You've probably heard the output of Avid's Pro Tools audio production software, even if you don't know what it's like -- it's virtually a staple of the music industry, and spawned now-famous (or infamous) effects like Auto Tune. There hasn't been a cheap way to try it for nearly 15 years, however, so it's not exactly practical for crafting songs in your basement. Thankfully, Avid's about to lower the barriers to entry. It recently unveiled Pro Tools First, a free version that lets you get your feet wet. It includes a "subset" of the usual features (you're mainly missing extra tracks, score editing and video playback), but it otherwise behaves like the paid version. You won't have to relearn anything if you hit the big time and start using the full software.
The real catch (besides the lack of a release date) is Avid's dependence on after-the-fact purchases to make money. You'll get 21 audio effect plugins from the outset, but you'll have to pay for more. Also, First only lets you keep three projects in the cloud for free. While you can export finished tracks when you're done, you'll have to fork over cash if you want permanent offline copies or more online space. All the same, this junior version of Pro Tools may be enough if you want to spruce up your indie band's sound without spending hundreds or thousands of dollars to get started.