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BLOG: The true value of free music software

The article first appeared in a Computer Music Freeware Special.
The article first appeared in a Computer Music Freeware Special.

When MusicRadar published the Top 10 reasons to use free music software, we honestly didn't except it to spark off a major debate.

However, last week, that's exactly what happened: Paul Kaufman from commercial developer IK Multimedia responded with his thoughts, then the issues he raised were discussed on MusicRadar, Create Digital Music and Analog Industries.

Read more: IK Multimedia iRig Stomp I/O

I'm all in favour of people having their say, but I just wanted to clarify a couple of points.

Firstly, although the original article was explicitly designed to extol the merits of free software - many musicians still don't know how good much of it is - the intention was never to imply that it's inherently better than the products you have to pay for.

This clearly isn't the case - take a look through MusicRadar's review archives and you'll see countless commercial DAWs, plug-ins and other apps being heartily recommended. But the fact is that many of the freebie offerings also have value, and they deserve to be recognised.

Secondly, I have a message for commercial software developers - free software can be your friend. On the one hand, you can release free, cutdown versions that should encourage punters to invest in your full products at a later date (particularly if you offer reasonably-priced upgrades), while on the other, free software gives people who can't afford your tools a legitimate alternative.

If would-be computer musicians are living impecuniously, surely it's better that they use software that's genuinely free than seek out cracks of applications that they should be paying for?

Ultimately, though, I don't think it's true that musicians make a conscious decision to use either free or commercial software. Most will buy their core tools - for many of the reasons that IK picked out in its response to MusicRadar - then supplement these with some of the best freebies.