Open source music production software for windows

As a music teacher, I promote free/libre/open software (and music and educational material too!) to my students. In some cases (such as a full switch to GNU/Linux), this can be difficult given all the inconsistent quality and quirks. I personally still miss some aspects of my old OS X tools. Thankfully, some free/libre/open programs standout as both powerful and truly accessible to total beginners. Many are also cross-platform, allowing me to promote them to students who still use Windows or OS X. This article highlights several of my favorite go-to free/libre/open music apps.

If you use KXStudio, described in my previous article, Configuring Linux for music recording and production, all the programs mentioned below are either automatically installed or available via apt-get install. Fedora Jam includes all of these as well. Otherwise, see each program’s website for install instructions.

MuseScore

Forked years ago from the Linux music sequencer MusE (a program started back in 1999 and still active today), MuseScore is a superb WYSIWYG music notation program. Though focused on preparing notation for printing, it supports JACK and can have its output routed to any synthesizer or sampler and integrated with other programs. In its core notation functionality and user friendliness, MuseScore competes with and even outdoes expensive proprietary programs like Finale and Sibelius. If you’re transitioning from one of those, MuseScore can export and import MusicXML files.

MuseScore screenshot from Aaron Wolf

For those who want a more markup-style WYSIWYM music notation system, go with GNU Lilypond (or maybe the front-end options Frescobaldi or Denemo).

Among many other features, I love that MuseScore can fine-tune the output of each note, allowing me to hear the results in just intonation or other tunings besides standard equal temperament.

Audacity

For basic audio recording, Audacity works. It doesn’t provide any advanced mixing or composition tools, but it has wonderful effects and detailed tools for audio editing. Audacity is probably the best program to explore the nature of sound in fundamental ways, playing with generating tones and combining waveforms. Check out the unique effects like Sliding Time Scale/Pitch Shift or the integrated bit of Paulstretch (from Paul’s Extreme Sound Stretch, an amazing ambient sound generation tool that can stretch recordings by insane magnitudes—the full program is available in the KXStudio repos!).

Audacity screenshot from Aaron Wolf

Unfortunately, Audacity has only limited JACK support via Portaudio which only connects to JACK temporarily during playback or recording.

Hydrogen drum machine

Hydrogen is the best user-friendly drum sampler for GNU/Linux. It does a wide range of pattern writing and song construction, works fully with JACK, and has some “humanize” functions for timing and velocity. As a full sampler, anyone can build up sound sets from any audio sources. A decent handful of freely-licensed community sample sets are available already.

Hydrogen screenshot from Aaron Wolf

While Hydrogen is usable and high-quality, it’s lacking in some areas, particularly in the quality of the sound sets and sample beats. It’s certainly a worthy candidate for volunteers looking to come help and add real value to the community!

Ardour

Ardour stands out as the most popular go-to digital audio workstation on GNU/Linux. It offers professional-quality recording, mixing, and all-around production. The MIDI capabilities are functional, but less robust. For multitrack recording, this is the way to go. Ardour is fully JACK capable, but the newest versions can simply use ALSA directly if you just use Ardour alone as an all-in-one tool. Though its detailed feature list is shorter, Ardour has all the core capabilities to match that of the expensive proprietary competition. For recording a band in a studio or overlaying dubs of live performances, this is all you really need.

Ardour screenshot from Aaron Wolf

Guitarix

Guitarix is a very capable guitar amplifier simulator that uses JACK. Use it on any audio signal for anything. With a decently powerful computer, a good low-latency capable audio interface, and a MIDI foot controller, Guitarix can be set up for live performance too. In fact, a lot of the Guitarix stuff is the basis for a new hardware/software live performance rig coming soon called MOD.

Guitarix screenshot from Aaron Wolf

And many more…

I’ve highlighted just a few of the standouts in Linux music making, but so many other options exist. There are complete music-focused programming languages, tons of effects and synthesizer plugins, hosts to manage and combine plugins, loopers, and more. For electronic dance music, some people like LMMS (it seems to achieve nice results, but I find the general lack of undo functionality too frustrating myself). Recently updated to v2, Mixxx provides DJs live mixing, virtual record scratching, and more. I actually use Mixxx in my guitar teaching because it’s the best way to do tempo and pitch altering so students can play along with songs in different keys or slow them down for practicing. For other in-depth audio analysis, check out Sonic Visualiser. There’s also a handful of functional enough ear training and related music education tools out there.

More apps screenshot from Aaron Wolf

I’ve highlighted more programs on my website in an overview of software for music students (but that article, though it introduces GNU/Linux and software freedom, assumes most readers will still be using OS X or Windows). See also all the community resources linked at the end of my previous article.

The future

As more music tools move to the convenience of iPads and Android tablets along with continued development of professional proprietary software for OS X and Windows, GNU/Linux and Free/Libre/Open software seems to be falling behind. A few proprietary programs like Bitwig and Pianoteq have full GNU/Linux support, but whether that’s good for the ecosystem is a complex debate.

