“But,” you may say, “are you saying that someone who uses cheap equipment and cheap (or free) software can make just as good content as someone paying thousands of dollars?” And my answer is, “yes they can, but that doesn't mean they will.”
A hard truth of media is that getting expensive stuff won't automatically make you good at what you do. And having free stuff doesn't mean you will be bad at what you do. My point is that neither matter as much as who you are and what you do with what you have. And to a point those who are skilled can do better with higher quality stuff, but sadly that isn't always the case either.
Here's an example, I own both the “industry standard” (another marketing gimmick term) audio editing software: Pro Tools. I also own Cubase, and dabble with Studio One, FL Studio, and other DAWs (digital audio workstations). Does Pro Tools out-do them and make my work better? No. To be honest, the only reason I bought Pro Tools was for compatibility with those I work with who use Pro Tools already, or feel that the brand name means something. Essentially, becoming all things to all people in the audio industry, to draw a loose Biblical comparison. It's also the only reason I would recommend that anyone else buy it. By far, it is not the easiest or most impressive DAW I have used. It's not bad either, not bad at all, but way over hyped. I think it suits some mindsets, but the majority of people I know who want to use a DAW, do not fall into the category of the mindset Pro Tools caters to. Not to say that there isn't a large amount of people with that mindset, just that if there is, they aren't the majority of the people I know right now.
I use both Cubase, Pro Tools, Studio One, FL Studio and other DAWs you may have never even heard of (ever heard of MuLab? It's alright by the way). I even use cassette tapes at times. Why? Because I am a professional audio engineer, and that's what I wish to further my craft in. I am not here to be a “professional” Pro Tools user, or “professional” Cubase user. If I become a “professional” at those software programs as a result of being a professional audio engineer, then great! But that is not my goal.
Give it ten years and we won't even remember these software names anyway. Case in point: Adobe InDesign is generally overestimated to be considered the “Industry Standard” desktop publishing software, but just a short decade ago it was Quark which dominated the market. Ever even heard of that? Didn't think so. And the next generation could very well have the same “what is that?” reaction to Adobe InDesign as well.
And on the note of industry standards in audio: sound studios around the world record their digital mixes onto reel to reel tape (analog). Depending on what continent you live in, the software they use to record and edit most commonly, is not the same (the US has a lot of avid—pun intended--Pro Tools fans, whereas I am told that Europe, especially closer to Germanic areas, use Cubase or Neundo much more, also I have heard that Canada uses Cubase more), but they predominately all end up putting it onto tape, making the “industry standard”: reel to reel tape.
Use the software you have or the one that you can afford. And if that means you “can only” use a free one, then use a free one without any shame. And when you have a bunch of money to throw at a program, buy the one you like, not the one that is simply heralded by marketers and people who want to justify the fact that they threw $1000 away.
Honestly, the free software we have today, like Studio One Free (in the audio editing department), Video Pad Video Editor (in the video department) and GIMP (in the image editing department) are leaps and bounds better than paid “professional” software was 10 (or even only as short as 5) years ago.
So is a professional production from 5 or 10 years ago no longer “valid”? No. So the free stuff today is plenty valid. I once heard a sound engineer say that as little as ten years ago we were still editing on reel to reel tapes. He said those units had three functions: “arm”, “record” and “play”. He went on to say that that means any software that can do those things, is a “professional” audio software.
Honestly I have seen professional people use free software with amazing results. To be honest I often find that the more “limiting” circumstances, that some free software creates, can spur on greater creativity. I think it's because we get all the technical thingamees out of the way and focus on making something cool.
There is no professional software as I see it. There is no professional equipment. There are only professional people, and professional people in the making, and that's you. Now go save your money and spend your time practicing with whatever you can get your hands on. Even if it doesn't have the status quo “professional” or “industry standard” safety approved labels. Go make something cool, and I tell me about it in the comments below! :)