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Music Open Source Software Linux

Ask Slashdot: An Open Source PC Music Studio? 299

enharmonix writes "I have a big decision to make. I am probably going to buy a laptop that I will primarily use for music. I would prefer an OEM distro so I don't need to install the OS myself (not that I mind), but I have no preference between open- and closed-source software as an end-user; I just care about the quality of the product. There are two applications that I absolutely must have: 1) a standard notation transcription program with quality auditioning (i.e., playback with quality sound fonts or something similar, better than your standard MIDI patches) that can also accept recorded audio in lieu of MIDI playback, and 2) a capable synthesizer (the more options, the better). If there's software out there that does both 1 and 2 in the same app, that's even better. I've played with some of Ubuntu's offerings for music a few years ago and some are very good, though not all of them are self-explanatory and the last time I checked, none of them really met my needs. I am not so worried about number 2 because I think I could pretty easily develop my own in .NET/Mono, which I think would be a fun project (which would be open source, of course). I am a Gnome fan so if I go with Linux, I will almost certainly go with standard Ubuntu over Kubuntu, but Gnome seems to rule out Rosegarden which was the best FOSS transcription software out there the last time I checked. The other solution I've thought of is to just shell out the $600 for Finale, which I'm more than willing to do, but I'm not so sure I want Windows 8 and I'm just not sure I can afford to go with a Mac on top of the $600 for Finale. I don't intend to put more than one OS on my laptop, either. Any slashdotters out there dabble in composing/recording, using MIDI, sound fonts, recorded audio, and/or synthesizers? What setup of hardware/OS/software works for you? Can FOSS music software compete with their pricier closed source competitors?" The KXStudio apps installed over Debian or Ubuntu tend to be pretty nice (better session handling that gladish provides at least).
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Ask Slashdot: An Open Source PC Music Studio?

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  • by DavidinAla ( 639952 ) on Monday January 27, 2014 @11:20PM (#46087917)
    If you're making a statement of your religious faith OR if you're just tinkering, going to the trouble of finding something to run an open source package makes sense. If you're actually interested in the right tool for the job, then buy a real music studio with a Mac or a Windows PC instead. There's a reason that real musicians generally use real tools that suit professional needs.
  • by aitikin ( 909209 ) on Monday January 27, 2014 @11:30PM (#46087961)

    I have tried just about EVERY option I can find in FOSS and they do not quite hold up to the current commercial offerings. Frankly, both as an end user and as a pro audio salesperson, I've only ever had mediocre luck with Make Music/Finale. At the very least, with Avid's Sibelius, I've been able to get decent tech support. I haven't had as much luck with Ardour as I'd like, and Audacity doesn't cut it. Getting into a decent Sequencer without dropping a fortune, I'd get into Studio One personally.

    If you want more details and/or want to know more about my opinions on the matter, please feel free to PM me.

  • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Monday January 27, 2014 @11:40PM (#46088013) Journal

    As a DJ, I've come across some tools and some complete distributions that will likely fit your needs, but I don't know quite enough to make specific recommendations. I do know that there are alot of Linux music production tools that are way above my head, pro quality stuff. The folks at and would know exactly what you're talking about and be able to make specific recommendations. I looked at a couple distributions that are complete audio workstations on boot. They included a lot of fancy tools that were way more than I needed.

    As you may know, music production on Linux uses JACK to hook together any software components you want. That means any editor tool can work with any midi source, for example, because they are plugged together using jack.

    Two popular software packages are Ardour and Traktion, but really the Linux music community at sites focused on music production under Linux will have much better answers for you.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 27, 2014 @11:43PM (#46088033)

    The Reaper is not open source, but comes in a free flavor. I'd recommend an x64 os, as lots of ram is a very good thing for projects as they grow. []

  • Ya pretty much (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Monday January 27, 2014 @11:46PM (#46088039)

    There is just not much in the free software world, particularly for Linux, that is good for music composition. Just the way it is. If you want to do it well, you need commercial tools, generally for Windows or Mac.

