How does one create music on Linux? No clue where to start.
August 14, 2016 11:02 AM   Subscribe

I would like to get started creating music in my spare time. I have a Linux laptop, a mini keyboard, some DAWs, and no idea how to get any of it working together. Please help me!

I've wanted to create music for some time now, and a few months ago I finally took the plunge and acquired some tools to do so:

-Linux laptop (running Kubuntu)
-DAWs (Ardour and Bitwigm, both trial versions)
-a keyboard (AKAI MPK Mini II along with a powered USB hub)
-some other music software, which I don't know how to use (Qjackctl, Qsynth, others)

I've spent time intermittently since then trying to get these things to work, with little success. My current high-water mark is "getting my computer to make piano noises when I hit keys on the MIDI keyboard," but I still have no idea how to actually get my keyboard to work with either of the DAWs I've downloaded (apparently my computer is not detecting the keyboard when it's plugged in).

I've looked for tutorials on how to set everything up, but the problem seems to be that Linux isn't as plug-and-play as Windows or OS X, so rather than using one program, I need to set up several and connect them all together, something which I don't have the expertise to do. At this point, I'm well and truly stuck.

I am willing to do anything to get this to work (the easier the fix, the better), including actually purchasing a DAW, installing a new Linux distro, downloading even more software, or (last resort) installing Windows. What steps should I take to get started making music?
posted by miltthetank to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
FWIW, I found audacity to be mindbogglingly complicated. Ardour is much simpler and more user friendly. I'd start there. I'm sure audacity and all the wacky jack stuff has more firepower, but TBH I could never figure it out.

Ardour works out of the box (mostly)
posted by jpe at 12:16 PM on August 14, 2016

I have had relatively good luck with MuseScore. It's a music notation program, not a performance recorder, but for "I have this keyboard, I want to pump this sheet music in and play it as a MIDI thing" it was the first tool I got working.

I use Audacity for basic music management, and I'm getting better at it all the time. It's fine for digitized sound, but I haven't found the really good tool for dealing with synthesizer stuff yet.
posted by straw at 12:19 PM on August 14, 2016

Ubuntu Studio is a slick distro "For Creative Humans". Here's the audio features (includes both Ardour & Audacity). I haven't used it for audio, but the distro is jam-packed with tools, and think it might be easier to start from a 'complete package' rather than cobbling recommendations together.
posted by quinndexter at 4:57 PM on August 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

If your computer is not recognizing you MIDI keyboard try running:
or sudo snd_seq_midi
in a terminal. I'm not super familiar with ubuntu but on Arch linux there was a bug with newer kernel versions that would lead to USB MIDI keyboards not being detected and this was the solution that worked for me.
posted by Television Name at 6:09 PM on August 14, 2016

Umm, I meant modprobe snd_seq_midi or sudo modprobe snd_seq_midi but I missed the edit window.
posted by Television Name at 6:17 PM on August 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Pure Data (Pd) is an open-source graphical programming environment in which you can pretty much do (hypothetically) anything. It's not a DAW, but you could use it to build your own. I think it comes with Ubuntu Studio mentioned above. There's kind of a steep learning curve, but then you're on Linux so you're already a glutton for punishment.
posted by univac at 7:11 PM on August 14, 2016

Once you have a DAW figured out (which is a steep learning curve in Linux), you'll want VSTs (sort of like instruments).

Good linux VST list here.
posted by kuanes at 5:43 AM on August 15, 2016

Strong second for Ubuntu Studio – I think you're precisely its target audience (or more accurately, one of its target audience types).
posted by kalapierson at 11:23 AM on August 16, 2016

I feel your pain--I've been trying to do this for a decade now and finally in the past year have a set-up that's as good as what I used to have on the Mac ten years ago...

Part of the issue you'll get into with music creation on Linux is that your research will uncover a lot of VERY outdated info as well as a considerable amount of geeky tech talk that's more about set-up and optimization than it is about actually making music. (By all means geek out--I'm just saying it can distract and detract from the task at hand).

A few suggestions:

1) Use an Ubuntu-based distro (like Ubuntu Studio) and add the KX Studio repositories. They have a great set-up utility that will save you some time, a few custom tools to make JACK easier to use, and they also have the latest and greatest music software in the repos.

2) Get a Linux-friendly commercial DAW like Tracktion, Bitwig, or my fave Harrison Mixbus (based on Ardour). Lots of Linux users are focused on open source, which is awesome, but if you want support, more active forums, and less futzing around, at least consider one of these.

3) Bookmark Great community.
posted by quarterframer at 2:21 PM on August 22, 2016

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