Linux in the Studio: The Test Drive

AVLINUX-Ardour3 web

For a lot more oomph, there is Ardour; the closest you will get to Pro Tools on the Linux platform. Colorful, fast, precise and great-sounding, Ardour is the piece I’ve been using the longest. This baby is so cool, the Harrison console people use it as the audio engine inside their “Mixbus” DAW software suite.

So you know, Ardour is not totally free, but can be bought for as little as $1. If you know where to look, you can get it for free – multimedia distros for example (more on those later). https://ardour.org/

Nearly as colorful and a lot easier to tame is Qtractor, another audio/MIDI environment with enough punch to mix your station imaging as effortlessly as your commercials. This is more a musician’s tool than a radio piece (the timeline is in beats and bars, not H:M:S), but is perfectly viable. And may I remind you, free. http://qtractor.sourceforge.net/qtractor-index.html

TOYS

We’ve got to have our noisemaking toys, don’t we? Okay, let’s start with some CALF plug-ins: free dynamics processing, reverbs, exciters, EQs and a drawbar organ. Flat-out free from http://calf.sourceforge.net/plugins.html

Linux audio software use plug-ins with a scheme called LV2 (LADSPA Version 2), which are similar but generally not compatible with DX, AAX or VST. Search the web for free LADSPA plug-ins and have fun.

Rakarrak web

Rakarrack puts an entire guitar effects pedalboard into a computer. If you can plug your Strat into your audio interface, launch Rakarrack, turn up the speakers and behold the glory. http://rakarrack.sourceforge.net

If you are a fan of FLStudio or its earlier ancestor “Fruity Loops”, you’ll enjoy LMMS; a beat- and sample-based music creation tool. This contains several punchy synthesizers, drop-in VST effect support, and piano-roll MIDI editing. The program is cross-platform and you can find tutorials and demo recordings all over the Internet. https://lmms.io/

And if you like making electronic bloops and bleeps, find Linux-based synthesizers like ZynAddSubFX, Bristol and AmSynth all over the Internet; along with a very cool drum machine emulator called Hydrogen http://www.hydrogen-music.org/hcms/

Bristol obx web

DISTROS

You can try out Linux audio software with a special disk called a multimedia distro; this is a specific “flavor” of the Linux operating system and huge collections of multimedia software optimized for it.

With a distro, you can test-drive whatever you want live on any machine without having to install anything or overwriting your disk drive. There are many, but among the better ones are AVLinux, ArtistX, Ubuntu Studio and openArtist. Google ‘em.

A bonus to many of these collections is the addition of software for graphics, video editing, both 2D & 3D animation, and rendering engines for complicated graphics work. While not at all necessary for radio production, it allows you the opportunity to explore other aspects of your creativity. Look, if you already do crazy cartoon voices for your station’s morning show, why not make a real cartoon to go along with it?

RADIO AUTOMATION

Lastly, you can actually run your entire radio station on free software. The Rivendell radio automation suite puts a completely professional, networkable audio management/playout system on common, inexpensive 64-bit PC hardware.

Rivendell runs countless low-power and academic radio stations around the world, a healthy handful of commercial stations, and at least three radio networks based in Washington DC. As described in an audio promo included with the software, Rivendell is the software equivalent of a $15,000 automation system, only for  free.

Versions can be found at http://rrabuntu.sourceforge.net/ and http://paravelsystems.com/ appliance.html and support can be found in an online users group. There are also many YouTube videos posted by users showing how it works.

I do want to point out that some modern PC hardware may have difficulty loading and running Linux. This is not a fault of the operating system, but a technical specification called “UEFI” (for Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) being built into many recent computers. UEFI is intended to speed up and modernize the bootup process of computer hardware, but has been optimized for MS Windows; and as a result plays havoc with some Linux installations.

There is considerable information on the Web regarding the installation of Linux on UEFI-configured  computer hardware, and many Linux companies are working around this snag, so don’t give up too early.

One final note about Linux and open-source software: Don’t go in anticipating the same-old same-old when trying out certain programs. The experience will be somewhat new; with different methods, keystroke sequences, file structure (there is no “C Drive” for example) and just a general weirdness to it all. But it will still result in great-sounding audio, and remember: you didn’t drop Dime One on any of it.

Have a good time.

 

Nate Austen started rockin’ the reels in 1977 at his college radio station and has never looked back. Coming full circle, he now manages a college station in Maryland and shares his methods and experiences with future production stars. Contact him c/o RAP.

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