    For what the original poster is looking for, I'd say have a look at Cakewalk Sonar X3. Sonar is real, real good at MIDI, knows how to deal with SoundFonts, has some built in synths that aren't too bad, and only runs $100 for the basic version. It's notation is not the best, but anything I can think of that is a reasonable step up is also quite a bit more money (like Cubase).

    However depending on what the ultimate goal is, the DAW can end up being the cheap part of things. High quality samples cost a lot, and there are few freebies. Reason is to make good samples you need to hire good musicians, a good recording studio/hall, good engineers, and then spend a lot of time on it. Gotta make that money back somehow. So if you want realistic sounds, you can easily spend far more on samples than the DAW/sequencer. I own Sonar X3 Producer, which is $500, but I've spent more than that on a single sample set, and I have multiple sample sets.

    Also if he thinks that programming a synthesizer is easy, he's got another thing coming. Making a competent synthesis engine that sounds good, is usable, etc, etc is not an easy task. Particularly since there are all sort of different kinds of synthesis one might wish to use, and each is implemented and controlled differently.

    So, like the parent said: religious statement or actual work? If you just wanna play around in Linux with free solutions, then go to it. No need to ask on Slashdot, just try stuff out. Wikipedia has a list of OSS music software, to name just one place. If you are asking because you want something that doesn't suck and can do some real work, then you'll need to stick with Window or Mac and drop some money.

    Like I said, I'd go for Sonar. There's a free trial, and the base version isn't that much and has good features and capabilities (it isn't crippled with regards to tracks and so on). You can always upgrade later.

    Other reasonably priced options to look at are Reaper and FL Studio Fruity Edition.

  • by Ralph Spoilsport ( 673134 ) on Monday January 27, 2014 @11:46PM (#46088041) Journal
    1. It's the SOFTWARE FIRST ,the OS is (mostly) irrelevant.
    2. figure out WHAT you want to do in music and select the software that fits your needs from there.
    3. Buy the hardware that supports your software the best.

    Frankly, in terms of just "getting shit done" Windows (7) is basically as good as Mac. Linux isn't so friendly, but if the software you need to get shit done is only on Linux, then, you're on Linux.

    Now, there is a caveat with the software first thing, which is, your interface. If the audio in/out device you're using is Mac only, then you're using a Mac. Etc for the rest. So, for example for my home studio, I have a MOTU Ultralite MkIII hybrid running on windows 7 HP laptop. It's a bit quirky, but the sound quality is excellent and the preamps are smooth - for the price, it's hard to beat. There is better, but it costs more. Luckily, the MOTU is Mac/Win, and I happened to have this HP laptop not doing anything, so bingo: instant home music set up.

    For software I run Ableton Live Suite - the fullblown monster. Why? Because what I do is more performance /composition based. If I was in a band and I was recording through some big multichannel interface, I would go with ProTools, because that's what I learnt in school, and it's pretty much the "MS Office" of the audio world (in more ways than one...) I also use Audacity, which is the swiss army knife of audio editing (i.e., small, crude, but effective)

    For monitors at home I have a pair of EVENT PS8 monitors. They're a little bass heavy, but over all, very good sounding at a very reasonable price.

    I don't use a mixing desk, I have an AKAI control surface and a Yamaha (XS6) synthesizer. Between them, I have plenty of ways of making things happen.

    At work, things are very different - I have a ProTools C24 console and an SSL mixing desk with Bryston amps and Dynaudio 5.1 monitors and a Mac Tower running Protools, AVID, Audacity, Melodyne, Autotune, and a pile of other gear (compressors, processors, etc.) But that's almost half million bucks right there. So, "let's not go there" and let's focus on what you're trying to do.

    So, get yourself an audio interface and some kick ass speakers, FIRST. Then figure out what software you need, and that will guide you to the hardware. When all is said and done, what computer you use is trivial, both in terms of effectiveness and expense. I bought my HP laptop (an old i5 running win 7) for $300 used. It works FINE. Ableton Live Suite literally costs THREE times as much. My laptop is one of the cheapest pieces of gear I own (my speakers were $650). So, don't sweat the hardware. Figure out the kind of music you want to make and proceed from there.

