Audiotool in Action. Screenshot

Air on the Shoestring: Creating Music on a Budget

In a world where you can become famous instantly thanks to the modern age having more sharing options than ever, starting your music career couldn’t be a more fun time…until you realise how expensive it can be. From sample packs to instruments to licenses (if you’re planning on selling covers) to hardware/software and if you’re successful, the cost of premium hosting and listing for your audio streams.

This overwhelming cost can often put people off, but if you are passionate about creating and expressing yourself through the medium, it shouldn’t have to cost the earth (at least not initially!). Here’s a few ideas to help you make some notes musically before you have them financially.

Try Online

There seems to be a tool for everything online these days and music making is no exception. These applications vary in quality and usefulness but are nonetheless fun to play with and may still help you to ‘spark’ some inspiration.

On the fun, but proprietary end, there’s the famous Punk o Matic series of games, where you get the opportunity to compose a punk masterpiece using the samples of a lead guitar, rhythm guitar and a drummer. These works are composed on a 3 track grid at the top of the game by selecting a preset number for each instrument. Different presets come at different lengths (as noted by the coloured or lack of coloured portions of each point on the grid). You can play back your piece anytime and even save it in local storage if you wish to start another (these are lost after you close the game though). If you wish to share your creations with your friends though, you can copy a “data” code which works in the load box to bring up your composition in a friend’s browser. If you want to try it, all you need is a modern browser with a flash player installed and to click the link in the box on the right. If you want a sample of what can be made in 10 minutes, try pasting the following emboldened code into the load box (this includes all the dashes or it won’t work!):


Punk o Matic 2 expands on this enormously and introduces a story mode. In the classic free play mode, the composer is much more advanced introducing riffs based on strings and frets for the guitarists and bassist and styles of grooves for the drummer. I won’t go into too much detail as I only discovered it today (Wednesday) before publishing and will instead let the tutorial guide you through the process of using the interface.

On the slightly more serious side (as serious as electronic composition can get online), there are also tools such as Audiotool, which began as a fairly straightforward composition tool but over time has had a makeover and like Punk o Matic became a more more advanced and capable DAW envrionment complete with the storage of completed audio tracks in the cloud (provided you sign up for an account), tutorials, album listings for creators and MIDI integration/sample upload allowing you to bring your studio with you. Again, Audiotool uses Flash so you’re advised to have a player installed with Google Chrome being the recommended browser to ensure full compatibility with the web app. For mobile users, this isn’t to be confused with “AudioTool” on the Google Play Store, that’s a different program altogether.

But what if you’re more of a singer or an instrumentalist and you want to capture you ‘real world’ music making. That’s okay, there’s recording software too. Two tools a quick search will introduce you to include Online Voice Recorder and Speakpipe. Both sites use the same basic principle of using your microphone input on your computer (usually the default recording card you have set up on your operating system) and converts this into an audio file you can listen to in the browser or send on to yourself or a friend. SpeakPipe takes the compatible option here not requiring anything more than a modern browser, however the editing functions aren’t really there should you make a mistake other than to do a retake (losing your previous one in the progress).

If you’d like something a little more geared towards music sharing, why not try Soundcloud’s direct uploader? This can be done in the iOS/Android app or directly online in the browser. This recorder is also limited in functionality too, but will allow you to share you music directly as part of an existing Soundcloud account just like you would get with uploading a file – meaning tagging, artwork and inclusion in collections can be done.

Try Cheap/Open Source/Free Software

In today’s sharing world there are many kind people out there that are happy to volunteer time to program for the good of the people rather than profit (though many still accept donations). This means on a cash-strapped budget, one can enjoy the same benefits of good software made by volunteers and hobbyists without dropping a penny if they don’t like it. To put this idea in context, apart from my laptop I’ve been writing this post on (which was a Christmas Present, but was paid for by my amazing father) and the VPS I host this site on, everything I’m using is free. The blog platform, the web browser, the operating system, all the drivers making this keyboard and mouse work – all legal and all for nada and your music creation software can be too.

For recording, many plump for the likes of Audacity – a free destructive audio recording and editing program for Windows, macOS/OSX and Linux systems. The software comes with a wealth of processing and effects tools built in and allows for multitrack playback and editing (though is limited on recording to one “track” at a time) and will also accept compatible VST plugins depending on your system architecture (32 or 64 bit). To export as MP3, you must also download the required encoder by the LAME project (also open source), but Audacity can point you to this.

For something more on the scale of a DAW or Notation editor, I can highly recommend Cockos REAPER if you’re in education. A fully flexible and functional DAW that takes lessons from ProTools, Sonar and Cubase alike and allows flexible track creation, signal routing and for the experimental and multimedia composers – multitrack input/output options for each and every track that aren’t fixed to presets (I’m looking at you Audition CC 😉 ). A personal/educational/non-commercial license clocks in at just $60 and is valid for 2 versions of the software and all the updates in between (for context, I bought my discounted licence in late 2011 and it’s still valid now!)

If that’s still a bit much for what you’re after, why not look at Ardour or Rosegarden?

Ardour is a fully capable audio and MIDI DAW program that works just as well as the popular ones and works on all 3 major operating systems. From my own experience of using it as well as a colleague of mine we found it fairly straightforward to set up (being on Linux we could get it through a package manager in minutes) and plugging in the popular Mbox interface by Avid worked a treat out of the box.

Rosegarden again is capable of both but is geared more towards the compositional aspect of audio creation with MIDI and notation at its core focus. Whilst a powerful program, it is complex in nature and may take some time to set up so be patient if you choose to use it – you won’t be disappointed! Sadly this one is Linux only so if you have a spare PC, half decent laptop or some space to install Virtualbox onto your existing Windows or macOS/OSX machine and you don’t mind installing a free operating system as well, then you’re good to go.

Try Some Different Instruments

Okay, so maybe not everyone wants an electronic solution. That’s cool. To make music in the real world, you don’t necessarily have to use the traditional instruments you find online or in the shops. Many people have proven that using clever multitrack recording (which could even be achieved with a number of smartphones if synced up correctly), simple music instruments, the human voice or even everyday junk and household items, one can create a masterpiece without breaking the bank.

Some great example products include the popular children’s learning instruments such as the Boomwhackers series of percussive tubes and accessories or the Whippy/Whirly Tube recently brought to fame by it’s regular use by the band Walk Off the Earth. Another famous band is Weapons of Sound who perform most of their music using recycled materials and pieces of junk.

For some examples of how you can use the materials you already have creatively, check out the following videos:

Weapons of Sound (Junk Band)

Walk off the Earth feat. Myles and Issac – Hello (Boomwhackers and Whippy/Whirly Tubes)

Peter Hollens feat. Hank Green – The Hobbit: Drinking Medley (Multitracked Human voice with hits and claps by hand)


However you choose to create your music, don’t bankrupt yourself before you’ve even begun! Start off simple and enjoy the experience. If you later on decide to upgrade all the better, or keep it simple and have that as your trademark!



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