitar parts – then, once your track is finished use Traverso to create and burn your CD.
Other free software you may also want to check out:
Anvil Studio (linux & mac only)
Chris Kennedy is a singer-songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist from Canterbury, UK. Chris mostly performs his songs with his group The New Inventions; however he is also a virtuosic pianist and can regularly be seen perfoming solo jazz music around Kent. He has so far released 6 albums with new solo material and recordings with The New Inventions planned for release later in the year.