    Here are some general suggestions
    1. Rock Music: ProTools / Logic / Whatever - Focus on microphones and a good compressor.
    2. Electronica: Ableton Live. Get a good control surface (I don't recommend Akai - mine sucks...) and a good keyboard
    3. Dance Music: I would suggest a combo of FL Studio and Ableton Live
    4. Composition: Finale and (whatever: Logic / Ableton / ProTools / Reaper / whatever) Your main point is to generate good composition - the software is just there to make it do something, so it will be more a question of what softsynths you use...)
    5. Experimental: Cycling 74 Max/MSP or Processing. You'll need to get a Mac for that.
    6. Jazz: See Rock.

    That should get you started. DON'T TALK TO SALESMEN. They will try to sell you things. Things you probably don't need. Focus on what your interests and skills are, and then build your studio around that.

  • Re:Must use MacOS (Score:1, Informative)

    by jazzis ( 612421 ) on Monday January 27, 2014 @11:46PM (#46088047)
    This is my main setup and I highly recommend it. You can get a Mac Mini or a 2010 MBP used if cash is an issue. You gotta use a Pro setup if you're a pro. I use all major OS'es for various reasons but OS X. Logic, ProTools and Finale beat all others hands down and the instrument and mixer interface is the best out there.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 27, 2014 @11:49PM (#46088067)

    Ableton Live is by far the most widely used nowadays for production. For recording bands, it's Pro Tools.

  • Ubuntu Studio (Score:0, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 27, 2014 @11:52PM (#46088087)
    Ubuntu Studio will do everything you need
  • by TwobyTwo ( 588727 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @12:30AM (#46088249)
    I agree: REAPER may or may not be quite what you're looking for, and it's not open source, but it's got a free distribution for experimental use and the fee for purchasing it for anything other than larger-scale use will be a small fraction of what you pay for that PC anyway. Surprisingly capable for the price.
  • The move to Linux (Score:5, Informative)

    by mdwstmusik ( 853733 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @12:34AM (#46088261) Homepage

    I've been writing and recording since the early 80s. I own several computers and tonnes midi/audio recording software, (e.g. Protools, Cubase, Garage Band, Sonar, Sibelius...). I've also been using Linux on my desktop since Mandrake 7. Recently, I set up a computer with Ubuntu Studio, and I love it. I've barely touched any of the other systems since....mostly just to export tracks. There was a bit of a learning curve, but I'm finding that once I got the hang of using Jack, there was no turning back.

    Primarily, I'm using Ardour ( for multi-track audio recordings (LV2, VST and LADSPA plugins are all supported), MuseScore ( for scoring, Timidity/Qsyth ( for MIDI tone generation.

    Also, I've never had any issues sharing tracks with users of other programs, nor have I had any issues exporting from other programs/platforms into those in Ubuntu Studio.

  • by log0n ( 18224 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @01:12AM (#46088413)

    Garageband is (at least up to 2010ish - not sure if recent? versions have robbed anything) a surprisingly powerful music program. Logic (& other daws) add a lot of editing specific features that really enable you to get extremely anal with your work, but all of the underlying 'record/punch/trim/level/etcetc' concepts are there and do what you expect them to do. Garageband does notation along with midi / wave substitution and add in the JamPacks (all included free with MainStage on app store iirc) to replace stock GM sounds and everything the topic poster wants is there.

    A better analogy would be telling a Photoshop user to try / Paint.NET. Not the same as Photoshop, but all of the essentials and editing concepts are nearly identical. You can easily accomplish whatever it is your trying to do.

