In my previous articles I have shown a few methods of recording using free software on your computer that can give you good on the spot results. In this series of articles we will look at a very much more robust and professional setup that will get your "OMG" meter running off the scale. Some of the tools that we are using you will already be familliar with, if you have read my older articles. If not then do not fear, I will cover everything you need to know in a simple manner from the beginning so that hopfully anyone can follow along, because I have found that other tutorials on the net can skip over basics that may be considered obvious to the author. However things are only obvious once you know about them and so I am assuming no prior knowledge and I am going to pick the processes apart right down to the nitty gritty for the benefit of beginners. I am recording my own music right now and so you will be able to hear the results of my dabblings at your leisure once they are polished and released. So I guess the first thing to do is...start.
A snapshot of freedom
Use LINUX, or not
the choice is yours
Now I am a firm beleiver in open source and have been ever scince 1997 when I first got online. Free software has served me well and I took the plunge into LINUX fully in 2008 with a very good version called LINUX Mint, Which is based on Ubuntu. I wont go into too much detail in this article about that but you should know that the tutorials I write concerning computer based music production are all based on LINUX software. I am aware that versions of some of the the software I describe are available on Windows or Mac but other programs are not, and I must say I heartily recommend using LINUX as it has great performance and you will not need to worry about software licences and other legal headaches when you use LINUX.
I am only using software that is in the LINUX mint repositorys so you can get it easily using built in software administering utilities such as Synaptic package manager or APT. I use synaptic because I am not cool enough (sorry hardcore LINUX users) to use command line utilities unless i really have to. And more to the point it is easier to use Synaptic than other methods. Other LINUX users may make fun of me for this but i am not bothered, I am concerned with music tech, not the finer points of LINUX operation, I just want to get some work done.
What is in the toolbox?
So what software are we concerned with? Well the core of our activities will centre around an amazing piece of software called Ardour. Ardour is a digital audio workstation or DAW. Note that the term DAW can refer to the software or the actual computer you are using for your audio work, so if you read around the subject (and I hope you will) bear that in mind. For now we will worry mostly about recording, this is because making tracks using the computer is a different kettle of fish and we really need to concentrate on one topic at a time. In the furthur future I will talk about things such as MIDI in Rosegarden (another free app) but lets get used to recording first. After all as a musician you probably know how to make the sounds you want, lets get them into the computer.
Ardour uses an audio server called JACK, which you can think of as the engine for your audio editing. JACK is an audio API (application programming interface, this need not concern you) that allows you to route audio data into and out of "JACK aware" software so that it can be manipulated. In Ardour every audio track has a JACK input and output, which means that you can send audio from a track through another piece of software such as a free effects processor, which is definately something that is going to be covered in this series. To use JACK you need to get a piece of software called QjackCtl, this is available through your package manager in LINUX Mint.
In my previous articles we recorded a click track and used it as our basis for playing in time. This method is fine, but it does not allow for any changes to be made so we will be looking into streaming output directly from Hydrogen (a free drum sequencer available from LINUX Mint repositorys) directly into ardour. This will give us the ability to change our click track while editing audio or make a complete drum track that sounds so good you can use it for your finished piece (if your drummer doesnt mind...theyre scared of this program).
What to do first
So to surmise you need to do the following things to follow this tutorial.
Get and install LINUX (if you use anything else thats ok, but I can't help you if it does not work properly. I have abandoned Windows and you should too. I could never afford a Mac. You can always try running your system as a dual boot machine, many tutorials are available on how to do this, maybe I will write one)
Use the synaptic package manager to install these programs:
If you are using an operating system other than LINUX these programs are available from their creators websites.
In the next part we will set up Hydrogen for use in recording.