Serious Kit

I presume that you are now well on your way to making some cool sounding music on Linux, and for those of you who are not sure of this then make sure you have checked out part 1 part 2 and part 3 so that you can get an insight into the topic of this article but now we are going to move on and take a look at Ardour. We have been using audacity up to now and if you are happy with the results you are getting there is nothing to stop you from continuing with that software. I want to introduce ardour now because of its sheer power. Its layout is similar to that of audacity but it can do things way beyond the capabilities of Audacity. In this article we will look at the basic set up and record a single track, but I do encourage you to experiment with this program and read around the subject, because you will soon learn that this is serious kit.

This application is very powerful and many studios are switching to it instead of commercial alternatives such as Pro Tools. There are many reasons to want to make this switch, money being a major driver but it would not be viable if ardour were not powerful enough for the job. The good news is that it is definitely powerful enough for the job, the bad news is...well to be honest there is not so much bad news except for a teensy weensy bit of configuration but to be honest it can be explained simply.

Allow Me to Introduce JACK

The way that ardour works means that you need to get a program for called JACK. This is such a common Linux program that many of you will find that it is already installed. If not then using your package manager or similar application search for a package called "jackd". once it has installed you should be able to access it from your task bar menu under the "sound and video" section (your version of Linux may have different categories) via a program called "JACK Control".


Credit: Mike Keen

Once you have installed ardour using your package manager or other method open your JACK control and Click the start button. This will enable you to control the flow of sound through your computer. As you use this program more you will realise how powerful it really is: very elaborate setups are possible as you will see as this series progresses. For now we will simply use it to send signals to tracks inside Ardour.

The Ardour Interface

When you start Ardour you will be asked to give your project a name. Ignore the advanced options for now and type a name for your project. You may also choose another folder to keep your project in. When you have done this click the "new button and you will be greeted with the Ardour Interface. You will notice that there is a track present called "master". This is a special track that controls certain aspects of the music such as the tempo (which dictates the speed of a built in click) and any markers you may set. We will look into these controls in the future. You should also notice that on the left side of the track there are four buttons. Every track has these but audio tracks have an additional record button and a playlist button. In order to record you need to add an audio track. To do this click "track" the menu bar at the top of the window then select "add track/bus". You should choose the correct type (mono or stereo) depending on the equipment that is generating your signal (for example a guitar or microphone would be mono, whereas a DJ turntable would be stereo). Make the appropriate choice and then click "add".

Create Your Track

Ardour file dialogue
Credit: Mike Keen

Get Connected

You should now send some sound to the computer from your music equipment. As you do this look at the left side of the ardour track you have created. You might see a blue level meter line dancing up and down and if so you are ready to start recording. If you do not see the level meter reacting to your signal then you need to route the signal to it using your JACK control. Bring the Jack control GUI to the front of the desktop. Click the button that says "connect". You will be greeted with two columns that have expandable trees that refer to audio pathways inside your computer. there are a few adjustments you will need to make and I have included a screen capture of my JACK connections which work for me. Depending on your hardware it may look different for you, the important point is that you need to click the two things you want to connect in both the columns then click the "connect" button. When you have done that look at the ardour window to check that there is a signal getting to the meter bars. Every time you add a track in Ardour you will need to route a signal to it using the JACK "connect" interface.

Connecting JACK

Credit: Mike Keen

Very Nearly Done

Once you have successfully routed your signal to your track you are more or less done. In your audio track look to the six buttons on the left. There is one that is not marked with a letter instead it has a red circle on it, which as we know is the symbol for "record". Click this "record" button and then click the main "record" button at the top of the window. Your track is now primed for recording, to begin recording click the "play" button. click "stop" when you have finished recording. If you want to record another track remember to click the record button on the left of your original track so that you do not overwrite the original track. Do remember to save you project before you quit Ardour.

The Interface

The Ardour Interface
Credit: Mike Keen

Topics Coming Soon

We hav only looked at recording using Ardour in its most basic form and the way that we have got music into the computer so far is by using the onboard sound card. Now there are many devices available that will replace the soundcards function and are especially made to deliver a clean signal. They often come equipped with an array of connectors and on board controls that will make it easier to get your music sounding great. Lots of them have more than two channels so an array of microphones can be used on one source or many simultaneously. I will be reviewing some of these interfaces in the future. There are lots of things that you can do with Ardour and we will look at some of these soon.

returning to the question in hand, the techniques presented in these articles can be used in a live situation. I have many recordings of whole bands where I have plugged my computer into the stereo output of the live mixer and hit record in audacity. You can get good sound quality but you are limited to two channels (left and right). In this situation you need an excellent live mix and possibly some "room" microphones. We will be looking at these techniques in future in some depth. If you want to make such a recording you will need a live show to record so why not check out my article how to organise a gig.