    $.02 As much as I love and try to solely OSS, there are no options for this specific case. Ardour and Rosegarden are nice enough, but in much the same way Gimp isn't Photoshop, neither are those suitable alternatives. (primarily, asio-ish low latency audio/hardware isn't reliable ime, and there are no real options for upgraded GM soundbanks short of creating them yourself (which will end up consuming easily 88x more time and energy than the music being written in the first place))

  • by clockwise_music ( 594832 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @01:27AM (#46088477) Homepage Journal
    >That should get you started. DON'T TALK TO SALESMEN. They will try to sell you things.
    >Things you probably don't need. Focus on what your interests and skills are, and then build your studio around that.

    Very helpful advice. Check out for some other (hopefully) useful answers. The forum is very good.
  • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @01:31AM (#46088495)

    Most of the cross platform stuff works better in Windows. You can sniff around online for various tests, DAWBench has some good ones: []. You also don't get away from driver issues if you are talking pro audio, since all the pro cards have their own drivers and many of them are... suboptimal to put it nicely.

    If you like using a Mac, that's fine, but don't try and sell it as "better" because objectively, you can get more polyphony, lower latency, etc on a Windows system using the same software. Not really a big deal these days as an i7 + SSD generally means your system has more power than you need for anything, but the data is what it is.

  • Re:Must use MacOS (Score:4, Informative)

    by qpqp ( 1969898 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @02:00AM (#46088633)

    That's all well and good for writing it. But not so much for recording it.

    Huh?! You serious? Logic/ProTools is like the default setup for recording, mixing, composing, and editing. We're not talking about avant-gardists, mind you, so no PD, Max, Audiosculpt (and other IRCAM stuff), etc.
    Yes, there's Live, Reason, Sonar, DP, and a couple of other packages, but standard is Logic and/or ProTools. Period.

  • by danboid ( 300692 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @07:24AM (#46089571)

    Long standing member of the Linux audio community here, with almost 20 years experience of recording under all 3 major platforms.

    Please end the Mac fanboism and answer this poor guys question!

    He's asking about LINUX BASED notation software and synths! I'm sure he's well aware of Macs, REAPER and ProTools etc - not that they do what he's after anyway!

    Musescore and Rosegarden have already been mentioned for Linux notation software but there is also , and . Laborejo seems to be the most popular in the Linux world these days. I'm not sure which is the best as I don't do notation very often and I've not tried them all. The last few are basically lilypond GUIs.

    As for synths, the best (and most powerful) commercial synths for Linux is Loomer's Aspect. Its unbelievably CPU efficient too. As for open source, there is TAL Noizemaker (my fave), zynaddsubfx/Yoshimi, Amsynth and Triceratops are all worth checking out.

    Another good free synth (but not open source yet) for Linux is Tunefish - thats my 3rd fave after Noizemaker and Aspect.

    The best Linux Audio distros are KXStudio and AVLinux. As for DAWs (which he wasn't asking about, but just for my 2p) Ardour has lots of fans and many people use REAPER under Linux as its officially supported running under wine but my fave Linux DAW is qtractor. Its the fastest and most lightweight modern DAW. It lacks some whizz bang features of the popular commercial DAWs but you may find it does everything you need it to.

  • Re: Must use MacOS (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @07:51AM (#46089637)

    no, it's for idiots who can't take the time to learn engineering, because they are professional musicians, not engineers. and that's why mac is the standard in audio production and if you ever want to work in audio other than being a one man band marching to your own beat, you need to work with protools, logic and the likes.

    besides, if mac is for idiots, i don't want to know your word for windows users.

  • Re:Must use MacOS (Score:4, Informative)

    by multimediavt ( 965608 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @08:36AM (#46089805)

    but standard is Logic and/or ProTools. Period. On a Mac.


    In order to fix something you have to do it with correct information. You have not. I have been doing analog and digital audio production and engineering since 1988. I have seen apps come and go. Pro Tools is the number one digital audio production app out there, and has been for more than two decades. It runs on Mac and PC. Logic is the only real competitor in the commercial/professional space, it only runs on Mac. Having said that the split is something like 70:30 Pro Tools. Now, there are some hobbyists, some garage studios and some outliers using other tools, but most are not what anyone would call first tier professional outfits and they are not the ones setting the standards.

Fear is the greatest salesman. -- Robert Klein