What free music-studio software should I use?

A quick question, since you’re all here.  (I promise to post the article on bound functions tonight, this one is not the day’s main article.)

I would like, if I can, to use an open source program as a music studio — something that I can use to record individual tracks from a line in (microphone, piano, etc.), record one track while listening to others, mix down to stereo, export as .wav, etc.  I am using Ubuntu GNU/Linux 9.10, so Windows-only programs are no use to me.

Because I have never done this before, I have no idea whether the program that I want even exists, and if so what it’s called, or whether there are competing alternatives, or what.  I’m guessing that for those in the know, there a single The Right Answer, just as the GIMP is the The Right Answer for photo manipulation and OpenOffice for WYSIWYG document preparation.  (I know that there are alternatives to both, but they are clear category leaders.)

If any of you know about music-studio software, I’d really appreciate your recommendations.  Thanks in advance!

Update (almost immediately)

Oh, and if anyone has any thoughts on what cheap sound-card I should buy to get the most out of the software, please do say!

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25 responses to “What free music-studio software should I use?

  1. I’m not an expert, but I think you’re probably looking for Audacity.

    Someone will correct me if there’s something better. :)

  2. Have you tried Ubuntu Studio? They have Ardour 2 for example which is aimed at pro-users.

  3. Audacity or Ardour (http://ardour.org/), although i found the latter kind-of buggy.

    Unforunately there is nothing even remotely comparable with the Windows/Mac only DAWs (Reaper, Cubase, Protools…) feature-wise.

  4. Ack to Romanas. Audacity and Ardour are the only ones that are considerable to my knowledge. You should buy a mac for this if you really want to use this professionally ;-)

  5. You’re fortunate enough to have asked a question to which there is only one good answer – Ardour.

    Ardour and JACK used to be fiddly to set up – these days the documentation is better and it’s fairly simple to solve any realtime problems by installing ubuntu studio.

    Audacity is OK but doesn’t really handle the latency issues involved in overdubbing in a nice manner.

  6. Audacity is what I really could recommend. I had heard LIVES and Ardour are OK too.

  7. Audacity does have a way to adjust the latency and plenty well close enough to not matter.

    all that is needed is a cable to plug your out to your in, for a loop. See audacity help files online

  8. I agree with Johannes that you ought to look into Ubuntu Studio, or some subset thereof. You can find a list of the important modules on their website:

    https://help.ubuntu.com/community/UbuntuStudio/Audio

    You could install each package you want from that list by hand, or since you’re fortunate enough to already be using Ubuntu, you could ask your package manager for the Ubuntu Studio metapackage. That ought to cause it to add all the Ubuntu Studio functionality to your existing functionality.

  9. Paul Winkler

    I’ve used Ardour quite a bit. It takes some learning, but it’s quite capable. Doesn’t do MIDI currently, but you didn’t mention that as a requirement.

    http://traverso-daw.org/ might be worth a look but I’ve not used it myself.

    Re. soundcard, it depends a lot on what you consider “cheap”, what sort of interface you need (PCI? USB? USB2? firewire?), and what you need it to do (does it need an internal headphone amp? does it need a mic preamp? phantom power? do you have an external mixer?)

  10. It’s still a fairly young project, but I would recommend Jokosher:

    http://www.jokosher.org/

  11. bey0ndy0nder

    Disclaimer: I’m not a music production guru. A hobbyist only.

    I’m not too familiar with music production on Linux, last time I tried it on Ubuntu i ran into a wall with something about ticking rate (I needed the music production version of ubuntu.).

    One of the things you need to worry about is latency. On windows this is solved using ASIO. Not sure about Linux. But according to the links below, LMMS has something similar to ASIO built in.

    But I guess you can read these:

    http://www.linux.com/archive/feature/126408

    http://www.linuxmusicproduction.com/

    I use a:

    http://www.emu.com/products/product.asp?product=9872&nav=technicalSpecifications

    But I’m not serious at all. I would just buy one of those Pro-tool sound cards if you were any serious about music production. (I guess it’s debatable. I for one don’t care about pro-tools; others disagree because…it’s the industry standard.)

    Another thing to keep in mind is VST instruments. Now days you can download all kinds of soft synth and use them to the VST interface. But you mentioned you don’t care about soft synths. You only care about recording.

    Arghhh..more things to add. THE MOST important thing of all…is to get studio monitors. I don’t have them but I have a decent pair of headphones.

