Sound creation tools

Free and cheap sound tools!

There’s a remarkable pool of resources out there that can expand your sonic tool kit. There are web-based electronic instruments like drum machines, downloadable audio manipulation tools, and plug ins you can add your the audio editor of your choice (like Audition). Click on the tabs below for a few options! 

It is worth noting that the viability of each of these tools is limited to your operating system and possibly the browser you are using (if it is a web-based tool). Sometimes these free tools also might not be updated to work with rapidly changing operating systems. 

For each tool I’ve included a list of pros and cons and some notes about ease of use and capturing sound.


Web-based tools and instruments

Musical Chord Progression Arpeggiator:

Type: browser-based sound generator
Learning Curve: Low (1 out of 5)

Pros: It’s easy to figure this one out. Just start clicking and it becomes clear!
Cons: no SAVE feature, so you’ll need to record via your headphone jack or some other capture method.

106.js is an emulation of the classic Roland Juno-106 analog synthesizer.

Type: browser-based sound generator
Learning Curve: Low (2 out of 5)
Pros: It’s fairly easy to figure out, but if you are unfamiliar with the way a synth works it can take a few minutes of noodling with sliders to understand all of the ways that sounds are shaped. It can be controlled with your computer keyboard. It is polyphonic so you can play multiple notes simultaneously.
Cons: no SAVE feature, so you’ll need to record via your headphone jack or some other capture method.

Online drum machine. Some nice features include the ability to record as a wav, add multiple pages of drum patterns, pan drums left or right, add a few effects, select from different kinds of genres (Jazz, Hiphop, latin, etc) and more.

Type: browser-based sound generator
Learning Curve: Low (2 out of 5)
Pros: It’s fairly easy to figure out, but if you are unfamiliar with the way a drum machine works it can take a few minutes to figure out the way the sequencer and multiple pages work as well as the other settings, but all in all this is EASY!

You can save an audio file (WAV format)
You can save your pattern so you can open it again later and keep working on it. 

Cons: Sound sometimes seems to break up a bit during playback in the browser, but the recorded file seems unaffected.


Free downloadable audio tools and instruments

Forester (by Leafcutter John) 
This is a pretty fantastic generative sound tool that loads a series of your samples and then meanders around them creating atmospheric soundscapes. This is an application made in MAX-MSP that you’ll need to download and install on your computer. You can find  video introduction to Forester here

Type: downloadable sound application (Mac and PC)
Learning Curve: Medium (3 out of 5)
Pros: Fun sound generation tool, great if you are looking for something that automatically creates havoc with your sound files!
Cons: The interface is a little funky (but that also makes it fun). Takes a little poking around to figure out exactly how it works (tip: watch the video). 

Music Sound Design Performer (MSDP)
It is worth saying straight out that it is amazing that this incredibly powerful tool is FREE!
Music_SDP is free music software developed for live performance, improvisation, and experimentation. It is based around the idea of guitar pedal effects that you chain together to modify sounds, but it also includes virtual instruments (like a drum machine and synths), a mixer, automation and more.

Type: downloadable sound application (Mac and PC)

Learning Curve: High (5 out of 5)

Pros: This is a remarkable tool and great for experimenting and creating complex sound designs, textures or even songs. The features are many and the combination possibilities are endless. It’s easy to output your work as a recorded audio file and also to save your presets for the patches you create. this is also a great option if you want to create some live manipulated or generated sound.

Cons: Make no mistake, the learning curve is HIGH. If you are unwilling to watch a getting started video and read a little help instruction, then it may not be the right tool for you! HOWEVER, with a little patience and trial and error you can create some amazing things. The user manual (which is unfinished but still helpful) is HERE and there are many helpful videos HERE

Here’s an experiment I created in MSDP

Video Trigger
By Zach Poff. As he says: “I designed Video Trigger for artists who want to experiment with interactivity without building custom hardware or software. It aims to answer the question that I hear from many of my students: ‘How do I make a sound play when somebody walks by?'”

