Recap: Making music with FOSS webcast with Adam Drew

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Adam Drew is a technical support engineer for Red Hat's Global Support Services specializing in clustering, storage, and file systems. When he’s not working on enterprise storage, Adam can be found writing and recording music, writing for his blog, maintaining his FOSS Audio KBase, programming, and experimenting with graphic design and digital painting, all on free and open source software (FOSS).

Not only is there a ton of great open source software out there for audio production, choosing it isn't "settling." It's as good as, and in some cases better than, the proprietary (and often expensive) options. But what does making that choice for openness mean?

Adam uses the Free Software Foundation's definition of the freedoms you have:

  • Freedom to use
  • Freedom to learn
  • Freedom to share
  • Freedom to change

And why is that important for music? Music is naturally a collaborative and community-driven art. "The shackles that are put on us by non-free software severely limit our ability to collaborate and to share," said Drew. "We're better musicians when we're sharing and collaborating, and free and open source software gives us the opportunity to do that." Proprietary software limits you with real barriers towards managing a studio or business and working with others. FOSS relieves that, offering a real, tangible benefit for musicians.


JACK is a recursive acronym for the Jack Audio Connection Kit, low-latency audio transport in Linux. It's the subsystem that allows apps to route audio into the computer and out through it. Having one standardized gatekeeper makes sense--each app doesn't have to have its own audio engine.

Latency is the amount of time it takes your audio to flow through your computer--how long it takes a guitar strum to get from your fingers through the hardware, software, and out through the speakers. That round trip time is the latency. If it's too high, you'll notice a delay. If it's low enough, you won't even notice. JACK offers no latency, which means it will route audio through your computer as fast as your hardware will allow it. It's also ultra-low-latency, means you can get it down to imperceptible latencies.

Apple Logic Studio or DigiDesign Pro Tools offer everything in one package. When producing under Linux, you can use JACK instead to let you put together some very specialized tools as you prefer or need, for example, to choose a different synthesizer from drum machine.

It can be intimidating to new users--Adam calls it the "techiest" of the pieces he uses. But it's the heart of your open source audio setup.


Hydrogen is a drum machine, which is an app that lets you create percussion accompaniment to other instruments.

Click the image to see more screen shots

In its right panel, it offers multiple drum kits, or you can create your own. Hydrogen also has a community of users who create kits and offer them online. Each kit expands to list the pieces that are offered within it. For examples, the Roland TR-606 contains the kick, snare, low tom, hi tom, closed hat, open hat, cymbal, etc. Moving on a timeline, you can specify which sounds you want to play when. In pattern mode, you can loop a pattern one create--Adam made a simple one in just a few clicks. For most music, one drum beat isn't enough though. So in that case, you layer patterns on top of each other, progress, and play different patterns at different times--result: a song.


Rakarrack, named for the sound created when muting the strings with the fret hand while strumming a guitar, is a guitar multi-effects processor that emulates a guitar effects pedalboard. It lets you build complex patches of sound and effects chains for your guitar out of simple, smaller effects. You can select a palette of effects--distortion, EQ, overdrive--and create your own unique guitar sounds. Each individual sound has a number of parameters, and you have up to 10 slots per patch for effects, leading to millions of possibilities. Create your own patches from scratch, or use some of the great built-in patches. Like Hydrogen, there is also a Rakarrack community for sharing and downloading patches. It's also conveniently designed to be used with JACK.


ZynAddSubFX is an incredibly versatile software synthesizer, particularly if you love electronic sounds. It has an additive engine, a subtractive engine, and a pad synthesizer, ADsynth, SUBsynth, and PADsynth, respectively. It comes with hundreds of patches in various collections. It excels at metallic and percussive sounds and can do a good electronic piano, but isn't as great at really natural sounds.

ZynAddSubFX features realtime, polyphonic, and multitimbral synth, as well as microtonal capabilities with any scale up to 128 notes per octave. Many of its settings include randomness to help you make instruments that sound a bit different each time.


Ardour is a digital audio workstation. It allows you to record individual tracks of music and to layer and mix them into a composition. For example, if you're listening to a pretty basic rock song, it wasn't all recorded into one channel--the drummer is in the drum channel, the guitarist in the guitar channel, and the individual channels are mixed into a whole. Ardour is how you make that happen.

Click the image to see more screen shots.

"The fact that there is free software of this caliber is really mind-blowing," said Adam, encouraging that users donate to its team. This is the tool you'll spend a lot of your time in, so it's important for it to be good.

Ardour is free software released under the GPL, but it's not entirely free-as-in-beer. For the full version (which adds the ability to load or save AU plugin settings), you're asked to donate any amount you feel is appropriate. (The default recommendation on the donation page is $45.)

Getting help

These are just five of the hundreds of audio packages you have to choose from for nearly any music project you could imagine.

Adam recommends two really helpful and active online communities with IRC channels on the Freenode network: #opensourcemusicians (which has a podshow about open source audio) and #ubuntustudio, which has a very active mailing list and is growing. His nick is holstein--feel free to say hello.

If you're a Fedora user, check out the Fedora Musician's Guide. You can also find tips in one of Adam's personal projects, the FOSS Audio Kbase.

Listen to the recording to hear Adam give more in-depth information and demos of each of these components.