  12. A sample of audacity usage. (learning curve was short)

    [audio src="http://3seas.org/standup2.mp3" /]

    all done with a SURE mic but a noisy sound card and system running ubuntu 8.04 LTS
    System running @ about 700Mhz (old)

    This was my fisrt time using it so I had to figure out how to set the latency of the system. Multiple tracks (approx 15 – chorus not an effect but from overlaying new tracks) were layed down individually, cut and paste for repetition and bad sections slienced. 12 string two track, harmonica 2-3 tracks.

    Noise reduction/removal was used to cancel out the noisy system (quite easy to use actually) on each track layed down.

    Finally it was mixed down to stereo (in the mp3 generation process)

    Some effects were applied sparingly (tons of plugin effect are available).

    On sequencing and composition side there is really only one, Rosegarden … the gimp of sequencing and composition
    I’ve had fun controlling midi keyboards with midi scores of popular music found online. a little tough to get going right but it save your place when you exit.

    disclaimer: I was suffering a long running sinus infection I didn’t know I had.

  13. Pingback: What free music-studio software should I use? « The Reinvigorated … | M.O.R.O

  14. As you suspect: Ardour, or Audacity. Former is bells and whistles, latter is easy entry. I’ve been going through the same process, but for live performance, and Jack for patching everything together is starting to become straightforward. Didn’t use Ubuntu Studio, just installing things as I need them on stock Ubuntu 9.10.

  15. btw: thanks for the blog, it’s been good reading for the last couple of months.

  16. I’d just go with the motherboard’s integrated sound. My board has 4 years on it and no game or application so far has complained. All these integrated sound chips seem to adhere to some well established standard as well, so drivers should be available for every system.

  17. I use Audacity, Hardour and of course for encoding good old bladeenc.

    Regarding the audio hw issue, I think the main difference between onboard and external audio devices are limited to sampling rate and eax support, nothing really valuable until you’re using a fully fledge 7:1 speakers’ sound system with a good ampli or you need to actually acquire music directly from an instrument.

  18. Paul Winkler

    BladeEnc hasn’t been developed since 2004. Its strategy of preserving frequency response at the expense of transient response isn’t very good for a lot of source material (anything with sharp attacks). Lame has been extensively tuned over the years and to my ears sounds a lot better than Blade ever did. YMMV of course :)

  19. Carlos Azevedo

    If you’re interested in music production with free/open tools (professionally or as an hobby) you should check out the articles by Dave Phillips in Linux Journal, where he extensively reviews pretty much all free/open software tools.

  20. Shannon Nelson

    For simple and quick, Audacity is great, and it is available on Windows and Mac (I think) as well.

    @Robert: the problem with onboard sound is that so many motherboards use something really cheap going through the old PC bus and shares interrupts with the mouse and keyboard, making it very noisy. Even a 10 year old Soundblaster PCI card design for $20 is often far and away better, and quite useful for beginning work.

  21. @Paul: guess I’ll give another try to LAME. Never been a fan of. For my needs old blade (with some little hacks) is just about enough. However it’s been a loong time since I’ve messed with audio encoders, so maybe it’s really time to see what has happened in the meantime :).

    Thanks for the tip.

  22. But Lame and Blade are just about compressing an audio stream to MP3, correct? So if you’re going to be using the uncompressed form — for example, to burn to a CD — they’re not relevant … are they?

  23. As for Audio recording software programs, Audacity does do the job but is not really very user friendly when compared to other ‘professional’ multitrack recording suites. Ardour looks like it has a lot of potential for multitrack recording though i haven’t used it much.

    I would really recommend Linux Multimedia Studio for multitrack software.

    http://lmms.sourceforge.net/screenshots.php

    Jokosher was also a much better start then Audacity for multitrack recording.

    Audacity was ok for doing basic general editing of a single audio track but really wasn’t flexible at all when it comes to multitrack recording.

  24. Paul Winkler

    What did you end up doing?

  25. Hi, Paul. Yes, this is a timely reminder that I ought to answer this more publicly.

    I bought a low-end refurbished PC for £100, installed Ubuntu studio on it, and … couldn’t get it to work well enough. Probably I could have done if I’d tried hard enough and long enough, but it didn’t take long before I realised it just wasn’t what I wanted to be spending my time on. I also foresaw a long-term support nightmare as I repeatedly had to help Fiona solve obscure problems.

    So I gave up on that computer (since repurposed as Windows XP box for the boys to play games on), swallowed hard several times, and bought an iMac. It wasn’t cheap, but I have to admit, it’s proved worth the money, by scoring so high on the It Just Works scale. Fiona’s getting on excellently with GarageBand, which turns out to do all that she needs — since she’s a superb player, she doesn’t need to lot of effects or low-level editing, just the building-blocks stuff. So I’m happy with how that’s worked out (though I will be happier still when she’s sold some of her compositions and earned back the money it cost!)

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