How to produce music in linux
I don't have to tell you about the advantages of linux compared to other operating systems. Linux is extremely stable and the performance is usually really good. But your intention is to make music and music-software is special software. There just are no huge manufacturers of music software and 99 % of the created software appears for windows or mac. The professional and commercial segment of linux DAWs is currently just one single program called BitWig. Users of protools, logic, Ableton or sonar are not able to use those tools, because they are not available for this operation system.
But why use linux anyway?
I have an electronic music background while this is not EDM or dance anymore. Thanks to softwaresynths you are able to create a movie soundtrack. For example, the soundtrack of „Game of Thrones“ was done without an orchestra, but with a nice DAW and some huge sample-libraries. I created music with windows 7 and I was really happy with this operating system but suddenly windows refused to start and so I decided to try out something else.
In Windows, you can install your DAW (setup.exe), install an asio-driver (asio4all) and start making music. In general, music programs on windows are well integrated and usually start without any configuration marathon. In this case we have a real plug and play scenario.
In Linux you first have to find the DAW that matches your skills. Windows-musicians usually learn those tools by other windows-musicians. In Linux it's even hard to find other regular linuxers. Finding those, who are able to use a DAW is just another task.
What are we talking about?
HDD-Recording is - like the name says nothing more than recording every instrument to a harddrive. Usually HDD-recording-Software is able to play a channel while recording another one. In the early days of music, everyone of the band was sitting in the studio and everything was recorded while it was played. But producers realized quite early that this process creates music which does not sound good enough. So every artist was recorded in a single session and the whole track was put together afterwards. In those glory old days, they used tapedecks to play the recorded drum track and record the guitar track afterwards. Then the new combination was played and the singer was recorded.
As tapes are some sort of dead, the industry used computers. With programs like audacity you can record every musician after the other.
When MIDI was a thing, it was possible to play some notes on a keyboard and record the information about which key was pressed for how long to a program called sequencer. The concept was similar to that with HDD-recording, although you do not record the analog data and digitize it, but you record the meta-data and play it afterwards. Programs like cubase allowed us to play a melody slow, edit it and speed it up so that it appeared we are the best musicians in the world
Digital audio workstations combine the digital recording and the sequencer. The DAW is a studio in a box. Modern DAWs work as multitrack recorders and sequencers. They have their own effect-chains, their own instruments and even there own sample libraries. DAWs can communicate with other DAWs through standards like Jack or Rewire and even allow the control of external devices through MIDI. Popular DAWs are Logic (Mac), Cubase (Windows), Ableton (Mac/Windows), Renoise (Mac, Win, Lin) or Bitwig (Mac, Win, Lin).
Now we are talking
All of those tools DO exists in the linux universe but as I mentioned before: The market is quite small. Usually musicians use Windows or Macs and there are not too much signs pointing in another direction. Although a huge load of features speaks for Linux in a studio. Linux is stable, linux has some of the fastest filesystems on the market and linux is really good in memory management. But linux lacks in popular standards like VST or ASIO. Now: there IS VST available in Linux but most publishers do not code their stuff for linux.
Wine is a library which fakes a windows-environment. Windowsprograms "believe" they are running in Windows and so they work with windows. This Wine-thing is really nice, many programs and even games do work in Wine and the performance is great. But it fails, if the coders use routines which were not documented. Wine will crash and so the program itself will crash, too. I think it's safe to say that at least 70 % of windows-programs work well with wine. But that makes 30 % of apps not working properly in wine.
But Wine is the only way to use a decent load of VST-Plugins. In this case you have two options: You can try to install your DAW in a Wine-Environment. While some programs like Renoise work really good in Wine, some others like Cubase won't work at all. And we use Linux, so let's use a linux DAW.
Windows-VST in Linux Apps
You came here to run Windows-VST in Linux apps. I see it in your dirty smile. Guess what. It is really easy to run Windows-VST in Linux. All you need are some programs which I will present to you.
DSSI-VST is the oldest „windows-vst-player“ on the market. DSSI-VST is usually available in the packages of your distribution. So you install DSSI-VST with your usual install routine (apt-get install dssi-vst) and then you install your VST in your home-directory/vst. DSSI will discover your plugin for you and there you go. It does its job and it is really stable. But DSSI does not support midi-triggering and midi-speed by your daw. So if your VST has delays and echos you will have to setup the delays by hand because DSSI does not „know“ how much BPM the track really has.
Airwave is supercool. I love this program and I don't use anything else anymore because it's really capable of running the most known VSTs. How does it work? You just install your VST with setup.exe (or whatever your WINE-VST needs) and after that, you open Airwave and create a link to your VST.
- Run the airwave-manager
- Press the "Create link" button on the toolbar.
- Select desired wine loader and wine prefix in the appropriate combo boxes.
- Enter a path to VST plugin DLL file in the "VST plugin" field (you can use the "Browse" button for convenience). Note, that the path is relative to the selected wine prefix.
- Enter a "Link location" path (the directory, where your VST host looks for the plugins).
- Enter a link name, if you don't like the auto-suggested one.
- Select a desired log level for this link. The higher the log level, the more messages you'll receive. The 'default' log level is a special value. It corresponds to the 'Default log level' value from the settings dialog. In most cases, the 'default' log level is the right choice. For maximum performance do not use a higher level than 'trace'.
- Press the "OK" button. At this point, your VST host should be able to find a new plugin inside of the "Link location" directory.
Carla is an audio plugin host, with support for many audio drivers and plugin formats. It has some nice features like automation of parameters via MIDI CC (and send output back as MIDI too) and full OSC control.
Carla currently supports LADSPA (including LRDF), DSSI, LV2, VST2/3 and AU plugin formats, plus GIG, SF2 and SFZ file support. It uses JACK as the default and preferred audio driver but also supports native drivers like ALSA, DirectSound or CoreAudio.
So - basically you can run several types of Plugins from several OSes in Linux. You can also use it as a sampler. You might want to download the .deb if you're running on Ubuntu but I'd download the prebuilt binarys or even compile it myself, because in really new ubuntu-versions I had some Wine-Issues with Carla. If you have gazillions of VST-Plugins you might want to try out Carla.
DAW to choose from
There are many, many DAWs to choose from. Here's just a short list and I have to be honest: This list if far away from being complete.
I use Renoise since its beginning. I come from the Amiga and there we only had programs called „trackers“ to work with. So when Renoise popped up on Windows I finally had the chance to leave Fasttracker II aside and turn to VSTi and huge effects. But I started to have serious problems with Windows (nothing with Renoise) and so I switched to linux. And I took Renoise with me. I love the way you create stuff in Renoise. The shareware is just a little bit limited (no Wave export, no Rewire, No Jack) but you can create music limitless.
Funny about Renoise and Bitwig is the fact that some of the renoise-devs and some of the bitwig devs come from Ableton. I must admit, I don't have much practice with neither Ableton nor Bitwig, but this program looks very promising. If you come from ableton, you should give this a try.