Type: downloadable sound application (Mac only)
Learning Curve: High (4 out of 5)
Pros: There really isn’t anything else out there that does this, certainly not for free! Triggering 6 different sounds when people walk into different zones? COME ON!
Cons: It takes some time to figure out and I have found that it can be a bit fussy about your camera set up. It takes time to test how the trigger sensitivity works as well as the various looping modes. Because Poff makes this in his spare time it may lag behind the various Mac OS changes. So test it out to be sure it works on your system!


ISJS app is a granular audio player. It takes small snippets of your audio from 3 files, loops them and, essentially, stutters them. ISJS is SuperCollider patch are free and available to download. 

From the creator:
“ISJS stands for I-Shim-Jun-Shim (이심전심, 以心傳心), a Korean word for “communicating through the hearts,” or in my interpretation, “empathy.” Featured sounds are recordings by collaborators, students, and family members. I often communicate with them without saying a word. The usual medium to do so is music, but sometimes it is a nod, smirk, sigh, eye contact, or eating in silence. You know.”



Free VST and other plug ins

There’s a bunch of free plug ins out there. Most of them are either BAD or they do many of the things you can ALREADY do in Audition or in whatever editor you are using.
Here are some notable exceptions:

Fracture and Hysteresis by Glitchmachines
Here are two free plug ins by Glitchmachines that are worth exploring. Remember that when you install a new plug in you will need to activate it within Adobe Audition and likely any other audio or video programs where you intend to use it!

FRACTURE is a FREE buffer effect plugin geared toward creating robotic artifacts and abstract musical malfunctions.
Fracture features a buffer effect, a multimode filter, three LFOs and a delay. The order of the effects in the processing chain can also be reconfigured. This plugin is geared toward adding glitchy articulations and abstract textures to your projects. Use it on anything from drums and percussion to synth lines and sound effects. Fracture’s intuitive interface and diverse features make it simple to give your projects a unique technical edge.

HYSTERESIS is a FREE glitch delay plugin geared toward creating robotic artifacts and abstract musical malfunctions. Hysteresis features a delay effect with stutter, lowpass filter and modulation effects thrown into the feedback signal path. Process anything from drums and percussion to synth lines and sound effects. On top of being able to create incredibly wild signal mutations, it can also be used to generate classic delay effects.

Puremagnetik : Expanse and Driftmaker
Two free plugins that pay homage to ambient, microsound and granular traditions.


Expanse Texture Generator
This is a noise and drone generator plug-in that lets you spectrally blur, pitch, and filter audio. According to Puremagnetik, it’s capable of outputting “sweeping backdrops, resonating low drones, and many other textural canvases.” The plug-in has Filter, Stasis, Shift, Blend, Space, Size, and Output controls. The function of each is explained above the control set. This is a very interesting plug-in that combines noise generation, spectral blurring, pitch shifting and reverb into one seemingly potent unit. I gotta give this one a spin for sure!

Driftmaker Delay Disintegration Device
Summed up, this plug-in chops audio into grains and mangles the signal in an analog-inspired fashion. Driftmaker has Parse, Chop, Time, Drift, Blend and Gain controls – the function of each explained above the control set. What we are looking at is a granular delay with analog-style saturation and filtering, which sounds very exciting to me.


Free or cheap alternatives to Audition

Audiotool is a powerful online music production studio right in your browser.” This is an incredibly powerful and intensive online music creation tool. It allows you to connect multiple components (synthesizers, drum machines, arpeggiators, effects boxes, etc), create multitrack compositions, etc. Of course because it is web-based you might run into some speed issues.

My advice is to click GET STARTED start off with a new EMPTY TRACK and say YES when it asks to give you a tour – it will point out the parts of the interface.

There are many online tutorials as well. here’s a getting started tutorial


Are you interested in trying out other sound production tools (perhaps something that can handle midi and virtual instruments) but cant afford Protools, Digital Performer, or Ableton Live?

“REAPER is a complete digital audio production application for Windows and OS X, offering a full multitrack audio and MIDI recording, editing, processing, mixing and mastering toolset. REAPER supports a vast range of hardware, digital formats and plugins, and can be comprehensively extended, scripted and modified.”
Remarkably this tool is only $6o

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