When it comes to creativity, people are always assuming that a Mac is best, even in today’s Windows-centric ecosystem. As a result, so few people actually know about the diverse landscape of Linux-based tools and suites available, most of which for free.
10 Apps for Linux Musicians can use in 2018
Audacity has been a cross-platform mainstay for musicians using Linux on a budget for over a decade now, and it’s no wonder why. Audacity might not have all the features of all the commercial audio tracking applications, but it lacks in features it surely makes up for in reliability, availability, and the complete lack of cost.
Audacity is fairly frequently updated with new compatibility and features. Audacity is the perfect piece of software for all minor recording purposes and serves as a great starting point for anyone wanting to give digital recording a try, whether they use Linux, Mac, or Windows.
Hydrogen is a drum synthesis application. You can feed Hydrogen a MIDI file to play associated samples or you can track and play MIDI input from a connected device such as a drum pad or keyboard. Hydrogen is very flexible and can be used to track drums for anything from folk to heavy metal to electronic music, provided you have the audio samples you need.
Hydrogen might look daunting to the beginner, but it’s the perfect compliment to the drummerless Audacity user. Hydrogen is also available on Linux, Mac, and Windows.
Ardour too is available on Linux, Mac, and Windows. Ardour is a digital audio workstation suite that supports recording, editing, mixing, mastering, various plugins, and VSTs (platform dependent). Ardour is likely the step you would take after graduating from Audacity.
It is significantly more sophisticated, but that sophistication is not unwarranted. Ardour is much more capable in many respects, and a quick glimpse as it will readily reveal the incredible amount of control Ardour provides over your audio processes.
LMMS is the Linux MultiMedia Studio, another powerful suite for making music, but rather than recording music like Ardour, LMMS is for composing music. LMMS has a variety of score editors, synthesizers, plugins, and JACK connectivity. LMMS is a fully featured suite of tools that enables the production of sophisticated scores of electronic music to classical.
MuseScore is a composing suite that supports MIDI file playback as well as saving your compositions to MIDI. This can assist the average music student to learn to write music without wasting expensive score paper pads and allows a certain freedom to experiment in ways that are not possible with only a single player and instrument.
By layering many instruments, a composer can hear their composition (albeit in MIDI instruments rather than real ones) and decide whether their piece is heading in the intended direction. Furthermore, combining MuseScore with LMMS can allow the composer to generate much higher quality tracks of the MIDI scores.
JACK is an interesting beast. Jack taps into the general openness of Linux in an incredibly useful way. JACK allows the patching and routing of various audio and MIDI sources and destinations. That is, if an application can output audio, JACK can reroute it to another application that accepts audio input, and likewise with MIDI. This is a tremendously powerful ability that allows for the connecting of applications that are not even aware of each other.
JAMin looks to extend JACK with various mastering tools to ensure that the audio from one application is perfect before entering another application. JAMin is a worthwhile tool for those leveraging JACK as an interconnective framework in their digital audio workstation.
8. Tux Guitar
TuxGuitar is a super nice tool that is similar to MuseScore is many ways but is primarily the converse. Rather than focusing on composition, TuxGuitar focuses on learning. TuxGuitar is a guitar (and other string instruments with frets) tablature application. It is for recording how music is played (rather than how music sounds when played).
One might enter the necessary notes and instructions for playing the latest indy song or grab a file from a forum to learn a classic rock hit. TuxGuitar is a free and open source counterpart to the many proprietary applications that might have marginally better features, but TuxGuitar comes out swinging with support for a wide variety of file types, even some of the proprietary ones.
Renoise is a black sheep on our list in that it’s the only item that isn’t open source. Despite that, Renoise deserves mention because it is a cross-platform commercial audio suite. Combining several elements from many of the previous applications, Renoise has carved its own niche with audio producers because it takes a novel approach to the production of music that makes it unique.
Renoise does come at a price, but many reviews will show you that it is something that is worth familiarizing yourself with, especially if you take yourself seriously as an electronic musician.
10. Linux Real-Time Kernel
Our last is not exactly an application per se but is a very good mention. One of the biggest limiting factors in audio production, especially in terms of recording audio as opposed to MIDI, is the latency. That is due to the amount of time from the microphone to the track. This is because the audio data has to pass through several buffers.
The analog to digital converter would have its own buffers, at least one for input and one for output, then the USB bus would have one for that interface. Then after that, there can be a number of buffers within the operating system and the audio recording application you’re using. Each buffer adding more and more latency. This might be tiny fractions of a second, but to any discerning musician, that can be too much. This is where the real-time Linux kernel can help.
The real-time Linux kernel increases this type of data flow but at the cost of others. Real-time systems should only be used for real-time applications. That being said, using a real-time kernel can help reduce latency to much lower levels and thereby increase your audio production quality (at least in that aspect) and reduce the frustration of properly synchronizing your tracks.
For those interested in a single stop for much of the above, check out Ubuntu Studio, as well; it even runs the real-time kernel, so you don’t have to worry about going through the pains of compiling one yourself.
Are there any other applications that you use for music production? Let us know in the comments below.