In these trying economic times, many of us are feeling the pinch. Food, petrol, gas and electricity prices are going up, so we've all got less money to spend on other things. Music software, for example.
Fortunately, there is a solution, and its name is freeware. It's now possible to legitimately download all the applications and plug-ins you need to construct a complete software studio.
Don't go thinking that free software is just for those who want to save money, though – there are plenty of other reasons to try it, too. Allow MusicRadar to give you ten of the most compelling.
1. It's born out of love
Small-time music software developers may not make mega-bucks, but that doesn't mean that they're not passionate about what they do. In fact, many freeware apps and plug-ins are created precisely because the developer isn't satisfied with the pre-existing alternatives. These guys are making this stuff for themselves, and then being kind enough to share it with us.
2. It's cutting-edge
When a large company develops a music software product, it has to be pretty sure it'll sell. Countless costs need to be covered, or the company runs the risk of going out of business. Freeware developers don't work under this kind of pressure, so they can create the stuff that they want to make, rather than what they think will sell in the highest numbers. Consequently, they're much more likely to take risks and release tools that are innovative and experimental.
3. You're doing the right thing
Despite what some people may have told you, using cracked or illegitimate versions of commercial apps and plug-ins is very wrong indeed. If you do it, you're endangering the future of the music software industry, and that's bad for everyone. What's more, there really is no need to steal software – freeware is a fully viable alternative, and using it won't leave you with a nagging sense of guilt.
4. Freeware developers respond to their users' requests
Most freeware developers are happy to listen to suggestions as to how they could improve their products. In fact, many of them actively encourage users to feed back ideas that they can incorporate into future updates. That being the case, freeware users often end up with software that fits their requirements perfectly.
5. You won't get charged for upgrades
Commercial developers frequently release new versions of their products, but they frequently charge for them, too. There's nothing inherently wrong with this, but having to repeatedly invest in a product so that you can keep it up-to-date can get frustrating (not to mention expensive). If you go down the freeware road, you'll never have to worry about paying for an update again.
6. Ease of use
OK, so most freeware plug-ins don't come with glossy, printed manuals to help you find your way around, but in many cases, they're not really required. Lots of the stuff that's available gratis is so simple that even your granny could probably use it, which is great news if you don't want to get bogged down with heavy feature sets and confusing jargon.
7. Freeware is cool
So you may think that we're stretching credibility a bit with this one, but hear us out and you might be persuaded. Everyone knows about the most popular music software products, but if you can casually drop the names of a couple of obscure freeware plug-ins into conversation, your mates will think you're a well-informed scenester. We can't promise that using freeware will make you any more attractive to the opposite sex, though.
8. Free software is great for collaborators
Working with other computer musicians can be an immensely rewarding experience, but if you and your creative partners are all running different software, bouncing projects around between you can get tricky. If you all use freeware, though, your problems are solved – and you won't have to worry about shelling out for the same plug-ins your mates have, because you can all get everything for nothing.
9. No more copy protection
We understand why commercial developers have to use challenge/response and physical dongle systems to protect their products, but they're certainly annoying, particularly when you have to reinstall your system or if you buy a new computer. You can wave bye-bye to these immense frustrations if you use freeware, though – just install it and start making music right away.
10. It's free!
And there you were thinking that we'd forgotten the most obvious reason of all. That's right, freeware costs you nothing, diddly-squat, nada… surely the only reason you need to at least have a look at what's out there. We hope we've proved that there are plenty of others, though – this stuff might not cost anything, but that doesn't mean that it's not superb.
If you want to get all the best free music software, check out the Computer Music Freeware Special (volume 30) which is on sale in UK newsagents now and can also be ordered at www.myfavouritemagazines.co.uk. This comes with a CD that's packed with 100 music-making tools – inside the magazine you'll find out what they are and how to use them.