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Ruth Suehle is the community leadership manager for Red Hat's Open Source and Standards team. She's co-author of Raspberry Pi Hacks (O'Reilly, December 2013) and a senior editor at GeekMom, a site for those who find their joy in both geekery and parenting.


I had registered to attend and was pulled in last-minute to record a talk at work. Thank you so much for posting this recap and a link to the recording! Love what I see here, but wish I could have attended to ask Adam a few Ardour questions.

Also, I'm really enjoying these webcasts! Thanks so much for putting them on.

Glad you're enjoying the series! If you skip down to the end of the post, there's some information about finding Adam on IRC. I'm sure he'd be happy to chat with you about Ardour!

Strange this, no player/editor for Linux?? I am ~appalled~ if this is the case. Who do I complain to? Especially when I am VERY interested in watching the video by dnloading it, as I am on a Hughes Net Sat., with dreadful speeds. If I can download it and watch it locally, it's far more enjoyable, without the jerks and pauses. Dial up users would have it even worse. They do still exist, and for some, it's all they can manage to afford. I would hope that those making cases for the use of Open Source, as Adam has freely done, will insist that their story is also presented in an open fashion as well. This would never had happened back in the earlier days of Red Hat. Oh, heck no.

But, to Adam. You're doing a great work there. Please keep it up. There are many, who will be picking your brains, to come. :) Ric

Rickey--Sorry you're having trouble. We've all been using Linux to create and replay it, but I know sometimes things happen. We try to get an ogg file created shortly after a webcast, so keep an eye out for that.

Would you care to teach us how to create arf files and replay them, using Linux? That would be great! :) Ric

I applaud and Adam for the presentation.

There seemed to be missed opportunity however, in the lack of a open format for the video.

Scott Lavender
Ubuntu Studio Project Lead

Scott--We use a third-party service for the actual function of doing the webcast, but we try to provide an ogg file as soon as we can afterwards. Keep an eye out if that's the format you'd prefer.

I am glad to read any new story on how free software like Ardour works in real-world scenarios. So I see, I am not the only one who can actually use a software natively and free available for Linux to do more than just experiments in the audio/video domain ;-)

I read some comments in Linux-lists on this article though, that refer to a little misunderstanding about Ardour being available for free. The restriction you mention in the article applies only to the ready-to-run MacOSX-Version of Ardour. Any Version for Linux is of course free as in beer also and if you want a free full-force MacOSX-Binary you can get the source-code for free and compile it on your Mac.

best regards

Hartmut Noack / Berlin

p.s: If you are into guitar-amp simpulations you may want to check out guitarix also. It focuses on emulation of tubes and amp-modules like preamps and cabinets.

I can't watch the video... webex just gives me a "Set Up Error". I do have the Java plugin working.

Would you mind providing an Ogg Vorbis other downloadable/streamable (and preferably open) formatted video?

Has the ogg file been put up yet? I can't seem to find it. :) Ric

I always had issues setting up jack on my mandriva box. However I have been playing with LMMS and is great.

I am a long time audacity user for podcast but actual music is a bit more complex for my understanding.

So I have fool around with other software like ReZound, Mixxx, TerminatorX and anything that look hiphopish. Still on the processs, I met a guy on youtube that had <a href="">some great tutorials about working with samples using Linuxsampler</a>.

It's great to see FOSS Music Production applications getting some prime. Keep up the the good works.

I have been convinced of using FOSS for music production, on my laptop and desktop. Been using most of the apps mentioned in this article, except for Rakarrack, not being a guitar player.

Got to mention JAMin.

QSynth is also a good softsynth.

LMMS standalone, much better to a certain degree now on my 32 bit system. You can use it to route audio with JACK when using an rt kernel, but no transport control yet. if anyone knows better, do correct if i am wrong.

Crossing my fingers for the video production apps to come up to speed.

Waiting for the ogg file of the webcast also, don't want too have to log into to windows 7 to view it.


LMMS is a cool composition-tool for E-music and it runs good with Alsa but it is internally not very well suited to run with Jack. If you want a central App perfectly adapted to Jack I recommend Qtractor. Ardour3 will whatsoever become the undisputed No1 for such a task. It has everything: Transport-control, everything can be automated(even external sound-hardware), MIDI and Audio can be edited in a professional manner. offers alpha-packages for testing Ardour3, that can be installed on every recent Linux-distro.
These packages are of course free as in freedom AND free as in beer, ladies and gentleman -- the same as the source-code of Ardour.

Regarding video: KDEnlive has made tremendous progress. Version 0.8 runs stable, is easy to operate without being dumbed-down and offers a lot of professional details like a proxy-mode to edit HD-material even on lesser machines.

Hi, Interesting roundup of some of the Audio applications available, but playback is an area which didn't feature.
I use Linux for Audio playback in a live theathre environment, as such the requirements should be quite simple, all the editing and mixing is done beforehand in Audacity and I use xmms for playback.
What I want is an application which mimics a pro DAT style transport, big, easy buttons, a seperate play and pause as well as seperate fast forward /rewind and next/previous track buttons as combining them is not ideal for live use, a display which can show current time, elapsed time and remaining time in a clear easy to read font and colour. As this is used in a darkened environment, the application should be sympathetic to this with dark borders and eye friendly colours for displays etc. such as red or green.
Good playlist management goes without saying of course!
Maybe these comments will be of use to someone.


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