The quality of free VST instruments has improved dramatically over the last few years.
There are so many new companies, and even individuals, creating some unique and extraordinary sounds.
The problem is knowing which ones are worth it.
When I first started composing, sample libraries were expensive, and pretty uninspiring.
So I’d often just create my own sounds instead – mostly by recording all the random objects and instruments I had around the house.
I learned two things from this:
- Working with a limited palette makes you more creative, and your compositions better.
- Using the same samples as everyone else makes you sound like everyone else.
So, taking those two lessons into account, all of the free VST instruments in this guide are interesting and unique in some way.
You’re going to be creating new and original music, instead of wasting your precious time trying to get a crappy sample to sound like a real instrument.
Use your creativity to compose for your sample libraries.
Never force a library to fit your composition.
No one wants a sample library that’s full of bugs, heavy on your system, or a pain to use, so I’ve only included libraries from reputable companies that are known for making great products.
I’ll be updating this list regularly until it’s complete, with examples and full descriptions of each library.
For the basic version of the full list (containing links and single-sentence descriptions):
I hope to add video walkthroughs of each library in the near future too.
Stay tuned, and subscribe for updates.
[NB: click on the title / heading of each library to visit the relevant website]
Atom Hub create some amazingly unique and interesting sample libraries, and their free VST instruments are super creative. Created in the same vain as some of my early music, they’ve sampled anything and everything that makes a noise : from cooking pans to bus shelters!
Description: you know those really irritating paper trumpets made for kid’s parties? Well, brace yourself, I don’t think you’ll ever be able to hear on in the same way after this!
This library is built on a paper trumpet sample, but has been messed with so much that the sound is totally unrecognisable.
Uses: although there are more melodic patches available, this library is best used for textures or doubling other instruments. You can create some seriously terrifying sounds with it!
Description: I’m going to tell you right now, I’m an absolute sucker for creative percussion sounds. And this is a fine example of creative percussion. Created from hitting a bus shelter in various ways, this library has all kinds of sounds, from big booms, to light ticks.
Uses: perfect for creating a unique and interesting percussive bed. You could literally just use samples from this in place of your orchestral percussion and you’ll immediately have a more creative piece of music.
Description: another really creative percussion library created from various objects found in a kids’ playground. Many of the sample are more metallic than the Bus Stop Boothsamples, so work amazingly as another layer.
Uses: creative percussion, particularly great for industrial and metallic sounding percussion.
Description: okay, so maybe I’m biased because this has the same name as one of my favourite films that I scored, but regardless of that, it’s another great percussion library! Atom Hub created this free VST instrument from a metal candlestick (the kind you’d find in Cluedo) and as always from Atom Hub, there’s a great variety of sounds. Overall it has a kind of “Tibetan Singing Bowl” sound to it. So tonal and metallic – quite “bell” like.
Uses: although primarily for mid to high pitched percussion, there are some really melodic samples too that you could double with a lead instrument, or even use as a quirky standalone melody.
Description: I promise…not all of the sample libraries in my list are percussive!!! It’s just that Atom Hub’s percussive libraries are all so interesting! Once again the clue is in the name: this library is created from a big old cooking pot. Yet another really exotic sounding sample library.
Uses: again, it’s percussive and metallic, and could also be used in place of many Asian percussion instruments too.
Audio Imperia make some of the best libraries for trailer music hits, swooshes, braaams, etc. – and they also have a few free offerings on their site too.
Usually I’m not such a big fan of “one-shot” style sample packs, but if you double these with some other sounds, or tweak them a little bit, you’ll get some excellent quality noises to add to your music.
Imagine this as a “lite” version of what Audio Imperia does and you’ll understand what they’re all about. A really great starter pack for those of you interested in trailer music.
As with most of my favourite libraries, there’s a cool concept to this one: it’s all recorded from the sounds of a reel-to-reel tape recorder.
The result is a library of cool textures, hits, and slams perfect for adding sound design to your compositions.
Audiomodern are a team of creatives that put out some really…well…creative sample libraries!
FWRD is the only free offering from Audiomodern at the time of writing…but it’s a good one!
Created from the sounds of a Porsche, this is another library full of interesting sounds and noises for adding that extra creative element to your work.
Cinematique Instruments make some really amazing sample libraries and, in particular, synths designed for cinematic music.
When you really need an interesting, evolving, texture-based synth pattern under your score, Landscape has you sorted. It automatically randomises patterns to give you that constantly changing sound.
Halfway down the page there’s a link to a free version of this synth.
And it’s a good one! You can create all kinds of parts for your music with this – from melodies to pads and everything in between.
NB: this video review is for the full version. The free version has some limitations.
