Like most of us when we’re in the studio, it’s hard to get me to work with anything other than the industry standards; Pro Tools, Reason, Logic (which sort of falls into that category), and so on. But given the rising prices of just about everything under the sun, not to mention the chronic emptiness of the musician’s wallet, it’s worth taking a look at the alternatives out there that can be had for free.
This article was previously published on the AudioJungle blog, which has moved on to a new format in 2010. We’ll be bringing you an article from the AudioJungle archives each week.
The price is not the only great thing about free, cross-platform apps. They don’t require you to stick a damn dongle in your computer and use up a precious USB slot. And knowing that you can get on almost any computer in the world, download an app and work on your project is always reassuring.
I’m not saying that these apps can replace Pro Tools or Reason as the apps of choice, but they are totally free. It’s hard to complain about that! The main thing is that they will let you get the job done. If I could just find a free DAW that opens Pro Tools sessions…
Traverso is a lightweight but powerful DAW that works on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. Professionals who’ve tried this software comment that despite some strange interface decisions (such as having to hold shift and click to move the playhead), it’s a viable option for those looking for a free alternative.
Traverso uses, on average, one quarter of the processing power and memory that other DAWs use. This is great if you have an older machine and want to get your demos done at home and only have to fork out for a studio when you’re ready for the real production.
Take a look at Traverso.
Ardour runs on Mac OS X and Linux making it cross-platform only to an extent, but this app, despite not running on the most ubiquitous system of them all, has grown in popularity and has quite a vocal and happy user base.
Ardour has the gamut of features you’d expect from a good workstation: multi-channel recording, automation, unlimited tracks, buses and plug-ins, non-destructive editing and hardware support for most control surfaces you’d use in the studio.
One of its weaker areas that professionals frequently point to is its poor MIDI support. I never was the type to mix my MIDI with my audio, but if you do, this might kill your interest in the software.
Check out Ardour here.
Every studio, home or professional, needs a good dedicated audio editor to run alongside the DAW. Audacity fills this role perfectly. You could even make a demo of a full song using Audacity, with a bit of work, though I wouldn’t recommend it! I actually tried to do this four or five years ago – we got something usable out of it, but let’s just say it wasn’t one of those projects where you use a take or two from the demo.
Audacity works well on all three major operating systems and is perfect when you just need to work with one or two pieces of audio in a lightweight, uncluttered environment.
You can see Audacity for yourself over here.
While Hydrogen bills itself as an advanced drum sequencer for GNU/Linux, it’s also available on Windows and Mac OS X. If you’ve got the samples, there’s nothing to stop you from using Hydrogen as a sequencer, but it really shines when you’re putting together programmed drum tracks.
Hydrogen works with samples in most formats, including FLAC, and has multi-layer support with up to 16 samples per instrument. While I’ve heard it said that free, open-source sequencers always sound ‘mechanical’ (where’s the logic in that?), Hydrogen posseses all the requisite velocity, time, pitch and swing controls to take the fake, sequenced edge off.
Take a look at Hydrogen.
MidiSwing is a very lightweight, minimalist MIDI sequencer. There’s not a whole lot of fiddling to do with MidiSwing because of its simplicity, which means the geek in you will be disappointed but you’ll be able to get to work quicker, and get more done. Perhaps this is the kind of interface you need to compose your tune before importing it into a more complicated sequencer—if you’re the type who fiddles with synthesizers for a few hours before writing a single note, this might solve your productivity problems.
MidiSwing is a Java-based app, so it runs on any system with Java 5 support, and even supports .kar Karaoke MIDI files (if you’re into that kind of thing!).
While Frinika’s website could be a little friendlier, this sequencer also runs on Java, so it’s totally cross-platform. Despite the fact that it’s only reached version 0.5, it shows a lot of promise and it seems to be more advanced than MidiSwing, so it’s definitely worth checking out and having a play with.
I’m looking forward to seeing how this software works when it’s no longer a beta application, and if they improve the site!
Check Frinika out.
As much as we all hate notation, sometimes it’s a necessary evil. Perhaps you’re licensing a song to a publisher who needs a lead sheet, and you don’t have the software to handle the job.
While Finale’s NotePad isn’t open source like most of the applications listed here, it is both free and cross-platform, with versions available for Windows and Mac OS X.
Take a look at Finale NotePad.
Since Finale NotePad doesn’t cover Linux users, we can’t leave without providing an option that does. MuseScore is available for both Linux and Windows.
MuseScore handles MIDI, features WYSIWIG notation editing, and a built-in sequencer and synthesizer so you can check that your notation sounds correct (definitely a plus if notation is not somewhere you usually go).
Take a look at MuseScore.
Know a great free, cross-platform app that I’ve missed? Let us know in the comments.
This article was originally published quite some time ago. Are there any new free, cross-platform apps you’d like to add to the list?