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14 Free Sample Libraries for Music Production

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There is a staggering number of sample libraries on the market that address a variety of sonic needs from post-production to film scoring to music production. Costs range from zero to ridiculous. This article focuses on what can be found for FREE from reputable companies that offer a huge range of products. I will concentrate on the needs of composers and producers mainly, as opposed to straight-ahead sound effects or Foley.

You might be thinking, “if these libraries are free they must not be any good.” In some cases, you might be right. But these specific choices I’ve included below are products I have personally tried, and I will vouch for their quality and usefulness. So why would a company offer something for free? Here are a few reasons to consider:

  • Anything to get you to go to their site is a good thing – it gets you to hopefully browse their unfree offerings.
  • Even a free product can affect a company’s reputation. If it’s really good it may entice you to invest in other libraries. So a free offering is a way to get you to have a taste of what the company can do. It’s better than a demo because you can keep it forever!
  • Free products are sometimes “light” versions of paid libraries. They become a means to get you to purchase the upgrade.
  • Getting free instruments usually requires setting up an account or at least supplying an email address, so you trade a little privacy/anonymity for the sounds. This can get you placed on mailing lists and fill your spam folder. I’d like to say that most companies will never sell your information and only use your contact info for in house promotion. I’d like to say that, but I can’t. So buyer, or should I say moocher, beware.

One thing is clear: with the competitive nature of the sample library market it is in the company’s best interest to always put their best foot forward even with a free product. While these freebies might be limited in terms of parameters or functionality, the essence of their sound quality needs to be top-notch. Otherwise, a first-time buyer will be frustrated by spending needless time downloading potentially gigabytes of data for something they will never use.

NOTE: While most of the instruments below are indeed free, some happened to be offered free for just a limited time and have since been priced at some very minimal rate or optional donation. I have included them anyway.

NOTE #2:  I should also mention, in case you are not aware, that many of these libraries require Kontakt, the sampling engine designed by Native Instruments. There is a free version, but some instruments require the paid version in order to function properly, or to function at all. Be sure to read the fine print before downloading.

Before I talk about strictly commercial ventures, no article such as this should ignore Pianobook.

1. Pianobook

This site has literally nothing to sell and offers an enormous array of sampling instruments via this peer-to-peer community that has enjoyed continuous growth since being launched in 2018. It was started by Spitfire Audio founder, Christian Henson. While beginning with the idea of piano sampling, it soon blossomed to include all sorts of instruments in various states of condition and disrepair. Do not go to this site unless you have several hours to explore this great collection, because you will get immediately hooked. Below are a few of my favorites.

14 Free Sample Libraries for Music Production

14 Free Sample Libraries for Music Production

14 Free Sample Libraries for Music Production

You can search by name or instrument type at pianobook.co.uk

2. Spitfire Audio – LABS

Speaking of Spitfire Audio, it seems clear this company sees the value in enticing people with free offerings and LABS is probably the best example of just how to do that. It is a growing collection of instruments that run independently of any third party sampling engine like Kontakt and operate as a virtual instrument in your DAW. These are great sounding devices and can prove to be very useful for specific musical situations. The interfaces are standardized with just a handful of controls, making them instantly accessible.

14 Free Sample Libraries for Music Production

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3. Fluffy Audio

You’ll find some great things at Fluffy Audio.

Aurorror can generate horror-based content. It has a ton of nicely organized presets and a generous set of customizable parameters.

14 Free Sample Libraries for Music Production

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Haunted Choir is pretty much self-explanatory and sounds great. There are just a few controls regarding mic position and reverb but sometimes that’s all you need.

14 Free Sample Libraries for Music Production

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4. Audio Imperia

The Deconstruct instrument from Audio Imperia is loaded with juicy, crunchy, angry samples that are addictive. You’ll just want to hear more and more.

14 Free Sample Libraries for Music Production

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The Epic Trailer Sounds library has some iconic swells, impacts and pads that are just plain fun to play with.

14 Free Sample Libraries for Music Production

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5. Embertone

The Canjo from Embertone sounds amazing and the interface is surprisingly elegant for a freebie

14 Free Sample Libraries for Music Production

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The Keyboard will blow your mind because as you try it out on your MIDI keyboard, you’ll find out it plays samples of an unplugged MIDI keyboard. Useful? – Not sure. Interesting – yes.

14 Free Sample Libraries for Music Production

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The Harmonette includes samples from an instrument described by the creators as, “a rare, antique instrument, and in all of our research we could not find a similar one! It looks like a recorder, but functions and sounds more like a melodica. It’s super old—our best guess is somewhere between 60-80 years.”