Here’s a free synth for creating pattern-based rhythms or passages.
Really versatile, and very customisable.
CineSamples are one of the most respected companies when it comes to creating realistic mockups or virtual orchestrations. They make extremely high quality sample libraries covering all the main instruments, as well as a few more “alternative” libraries.
This is a really useful tool for adding some extra depth or warmth to other tonal instrument parts – like a chordal string part, for example.
Just double the part onto CineSine lite for instant warmth.
…it’s basically just a sine wave generator, but it’s a really quick and useful tool to have!
Jerry’s Piano is actually TWO grand pianos recorded simultaneously.
The result is a unique sounding piano with a particularly good low range. So for any pieces that need either a full, warm, low piano, or a more aggressive low piano, it’s perfect!
Now…this is another “tool” rather than a full sample library…but again, I think it’s a really great idea and something useful to have in your arsenal.
Have you noticed sometimes when you listen to quiet music created with sample libraries that you can often hear where the sample actually ends? As in, you hear a hissing noise that suddenly stops at the end of a sample?
Well, that’s what this library helps to soften. It’s literally just a room tone. Specifically, the MGM Scoring Stage at Sony Pictures Studios in LA.
Yep…someone stood in the room with a microphone and just recorded the ambience.
Stick it underneath your whole track to add a nice, natural room tone to your pieces and soften any sample hiss at the same time.
My friends at FilmScoringTips made a great article on harnessing the power of “noise” in recordings. Check it out here!
Embertone are another company specialising in slightly more “unique” sounds or instruments, and particularly on “player specific” libraries (trying to capture the uniqueness of certain instrumentalists).
I really am a sucker for a fun percussion library, and living with a percussionist as a wife means I have fun memories of trying to drill holes in jugs we bought at car boot sales (that’s a “flea market” for my international readers) in an attempt to make our own jug drums.
We needn’t have bothered, Embertone have a great jug drum library for FREE!
Yeah…the title gives it away. It’s a sample library with all the noises you get when you leave Embertone alone in your kitchen for too long.
Originally created exclusively for the SCOREcast community (http://www.scorecastonline.com/), it’s now been made available to the public.
This log drum (or “slit drum”) is not only wonderfully samples, but it’s also a really nice, characterful sounding instrument. It’s not a brand new, off-the-shelf instrument like a lot of libraries focus on, it’s one that’s been heavily used for years.
That means some of the tongues are a little out of tune, some are split so that have a bit of a hiss or sizzle to them.
All the more character for your music!
This is a play on Fluffy Audio’s popular AURORA library.
It’s a “horror” specific version of the library full of creepy noises and textures – although some sounds would work equally well in thrillers, and maybe even some other genres.
I know what you’re thinking: “Spitfire Audio have a free music box…why would I need more than one, or why would I choose any other music box over theirs?”
Well…because this one is surprisingly versatile, and has a much darker sound than other music boxes. That’s because it’s sampled from an antique, Victorian music box.
PLUS, as well as doing the usual “child’s toy” sound, it also has a load of presets for all kinds of other noises.
The clue as to what HandHeldSound specialises in is in the name…
…hand held percussion instruments!
At this point, I’m really hoping that you appreciate a good, interesting percussion library as much as I do!
Similar in character and playing style to a table, the Naal is an Indian percussion instrument. Definitely something you should have in your collection!
NB: this video review is for the full “Flying Hands” library, of which the Naal is a part of:
What happens when you wallop a grand piano with a gong mallet? This. This happens. And it’s epic for textures! 🙂
This is a massive 40″ frame drum basically. That gives a really resonant low rumble with a high percussive slap when it’s hit.
As they say on their own website:
“ALL your “Tsiki Tsiki Tiki Taka” are belong to us!”
And they really do have you covered with this library!
Perfect for adding high-pitched percussive patterns to your music, which can help increase the energy and drive of a piece.
I can’t find an example of the actual library, but just in case you don’t know what a Cabasa is…
- READ THE LICENSE TERMS. Always check the licenses of each library to make sure that you are free to use it for your projects. Some libraries limit usage to personal use only, some require accreditation, others are totally free for any and all projects. Don’t hold me responsible if any of the libraries I’ve listed have limitations!
- In no way am I affiliated with any of the libraries/companies listed above and I receive no benefit whatsoever in promoting them here. I just like what they’re doing!
- Most of these libraries will require the full version of Native Instrument’s KONTAKT and, of course, you’ll also need a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) to work with.
Free VST Instruments – The Full List
I’ll update this list regularly until it’s complete.
To access the basic version of the full list immediately:
What is your favourite library for film scoring? Free or paid, let me know in the comments!