Open Source Music Software Round-up

  • Posted on: 30 March 2017
  • By: agittins

I use Open Source, GPL'd software for all my Audio and Video projects (and, well just about everything else, too). Here's a quick summary of what I'm using right now for Audio production and performance.

I've got a project I've nicknamed the GigRig that is basically a studio and effects rack in a laptop and interface. It's pretty modest, but is so far working pretty well. I run my guitar and mics directly into the interface without any outboard effects, so all FX and mixing is done in-the-box.


(I've linked to amazon products here for either the actual products or equivalent products that I'd choose if I had to replace them - using these links helps support my site, thanks!)

  • Dell D620 Laptop(!) Core2 @ 2GHz with 2GB RAM and 100G SSD
  • Generic 6RU Rack Case


  • KXStudio (an Audio-flavoured Ubuntu/Debian distribution with KDE). I was using Fedora and PlanetCCRMA but kx has been on the whole a smoother ride.
  • Cadence for managing Jack (I use QJackCtl on my main laptop but will probably change it over as well when I switch to debian on that machine)
  • (retired) Claudia for general "studio management". It handles launching all other apps, setting up (and remembering) signal routing etc. It replaces a huge script I used to have which did the same thing but in a far less sexy way.
  • Update: I am now trying out Non Session Manager as it looks like LADISH is (a) dead and (b) broken when it comes to jack clients that use multiple names (such as non-mixer etc). I don't like it a whole lot, and frankly, it seems mostly dead, too - but there don't seem to be any contemporary session management tools so let me know if you know of something!
  • Carla for hosting plugins (eg, for vocal signal chain etc).
  • Jack-Rack for hosting LADSPA effects. I use this for my guitar signal chain. It's pretty well abandonware and Carla is the "better" option but I have my tone set up in this and it works, and I can't get the midi control etc to work as easily in Carla as it is to set up in Jack-Rack. It's days are probably numbered, though.
  • LADSPA and LV2 Plugins
    • CAPS, especially the C*VTS Virtual Tone Stack amp sim and the Cabinet simulator.
    • Calf Studio Gear Sexy LV2 plugins, great for compressors (including multiband, great for mastering), reverb, tape delay etc
    • Plenty of others, as-needed - I don't use any VSTs as I worry about them possibly not being as stable for live use, but i've not run into many things that I can't find an open-source plugin to do the job.
  • SooperLooper for looping. I might take a look at LUPP in the near future as a possible replacement (looks very much like ableton, which I've not used).
  • TimeMachine this awesome little app can capture up to 8 tracks at once, and can sit there keeping a buffer active when not recording - if you play something awesome, you have 10 seconds or so to hit record and it will capture the past for you. Also great for capturing a single-performer performance for later mixing etc in Aurdour.
  • Ardour my DAW of choice. It does just about everything you could want from a DAW. If I'm preparing a performance from a recording in timemachine, I'll usually import the recorded multichannel into Ardour to mix and master the final result.
  • Hydrogen drum machine for... well, drum patterns and such. Nice humanisation options that take out some of the "robotic" sound of drum machines.
  • Non-Mixer for managing mixing all in-the-box
  • Tuners - I use FMIT for benchtop guitar intonation setup etc, and was using I think ctuner or something (a console based tuner I modified) for the live rig. I might switch over to x42-tuna as it looks pretty nice (a stroboscopic tuner)!
  • kbdtomidi a little utility I wrote that runs as a system service, taking over a given USB input device (like a second PC keyboard), and rather than the keyboard generating good ol' QWERTY chars it instead emits MIDI control messages. This means you can rip half the keys off a cheap USB PC keyboard, throw it on the floor and use it as a MIDI foot-controller!
  • Kdenlive for any video editing stuffs. I usually process the audio separately in Ardour first, then bring it into kdenlive with the video footage, line them up and edit to taste (or without taste, as it may be).


  • mididings a python-based swiss-army-midi-knife. If you need magic to happen under midi control (eg, to manage talking between apps and control surfaces, triggering scripts etc) this looks like the beastie you should learn.
  • builds ecasound command lines from jack-rack or ardour config files! I still have my guitar sound locked up in (the old and abandoned) jack-rack, so this might be useful one day.


  • The jack_patch tool which comes with non-session-manager will manage midi connections too, but you must start jackd with the ALSA Raw-MIDI driver (-X raw), otherwise jack_patch will not see reliable names for the clients (instead they all look like "system:midi_[capture|playback]_nn" where the numbers are boot-order dependent).
  • Using non-mixer with LADISH (including Claudia or gLADISH) has a bug in that LADISH doesn't seem to track multiple client names for a single process, so you won't be able to see or connect to any ports other than the first "group".
  • The best session management just might be the one you haven't written yet. Beware - it looks like anyone else who ever wrote one lost the will to live or threw a hissy fit. There be dragons.

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