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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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  • CCRMA and Fedora (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bucketoftruth ( 583696 ) on Monday January 27, 2014 @11:30PM (#46087957)
    Our music studio only records live sound (no MIDI). We use CCRMA on Fedora20 []. It has a ton of stuff you might find useful. We use it for the RT prempt capabilities so musicians can auto-punch-in/out during recording without have to go back and time-shift tracks later. Our "sound card" is a pair of Echo Audiofire 12's for the 24 mics around the studio.
  • by Bite The Pillow ( 3087109 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @12:53AM (#46088327)

    Currently using musescore and audacity. Musescore makes me want to punch it, Finale was more usable 15 years ago. Audacity just has oddities, like track being milliseconds apart and had to resync.
    If I used them frequently, I'd pay money to not use them.

  • Re:Linux Audio (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Miamicanes ( 730264 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @02:47AM (#46088819)

    Linux, Windows, and OSX all have problems with low-latency audio. The sad irony is that 15 years ago, you actually COULD connect a MIDI keyboard to a SB Pro AWE/32's MIDI port, run your sequencer app, and have it do a halfway decent job of both capture and playback. Then, host-based audio happened, and everything went to shit... accelerated by architectural changes to all three platforms that made matters even worse.

    Forget about trying to do realtime CPU-based audio on any computer that needs to still be usable as a normal computer. It's impossible. You CAN hand-tweak Linux, Windows, and OS X in various ways to get the latency down (as others have noted, Linux has had realtime kernel audio available as an option for a while), but the tweaks you have to make will render it dysfunctional as a general-purpose computer.

    It doesn't matter how fast your i7 or Xeon is, it doesn't matter how much RAM you have, and it doesn't matter if you have a terabyte RAID 0 SSD array... nothing you do will ever make it fast enough to do low-latency host-based audio without ever glitching. You might reduce the glitches to something that happens every 5-10 minutes, instead of every 5-10 seconds, but you'll never eliminate them completely. It's just the nature of how Windows, Linux, and OS X now handle multitasking.

    The solution? Re-discover dedicated synth modules. Or set up a second PC whose only reason for existence is to be a VST/soft synth host -- aggressively tweaked for low-latency audio in ways the main DAW PC can't be.

    The problem isn't MIDI (that was solved YEARS ago by just using USB to give every physical MIDI port its own dedicated full-bandwidth MIDI cable), and the problem isn't raw data being shoveled around. The problem is that even with a multi-core CPU and abundant RAM, Windows/Linux/OS X will all starve the soft synth for CPU cycles for 3-7ms at a time (usually, more like 12-20ms) while the audio buffer drains. If it empties before the CPU calculates the next 5-10ms chunk of waveform data, you get a loud audio glitch. Audio-generation is a "realtime" activity, and Windows/Linux/OS X in their roles as desktop operating systems all fall flat on their faces when realtime becomes a necessity.

    So... the moral of the story: forget about trying to use a single computer as both DAW and VST/softsynth host. If you can avoid live performances involving a softsynth (or pre-record the softsynth and fake the keyboard playing during the performance, you'll save a LOT of money. Audio glitches while jamming or capturing keyboard input suck, but at least they won't affect your real recordings. Use your DAW as a DAW, and give the soft synth host its own hardware that can be properly tweaked for realtime audio.

  • Re:Ya pretty much (Score:3, Interesting)

    by llamabot ( 525655 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @05:08AM (#46089205)

    I would argue that audio production is the one area that Open Source truly excels in. I was very pleasantly surprised to find so many different tools available for audio production on Linux and the quality of the software.

    Of particular interest is the JACK (JACK Audio Connection Kit) which allows multiple software products to communicate seamlessly with each other. You don't need to hope that your primary production tool supports your plugin or tool, only that it supports JACK. The rest is transparent and you'll find that because JACK has been around for so long that all the production tools you use will support it.

    There is a very high quality open source multitrack recorder that is consequently used as a platform for a highly regarded commercial platform (Ardour/Harrison Mixbus). There are very capable MIDI sequencers with full feature sets and a veritable ocean of MIDI compatible synthesisers and effects generators. There are also a number of solid sequencers and loopers available as well.

    Hardware wise, support is a mixed bag. On one hand, many sound interfaces do not have open drivers - but if you are selective then you can find very high quality interfaces with very good support. My experience with real-time kernels and PCI based sound cards (MAudio Delta 66's in this instance) allowed me to record at error free sub 3ms latencies with 24bit/96khz on much older hardware - something I couldn't even hope to achieve on other platforms.

