Open Beats rock Brazil

No readers like this yet.
open source music with piano keys background

Last week, #RioPlusSocial was one of the top trending global topics on Twitter. Part of the United Nations conference on sustainable development (called Rio+20), Rio+Social welcomed throngs of activists, politicians, moguls, and artists to Brazil, to discuss solutions for a growing list of global problems. Sponsored by the United Nations Foundation and several partners, the conference featured lectures and roundtable discussions with icons such as Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, the first woman President of Ireland Mary Robinson, billionaires Ted Turner and Richard Branson, and innovators such as Alnoor Ladha, a founding partner of Purpose, and Mashable founder Pete Cashmore.

Somehow, the UN Foundation let two humble musician/professors from North Carolina sneak in through the back door. Apple Juice Kid (Stephen Levitin) and I had been dreaming up an open source beat making software, and were invited to perform at the conference and talk about our project. It's part of a broader initiative we co-founded called ARTVSM (pronounced artivism) - which pairs artists with activists (communities/non-profits/NGOs) to create innovative social impact.
Rio + SocialWe were definitely the odd couple at Rio+Social. We arrived in Rio on the day before the conference with backpacks and briefcases full of laptops, loop pedals, and headphones, trying to navigate the city without a word of Portuguese at our disposal. Juice was booked to DJ a pre Rio+Social VIP dinner with a live Brazilian drummer. It was nice to get our feet wet at the dinner, but nothing could have prepared us for the main event.
The schedule was intense, with dozens of handlers facilitating back-to-back Ted Talks-styled lectures from world leaders in a myriad of fields. We found ourselves amongst heavyweight activists, entrepreneurs, and innovators and were honored to be counted among them. Our idea was simple: everyone should be able to make beats and create music--and open source technology is the way to do it.
The idea was born in the Music Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where Apple Juice Kid and I co-teach a class called Beat Making Lab. In Beat Making Lab we use both the open source software Audacity and a very expensive software called Reason 6, to teach students how to make beats. One obstacle has been our software of choice, Reason 6. Not only is it prohibitively expensive, but it is difficult to order, impossible to share between computers, and is anchored by obnoxious security provisions.
This summer, we're taking the Beat Making Lab curriculum to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to build a studio in Goma and teach 16 Congolese youth how to make beats and share their music with the world. Reason 6's shortcomings are compounded by our aspirations of making the Beat Making Lab a global phenomenon. We raised the money to buy a laptop, speakers, hard drive and Reason 6, but don't have the flexibility to expand with the software.
So I had the idea: why don't we develop our own software?
When I learned that the ridiculously expensive, ever-updating word processing giant Microsoft Word had an open source alternative, I switched over to Open Office. When I realized that purchasing Photoshop was going to set me back  hundreds of dollars, I invested in GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program). I was initially drawn to these alternatives solely because they saved me money, but when I learned more about the principles of open source and how it is developed and nurtured by a community of codativists (coder/activists - I just made this up), I fell in love. It fit perfectly with the aspirations of ARTVSM. The reason (no pun intended) that there is not yet an open source alternative to Reason 6, is because the open source community hasn't rallied to create one, yet. I want to change that.

Apple Juice and I put in our bid on one of the biggest stages for innovation and sustainability in the world. How do you create change in your community? By empowering artists, and encouraging innovation. We believe that making beats can empower youth, build relationships, broadcast important stories, and heal communities. What better way to nurture innovation than to rally the open source community, to provide folks with the tools they need to improvise and inspire. It's not just a good idea - it's an obligation.

So who's with me? We need coders, artists, writers, beat makers, marketers, and many others to help make Open Beats successful. If you are interested helping out or you would like more information, register for an account (if you haven’t already), login, and then add your name in the comments, indicating that you’d like to contribute in some fashion. Otherwise, stay tuned, we plan to have a mailing list up and running soon that interested parties can subscribe to.

Update, June 27: We now have the mailing list set-up. If you'd like to join, sign-up at

User profile image.
Pierce Freelon is a professor, journalist, and musician. He founded both the Black Academics, an online community of young black thinkers, and the Beast, a jazz and hip hop group.


So, you want others to develop software so you can use it for free. Good luck with that.

Most successful OSS project require a lead dev that puts in a lot of time to get to a first useable release, at which point the community takes interest and the project becomes self-sustaining.

If you took the time to at least write up a functional specification or a graphical layout, you may spark some interest, but even then, it's hard to convince would-be developers "out there in the internets" to take up your cause as their own.

why not contribute to one of the many projects already underway?! see have fun!

Sounds great except there is already so much software out there that is open source. Hydrogen, rosegarden, not to mention how easy it is to generate custom midi beats with JACK and Fluidsynth.

Why not use tracking software, such as Milkytracker or Renoise. Alot of beats in the background of rap songs are patterns of repeated notes played either for a chorus, verse, or break in the song. Amiga mods and C64 SIDs are like this. The programs seem to have a steep learning curve but at least they are already developed.

We already HAVE open-source projects like Psycle and Buzé, and many of the wonderful plugins used with Jeskola Buzz (which is freeware, or its open-source counterpart Buzé) are freeware or open-source.

If you need more than that, check out FL Studio as a cheaper but no less powerful alternative. Reason is not only overkill and overpriced, it's by no means the only or the best player in its game.