14 Free Sample Libraries for Music Production

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The Kitchen includes, you guessed it, sounds from the kitchen — which for sound designers is a literal goldmine of material.

14 Free Sample Libraries for Music Production

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Check the Embertone website for more under the Freebies tab.

6. 8Dio

These are effect-based instruments with playback of multiple samples, XY pads, sequencer controls, modulation, etc. They have more parameter controls than you might expect from a free instrument and include a variety of presets as well. They offer 11 free instruments, but my favorites right out of the box are:

Free Radicals

14 Free Sample Libraries for Music Production

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Post Apocalyptic Guitar

14 Free Sample Libraries for Music Production

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7. Cinesamples

Ancient Bones was a free instrument offered by Cinesamples but as I write this article I now see it’s $9.99. Bummer. It’s still a great deal though for this quirky device that offers three just basic sounds: Death Whistle, Femur Trumpet and Trident Shell. All are aggressive and angry sounds perfect for the horror genre.

14 Free Sample Libraries for Music Production

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Bowed Psaltery has some great scratchy goodness and includes just few useful controls relating to glissando direction, frequency (low/high), stereo spread and reverb.

14 Free Sample Libraries for Music Production

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8. Sonixinema

Resonate is a beautiful instrument capable of ethereal swells and subtle percussive effects. I see as I write this that the price has increased to £3.49, which is still basically free in my book.

14 Free Sample Libraries for Music Production

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9. Dream Audio Tools

Indie Fingers is a “taster” collection of guitar samples with some really nice arpeggiation features. Also have a listen to their other free offerings: MicroHarp (celtic harp) and Dream Box (music box). They are two very simple but decent sounding instruments.

14 Free Sample Libraries for Music Production

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14 Free Sample Libraries for Music Production
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14 Free Sample Libraries for Music Production
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10. Orchestral Tools

Layers requires the SINE stand-alone application or plugin provided by Orchestral Tools and is an instrument intended to introduce the user to their other libraries. There is a beautiful smoothness to these sounds right out of the box.

14 Free Sample Libraries for Music Production

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11. Project SAM

The Free Orchestra is also intended to provide an introduction to Project SAM’s more robust libraries. This one can be loaded directly from Kontakt’s side menu which is unusual for a free library. It’s a great sounding collection with some nice presets that show off the pre-orchestrated patches available in their full-featured libraries.

14 Free Sample Libraries for Music Production

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12. Sonuscore

This company offers two nice Kontakt instruments with pre-orchestrated chords worth hearing:

14 Free Sample Libraries for Music Production

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13. Strezov Sampling

A couple of nice wind ethnic instruments (Duduk and Xiao), as well as a Taiko drum library, are offered by Strezov Sampling. As expected, these are stripped down instruments in terms of parameters and articulations, but potentially usable nonetheless.

14 Free Sample Libraries for Music Production

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14 Free Sample Libraries for Music Production

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14 Free Sample Libraries for Music Production

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14. Versilian Studios

A number of free instruments are available here with a focus on strings, piano and percussion. These libraries are covered by a Creative Commons 0 license (CC0), which essentially means public domain. Great for students and educators.

14 Free Sample Libraries for Music Production

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Conclusions

This is by no means a complete list of what is available, and I encourage comments from anyone that can contribute another source or instrument.

As you have probably surmised, it is not possible to get a great full orchestral library or deep-sampled solo instrument with myriad articulations for free. But you can get some really good specific sounds like unusual or broken instruments, vintage instruments, devices that can create great sound design elements in a musical context, and some really good introductory orchestral samples that can be usable on their own. You just might find the perfect sound for free. As mentioned, the sound quality of these freebies is a good indicator of what you might expect from a paid library from the same source, when you do decide to invest.

In terms of sample libraries, I can’t say the best things in life are free. But sometimes the perfect sound for a specific situation is, if you just take the time to look for it.


Check out my other articles, reviews, interviews and my video tutorial series, Synthesis 101 available exclusively on The Pro Audio Files.

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Philip Mantione

Philip Mantione

Philip Mantione is a composer, synthesist, guitarist, educator and sound artist active in the LA experimental music scene. His music has been presented in festivals, museums and galleries worldwide. His current project is TriAngular Bent, an electroacoustic trio featuring Don Preston (founding member of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention) and circuit bending virtuoso, Jeff Boynton. Details at philipmantione.com