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8 programs to record and mix music in Linux

Apple Macs come with a software suite called iLife and it is a fantastic colelction of programs. It is perhaps one of the reasons why the Mac is so popular, but there is no need to be envious of Apple users and there's no need to dig deep into your pockets for the cash to purchase those expensive laptops and desktops. All you need is Linux and some free software!

In this article we will examine some alternatives to iLife's GarageBand that you can run on your Linux PC. This software turns your computer into a recording and mixing desk and it enables you to create impressive music tracks by building them up from samples.

You can record vocals, musical instruments, drums and so on, and then build up the music by adding tracks and then copying and pasting the audio samples into them. You can move the samples around with drag and drop, copy them and paste them elsewhere, loop them, and so on.

You don't need to be a musician to use these programs, although it does help. With many programs you can download ready made samples from the internet or use samples provided with the software. These programs are like word processors for music and they are just as easy to use, but a lot more fun. Some programs have virtual keyboards and you can specify the notes to play by clicking the piano keys with the mouse.

These music programs require you to have various libraries installed in order to work. You'll probably need to use Ubuntu Synaptic Package Manager (or it's equivalent in your distro), to get the required items. For example, search for Qt4, Jack and ALSA, and download the core modules and development files, libvorbis, libsndfile, librunnerband, LADSPA, libmad, libsamplerate, liblo, and more.

Some of these programs can be difficult to get running if you have to find and install all these libraries and then compile the software yourself. Ubuntu Studio certainly makes it a lot easier to get music software running in Linux and it is certainly worth considering. It's designed for multimedia and it comes with good audio software.


QtractorQtractor is an audio/MIDI multi-track sequencer that enables you to let your creative juices flow and produce your own music. You can import a wide range of music files, including MIDI, ogg, aif, wav, and mp3. Each file is loaded into a separate track and a list of files is displayed on the right. You can drag and drop files onto tracks, drag items around, copy and paste them in the usual way.

A mixer enables you to adjust the volumes, pan left or right and so on. It's an interesting program that has enough features for most people. It is easy to use and you can have lots of fun mixing tracks. You can save the finished track as an ogg file. It's in Ubuntu's Synaptic Package Manager (or your distro's equivalent) and it's easiest to install from there. You could compile it from the source files, but I couldn't get this right - it's far from easy.

Price: Free. Works with: Download for Ubuntu, openSUSE, or compile it yourself.

Linux MultiMedia Studio

Linux MultiMedia StudioLinux MultiMedia Studio has some great features, but it's also a bit more complicated to use. You can download the source code from the LMMS website and compile it yourself, which isn't easy to get right, or you can use Ubuntu's Add/Remove or Synaptic Package Manager - or your Linux distro's equivalent utility. Just search for lmms.

A fantastic feature of the package is the collection of files you get with it. There are lots of sound samples and ready-made demo songs you can load and play. It's fascinating loading up the demo tunes, seeing how they are constructed and then listening to them. Tracks can be exported as standard wav or ogg files.

Constructing your own song isn't as easy or straightforward as with Qtractor, but that's because this is a more powerful program with more features. If you have never used this type of program before you will need to read all the documentation and tutorials for it.

Price: Free. Available for most popular distros or compile it yourself.


WiredWired looks really good from the screen shots posted on the website, but getting it up and running is difficult and I didn't get it working. First you have to go and get lots of files that it depends on and then you have to compile it yourself. It wouldn't compile on my Ubuntu PC. Development seems to have stopped in 2007, but then started again in 2009.

Here's what it says on the website: "Wired is a professional music production and creation free software running on the Linux operating system. It brings musicians a complete studio environment to compose, record, edit and mix music without the need of expensive hardware. Wired supports unlimited Audio/Midi tracks playback and recording, and introduces a plugin system for instruments and effects. It handles live instruments (through sound card analog or midi inputs), virtual instruments and sound effects."

Price: Free. Works with: ?


HydrogenHydrogen is a drum machine, so you can't create complete music tracks. However, it was very easy to install and to get working, which makes it ideal for novices. You can have a lot of fun creating drum patterns and you can export to WAV and MIDI.

It's best to get it from your distro's software repository and Ubuntu's was bang up to date. You do need JACK and ALSA, but that goes for everything here and there weren't any problems. Drumkits are listed in the Drumkit Manager window and you can load one of the many that are provided. You then go to the Pattern Editor and click where you want to play the various drums. Finally, you use the Song Editor to show when you want each patter to play. It's the sort of program that anyone can use without even reading the manual. It's cool.

Price: Free. Works with: Download for Ubuntu, Debian, or compile it yourself.

Others worth considering

  • MusE Sequencer: This is a MIDI and audio sequencer with recording and editing facilities. It's designed to be virtual multi-track studio and provides MIDI recording and WAV file import. It should be in your distro's software repository. Free.
  • Beast: Beast is short for Bedevilled Audio System and it is a music composition and modular synthesis application. It comes with a few demos and these are helpful. There is also a quick start guide on the website. Install it from your distro's software repository. Free.
  • Rosegarden: This aspects of a MIDI sequencer, an audio sequencer, and a notation editor into one convenient, powerful, easy to use package. Install it from your distro's software repository. Free.
  • Ardour: A multi-track audio editor that looks good and has lots of features. It has multi-channel recording, non-destructive editing, unlimited tracks, and it allows you to mix music to create new tracks. No demos are provided and there's little help. Ubuntu's Synaptic Package Manager has a pretty up to date version, but if your distro doesn't have it you'll have to compile it yourself.

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