Posted by Michael Bordash on 2007-10-01 10:56:37

How-Tos & Tutorials
If you are in college, or are on a tight budget, you still can create and experiment with electronic music without spending a dime. You need to start with a sequencer that can support VSTs. If you can't afford a commercial sequencer that supports VSTs, like Ableton Live or Cubase which can cost upwards of $500, there are plenty of open-source, shareware and free sequencers that will get you started.

A software sequencer is a tool that records, edits and plays-back commands (typically MIDI) that can be interpreted as sound; essentially, a tool that records a sequence of data. VST, or Virtual Studio Technology, is a standard developed by Steinberg allowing the development of software modules to sythesize sound or layer filter effects over pre-recorded sound. Commonly referred to as VST Plugins, these tools allow for the complete replacement of expensive hardware typically found in musician's studios of the past. However, many may argue that you can't obtain true creative freedom using strictly digital software tools.

Debate aside, the point is, with a pure software environment, you can easily create music wherever you are, when the inspiration strikes. Plus, keeping with the open spirit of the internet, there are literally hundreds of free VST plugins and syntheizers available to you, right now, so that you can leap into the creative process. Below are some free (or nearly free) software tools you might want to get started with. For the industrious sort, there are many music tools that are GNU/Linux compatible (for the lay folk: after paying for a computer, you don't need to pay Microsoft or Apple for an operating system to create music).

Software Sequencers
Name Description O/S
Aero Studio Aero Studio is an excellent software sequencer that includes traditional piano-roll automation with a tracker style pattern editor. This advanced sequencer also supports VST plugins. Windows
Analog Box 2 Now this is a cool piece of software. It went a bit over my head at first, and I really have to sit down for a day or three to get a handle on it. Basically it is tool that lets you build a low-level, circuit-based modular software synthesizer. You can import modules on the interface, connect them together, adjust parameters and even hook-up VSTi plugins. For the tech-heads, this one is a challenge. Check out the sample circuitry and tutorials on the site. Windows
DreamStation The original DreamStation is a stand-alone music workstation, which includes a 32-track sequencer, knob automation and midi support. The software also includes mixing tools, FX processors and synthesizers. However, DreamStation II (in beta as of this writing) now includes VST/VSTi plugin support which would make it a complete package. The software is nearly free at $49 bucks. Windows
Psycle This superb tracker-style sequencer has been around for a long time. It has a 64-track pattern editor, native synths, effects processors and a stereo sampler and support VST plugins. This site has an active forum with presets, samples and example songs. Windows
Qtractor Qtractor is an exceptional achievement by the open-source movement. It is a beautiful audio/midi multitrack sequencer with features similar in appearance and usage to Ableton Live. At present it does not support VST plugins, however, keep tabs on this project if you're a Linux user, as VST support will be a natural progression. Check the screenshots on the site, it might be a good reason to dual boot your windows box with linux. GNU/Linux
MusE MusE is another open-source audio and midi sequencer for Linux. I haven't used this one yet, but it does claim to support windows-based VSTi plugins using the WINE library. More information here about native windows VST integration with Linux sequencers using WINE. GNU/Linux
TSE3 Then there is TSE3. This is for the exceptionally advanced CS-majors and developer gurus. It is a C++ sequencer library that can be used to develop a proper music sequencer with a User Interface. In essence, this open-source package gives you the low-level tools to build your own sequencing application from the ground up. Linux
VST/VSTi Plugins
Name Description O/S
AMVST Of course we must promote first our own, in-house VSTis from AMVST! We offer terrific a number of free (and commercial) VSTi synths and FX plugins. Once you're satisfied with a host sequencer, downlowd the IDJ 3-OSC VA VSTi synth. It's free and has some great features. Windows
Crystal Soft Synth Crystal is a free VST plugin that has several advanced options typically found in costly software. It generates sound using both subtractive and FM synthesis. It includes complete modulation control with 90 parameters that can be modulated, graphical editors, built-in effects and many more professional features. A must for serious music programmers. Windows and Mac
Superwave P8 Professional quality sounds and functionality offered by Superwave P8; yet it's free! This VST plugin offers 64 Patch memory, 8 voice polyphony, 2 oscillators and much more. Definitely a must for your toolbox of synthesizers. Windows


If any of our readers have suggestions for free sequencers or VST plugins we missed, post them in our comments section below. We will review any relevant suggestions and keep this article up to date. In our next article we'll cover free Audio Editors and Samplers so keep your ideas handy. In the meantime, if you're interested in composing music and are on a tight budget, experiment with the software we've suggested above. When you're happy with your first creation, make sure to upload it to InternetDJ! We'll be sure to give it a review.

(The picture used here is of Joe's Modular Synth)

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