In my post on recorded sound effect sources, I mentioned that you’ll need software to edit and manipulate audio. Below are listed a number of free (or almost free) software packages for manipulating (and creating) sound effects, speech, music — any audio. Many of the programs listed will be designed with musicians in mind, but anything that works with sound is a potentially useful tool for a sound designer.
I have not used most of these programs — these listings are a resource, not an endorsement.
Apple’s cross-platform, ubiquitous audio library software has many good features for sound design. It can burn CDs, sequence tracks, adjust track volumes, play mp3, wav or aiff files, and it can import files in multiple formats. I’d write a whole post on these features except they’ve done that job already:
More about iTunes features
An open source iTunes-like product that’s “part music player, part Web browser, and all about music discovery, management, and playback.”
More about Songbird
Audacity is a very basic, very useful sound editor. I use it all the time. It’s limited, but easy to use.
More about audacity
Reaper is a full-fledged audio and midi music production system, that is priced at $60 for personal/unprofitable small-business use, $225 for commercial use. The demo version is free, full-featured and does not expire.
More about Reaper
Let’s Mix Editor
A.k.a. the Pacemaker Editor, this free software is intended as the desktop component of an iPod-like DJ device, and is an easy way to line up multiple songs in a row, overlap transitions, even beatmatch and add effects. A quick way to build a pre-show program of music if you want it to be more ‘seamless’ than you might get straight out of an iTunes playlist.
More about the Let’s Mix Editor
“Wavosaur has all the features to edit audio (cut, copy, paste, etc.) produce music loops, analyze, record, batch convert.” Windows only.
More about Wavosaur
Another all in one package like Reaper, developed collaboratively. They ask for donations/subscriptions, but allow you to download without.
More about Ardour
A “customizable sound triggering device and realtime digital audio performance tool.”
More about Soundplant
“A complete music studio”
More about MU.LAB
Kristal Audio Engine
A “multi-track recorder, audio sequencer and mixer” (Free for non commercial use.) Currently Windows only.
More about Kristal Audio Engine
From here on I’ve listed some additional software resources that have been recommended to me by musicians, audio engineers, and sound designers, but may be beyond what a theatrical sound designer is going to find useful. These links are just the tip of the iceberg–there are new sound programs being created and updated every day.
A “real-time graphical programming environment for audio, video, and graphical processing”. Sound complicated and open-ended? I’m sure it is, with limitless possibilities.
More about Pure Data
“Modular software based synthesizer.” Free, unless you want to use VST plugins, then that version is $35. Again, not for the faint of heart…
More about Buzz Machines
A “networking system between max patches”. Programmers making sound modules.
More about Ppooll
29 music making applications for the Linux OS
“If you enjoy droning, ambient sounds that go on forever and ever, then this just may be the right app for you.” Mac only
More about Mlooch
Collaborative music making — in a browser.
More about Audiotool
News info and more about audio plugins.
More about KVR
Thanks to the forumites at Ninjatune and Propellerhead for their help in assembling this information.
this link also has good info on this type of thing: free music software