There are a lot of misconceptions in this article.

Reason hard to order? Any music store has it, and they sell it from the website itself; what's hard about that?

Don't like Reason? Don't use it. DAWs grow on you - they're what you used to. People stick with them out of habit, not out of objective quality. There's no reason to pick up Reason as a first piece of music production software, other than having some kind of uniformity. - Reaper is $60 which is anything but expensive, and better - it's not crippled or limited in any way. KVRAudio is filled with plugins - many superior to the stock Reason ones. Spend a week assembling a reasonably complete package of free as in beer plugins, and you're done.

Of course, you're stuck with Windows. If you insist on Linux, you also insist on a fairly heavy lack of compatibility with other plugins, or you have to think of something really clever to get everything to work. If you thought writing a DAW from scratch was hard, wait until you also have to build basic plugins.

What's expensive is the audio interface and the controller keyboard, and even that is relative; synthesizers and tape recorders of the 80s and 90s were far more pricy.

Making music has never been cheaper and the prices are *still* dropping. If you want everyone to make music, you should also realize that not everyone needs the biggest, most bad-ass industry standard music production package rightaway, so dump Reason and switch.

There's also the open source DAW Ardour, which I use. I've never used the pricey proprietary stuff, so I can't compare features, but Ardour seems pretty robust.
Others have mentioned the many open source sequencer based stuff out there like Hydrogen. Seems like open source has this pretty well covered already.

I understand that there are others out there but after reading this, I am all for it. I could help market this or even make beats. Lets get this thing rollin'

Hey Matt, please join the mailing list. We appreciate your enthusiasm:

Not yet mentioned, LMMS which is very similar to FruityLoops. Also SuperCollider and PureData if you're some kind of super genius. There are also a few Linux distributions like Ubuntu Studio. I like the idea but it would be better to build upon an existing project rather then start from scratch. Frankly, you should have Google'd it first. Then you would see that there are tons of options out there.

Yeah but why not try to make the best. With everything all the other sites are doing, why not hop on board and make a better product?

Like the author said, it's incredibly expensive to develop this software. Why would you want to start from scratch? Chances are one of the other projects is 80% of what you want. Talk to the people there and see if you have the same vision, or fork it.

I use LMMS. It's very good, and probably a better start for an open-source beat-making app than anything else I've used. If you can program a TR-808 or a TB-303, you can use LMMS.

It sort of drives me nuts when people want to start a new open source project without even investigating whether there's already one they can use. It just diverts talent from projects that could be really good if people got involved.

and yet no open source hardware

what makes the MPC the standard of the beat making community is the Digital Audio Converters the OS is always secondary, and usually a bit of and afterthought to the hardware DACs

this software definitely wont "sound" hip hop

It's been a year or so since I've worked on an audio project, but Ardour or lmms seem like the best options (or course you have to be on Linux for those). In general, my experience is that you can find most functionality in some open source program (except the ever-popular auto-tune). I'm not very familiar with Reason (I've used all open source, all-the-time for all my audio/video production needs for about 6 years) or what they use it for specifically so I don't know the exact functionality they're hoping for, but I think there are lots of options out there to piece together the features. For a one-stop-shop, Ardour and lmms cover quite a bit of functionality already and probably are among the best starting points to add functionality to.

It is a bit disappointing that they didn't seem to look around more at what was already out there. Of course, the best open source multimedia software is Linux-only so if they haven't made that plunge, they should.

This already exists -

Ardour, seq24, rosegarden, snd, bristol, buzztard, lmms, pd, and the list goes on..

See also:

Though clearly this is not as widely known as it could be - esp. with a trade press devoted to ads which sell the commercial apps..

Was producing full hip-hop albums in 2006 with the above. It works.

Teach kids to grow food, not make beats. Making beats is a waste of their time. Read a book instead. Learn martial arts. Reject the capitalist American entertainment system.

Uummm yeah, kind of a worthless comment. Thanks world activist for your unrelated comment activism!!

~music feeds the soul

If Linux is the chosen platform, and if open source is a priority or is desirable then Linux would be the best choice of OS, due to the BSDs not supporting Firewire audio devices like Linux dies with FFADO, then you can use:

qtractor or Ardour 3 as DAW
noisemaker LV2 or VST (from DISTRHO) as synth
samplv1 or qsampler for sampler

With just 3 of those fully free and open source apps and maybe as few plugins you can already create beats and electronic music to a very high standard.

AV Linux 6 will be out soon and will most likely include all of the above (except maybe Ardour 3) as standard on its free downloadable DVD.

Another good up and coming DAW that promises to become available for Windows and OSX too eventually is OpenOctave which can also be used with the same samplers and synths etc. as qtractor and Ardour.

There is no open source DAW for Windows that can compete with Ardour and qtractor but Windows (and Mac users) can still use the free (if not open source) Reaper.

LMMS is OK but lacks automation and even undo. If qtractor and Ardour are overkill then maybe Hydrogen would be sufficient.

We now have the mailing list set-up. If you'd like to join, sign-up at <a href=""></a>.



We're on our way to the Congo to set up our first international Beat Making Lab.

Thanks for the feedback! We've gotten so much interest, constructive criticism, and support. We are in the process of building a team to help us develop Open Beats. Please join our mailing list ( and let's keep the momentum going!

Subscribe here:

And stay connected via our website:

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.