    The primary weakness in open source audio production is also a strength. The sheer diversity of production tools available makes developing an effective workflow a time consuming business and commercial offerings do have a much shallower learning curve. This isn't an issue if you are willing to invest a little time during the initial setup stages.

    If you want to do open source audio production then there's absolutely nothing stopping you. Some might want to do this for ideological reasons (political or technical - they might want to extend the software), but others might not have any other option. Somebody from a poor community or in a third world nation might not have much trouble sourcing hardware capable of performing the job (donations etc.), but affording the software with the same level of features the open source solutions offer could be prohibitively expensive or it may be unavailable for other reasons (geo-blocking, donated commercial software is a very problematic area, etc.).

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

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @06:07AM (#46089355)

    Or you can buy a modern PC that is 4 times more powerful and have cash left over for beer.

  • by mendred ( 634647 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @07:22AM (#46089569) Homepage
    This is an example of the music I produce. It is produced using KXStudio and ardour with linuxsampler/hydrogen (running as an LV2 plugin via composite sampler)/linuxdsp/calf plugins. It shows that it is definitely possible to use opensource software to create songs. Of course i have also mixed in LinuxDSP (which is commercial) along with the calf plugins - they plays a big part in my sound. []

    Most of the money I have spent is on the equipment I use to record (my guitars/ tube condenser mic/X-Station/headphones etc). But I have also spent a lot of time and energy accumulating free samples from different sources and kitting them together(the drum kit is an example - it is a hydrogen based Drumkit using the Colombo Acoustic Drumkit with other samples (e.g. the snare) from different sources - all free). I also use the excellent composite sampler to directly plugin the hydrogen drumkits as a lv2 plugin into Ardour's midi tracks, so I don't use anything over ardour really. I use a cheap BCF2000 in Mackie emulation mode with Ardour.

    I have also bought the linuxdsp plugins - I can honestly say that they are on par and sometimes better than commercial offerings (listen to the Linuxdsp Pultech EQ in action and compare that to the real thing - very close!) - the best part is that they are not restricted to linux - so you can use them where-ever. Also use the excellent calf plugins especially the saturator.

    It works for the kind of music I do - (a mix of classical/classical rock/blues/jazz) and the fact that I compose/record/produce/sing my music myself, but I have felt the pain in the past and it has often taken me a lot of time to produce the things the way i wanted it to sound (You can see some of my older pieces as well on soundcloud - you can see that the sound does gets progressively better - it was part of a learning process of learning to use the tools and learning music production! I am currently working on a new track which uses the sonatina orchestra which is a free orchestral sample released under creative commons and i think that definitely sounds a lot better than my previous ones. Also Ardour allows for midi editing on screen - i.e.. i can see all my tracks side by side with midi at the same track resolution- its very useful when i need to line up notes across tracks. Other DAWs tend to have a separate window come up when you need to have midi editing (or they used to..not sure if that's the case anymore!)

    If you go with a mac - chances are you will be doing what other people have already done and use the tools that they do - it does wind up costing more though- but if you are going to be producing music for other folks, time will be critical. Also there are probably more tools/options out there for the mac - e.g. I still can't find an auto tune equivalent for linux - however it is possible to run windows VSTs under emulation in wine as well - you can find videos in youtube.

    The key thing with the mac is that if you run into problems..chances are someone would be able to help you solve them - I know a friend who absolutely swears by his macbook for music production and he says that the support is amazing. Linux based DAWs have also grown in that sense - the Ardour community is large but I just get the feeling that the mac might be a bit more mature - although this could be a case of the grass being greener on the other side. It will now be a bit of a learning curve, I am way too used to the way Ardour/jack and how my tools work now that I have invested the time and energy in getting to know them.

    Also these tools have matured (i have been using them for over 5 years now). So a lot of the problems I faced in 2008 have been minimized. Suggest that if you do have the time, try giving them a spin with a simple project or something- spend a few weeks playing with it - if you like it use it. If you don't then you can always switch to commercial. The only thing you would have lost is time. That's what I did originally and didn't really look back after that.
  • by frog_strat ( 852055 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @12:47PM (#46091559)
    I was just talking to a friend who owns a Protools studios, he just went through some nasty downtime. I was also called to help troubleshoot a Sonar studio a while back. I have been using Linux / Ardour / Rosegarden / Hydrogen for years and pretty much have it down. Running a pro studio with it would require ready backup machines, (probably should be done with any OS). Here is a prog rock song, using 42 tracks in Ardour, Hydrogen. Mesa Boogie Mark IV into an SM57. Custom fanned fret guitar, Roland RD digital piano. []

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