Top 10 Free Plugins for Music Producers in 2021
"The best things in life are free."
— Luther Vandross, Singer/Songwriter
We don't sugarcoat it. Free plugins for music producers are a must-have. We use, download, and love third-party plugins to produce and teach electronic music production in 2021 because:
Anyone who tells you don't need third-party plugins outside of your DAW is lying to you. In 2021, third-party plugins are necessary to get the job done when trying to create the highest caliber of professional-sounding music, regardless of whether you use Ableton, FL Studio, Logic Pro, Cubase, Pro Tools, Reason, or anything else.
I'm not saying your DAW's plugins aren't powerful. They are. But sometimes, you need something more.
That said, here are our 10 absolute favorite, most impactful free plugins, audio units, and VSTs for music producers we're using every day. And just FYI, this is NOT a list of bajillion plugins you don't need, this is a list of our must-haves.
We talk about saturation all the time. It's THE best way to add analog warmth to your digital productions. And luckily, one of the best saturation plugins for music producers is completely free to download. Use it to fatten up bass lines, add some harmonics and shimmer to vocals, or simply destroy your drum loop. This plugin is as versatile as it is functional.
For more third party saturation plugins we're using in all of our music, check out our Top 20 Favorite Saturation Plugins for Electronic Music.
Apple bought Camel Audio a few years back, but you can still dig up this free saturation and distortion tool if you Google it. This plugin is NOT new, but the fact that so many producers continue to use it is a testament to how good this thing sounds.
The only thing better than this bitcrusher's interface is how malleable it is. Krush combines the crispy taste of the digital realm with the warmth of its drive stage and analog modeled resonant filters. A modulation section allows you to quickly add extra life to the sound by modulating any parameter.
This plugin needs no introduction. It is an amazing over-the-top compressor with beautiful coloration that is now associated with modern music. If you're an Ableton user, you already have this. If not, scope the free download.
If you use Ableton, you don't have true panning in your DAW. When you pan in Ableton you are simply lowering left & right stereo volumes. Should you be concerned about that? Maybe. For now, just know Flux's Stereo Tool will correct for this, plus, it's just a great stereo tool to begin with.
A simple and powerful multi-band transient shaper. Yes, you can actually transient shape your stereo information differently from the mids or sides. Not bad for a freebie.
I'm not sure when this plugin became free, but wow. We're talking about the more powerful multiband imager on the market from one of the kings of mastering plugins, and it doesn't cost a cent. Insane value.
This is a sweet panning plugin that lets you draw in auto-panning, making it extremely malleable and functional, allowing you to construct your own modulation curves using soft or hard control points (perfect for gentle transitions or sharp bends).
I love Valhalla's description of this one, so I'll let them do the talking. "Skull melting chaos perfect for all of your psychedelic needs. Sonic results range from subtle chorusing and double tracking to barberpole phasing and flanging to endless glissandos and runaway echos."
We're talking about a glitch delay plugins specifically geared toward creating robotic artifacts and musical malfunctions. On top of being able to create contorted signal mutations, it can also be tamed to generate classic delay effects.
Did I miss any must-have free plugins that music producers are using this year? Get in touch and let me know, as I'd love to add to this list!