As I continue volunteering much of my life to Snowdrift.coop (my ambitious project aiming to better fund free software and free culture), I think especially about the great potential for GNU/Linux music software and hope we can help it grow further and reach a wider audience.

7 Best Open Source Music Software in 2022

The best open source music software will come especially in handy for those who want to develop their music creation skills without breaking the bank. Open-source software is a cost-saving instrument, especially if it comes to licensing and maintenance fees. The music production programs are extremely expensive.

Fortunately, the modern software market offers first-class free products that aren’t inferior to their paid contenders in terms of capabilities. Read on to learn everything about the top music creation programs that will help you start out without facing a heavy financial burden.

Top 7 Open Source Music Software

  1. Audacity – The best free audio editor
  2. Studio One Prime – Free audio recording program
  3. Waveform – The best digital audio workstation
  4. Surge – Free synthesizer
  5. Ardour – The best option for Linux
  6. FL Studio – Perfect tool for visual learners
  7. LMMS – Plenty of excellent sounds

With the open source music composition software, you can record and edit soundtracks without the need to pay for bells and whistles. Some free programs can sometimes surpass their paid counterparts in terms of quality.

Considering the cost of the majority of music production programs, you might expect that free products lack powerful tools to create a decent soundtrack. Fortunately, choosing free music production software doesn’t mean settling for big compromises. Regardless of which type of project you are engaged in, you will definitely find an open-source program that will help you achieve professional-grade results.

1. Audacity

 

The best free audio editor

  • Community support
  • You can merge multiple tracks
  • Record live audio
  • Trimming of soundtracks
  • May seem difficult to use

audacity open source music software

Audacity

DOWNLOAD

Verdict: Many users consider Audacity to be one of the best free audio editing software currently available on the market. Aside from being completely free, it allows you to take advantage of numerous features and effects to efficiently record and edit music. Moreover, Audacity is a cross-platform program, meaning you can install it on any operating system. This open source beat maker is developed by experts on a voluntary basis and it constantly receives updates. It has a straightforward interface and allows for fast navigation, so even a novice user can quickly cope with all its features.

You can record both 16-bit and 24-bit sound. The bragging point of the program is the ability to effectively convert and merge soundtracks no matter which sample rate and format they have. During the audio editing process, you can cut, copy and paste the parts of the audio track, remove audio, include several clips into the same track, and even make edits down to the sample level. With the Envelope tool, it is possible to complement your project with customizable fades.

audacity interface open source music software

2. Studio One Prime

 

The best free audio recording program

  • DDP importing and exporting options
  • Pattern-based composition features
  • Well-developed workflow
  • Free version with powerful features
  • Lacks notation editor

studio one prime open source music software

Studio One Prime

DOWNLOAD

Verdict: Studio One Prime is an excellent program for those, who write and sing songs. It is a well-designed free DAW for recording sound and performing basic soundtracks mixing. This music production software incorporates top-grade audio effects, including a channel strip plug-in with EQ and compression, reverbing and delaying option, and the ability to add flanger and chorus to your track. You can also benefit from the Ampire and Pedalboard plug-in which serves as a guitar effects modeling system.

However, this free DAW software from PreSonus doesn’t work with VST plug-ins. This means that you can’t explore the entire potential of Studio One by using its free version. If you want to avail of more advanced music making functionality, it is advisable to switch to Studio One Artist or Studio One Pro.

studio one prime interface open source music software

3. Waveform

 

The best digital audio workstation

  • An extensive set of features
  • No artificial track limits
  • Supports multiple platforms
  • You can customize the workspace
  • A bit confusing interface

waveform open source music software

Waveform

DOWNLOAD

Verdict: Being developed by Tracktion Corporation, Waveform is an open source music production tool that can serve as first-class audio restoration software. A digital audio workstation is of tremendous importance for music creation. Despite being completely free, Waveform has all the necessary features for effective work with soundtracks. This music-production tool is compatible with all popular operating systems, including Mac OS, Windows, and Linux. With Waveform, you can bring your audio recording and mixing experience to a professional level.

It is possible to record audio and MIDI. Aside from audio mixer and pre-installed effects, you can make the most out of different advanced tools such as track analysis, automation, etc. Also, you can improve your workflow by installing VST and AU plug-ins.

waveform interface open source music software

4. Surge

 

The best free synthesizer

  • First-class oscillator design
  • High-quality filters
  • An extensive number of modulations
  • Excellent selection of pre-installed patches
  • May seem overwhelming for beginners

surge open source music software

Surge

DOWNLOAD

Verdict: Surge sine wave generator has been turned into a mini synthesizer with lots of quadrant waveforms, a unison mode, integrated low- and high-pass filters, increased feedback range, and negative feedback to help you create rectangular waveforms. Like every program reviewed in this article, it has an open-source code. New filters are built into the Window, S&H, and Audio Input oscillators. Also, it is possible to redirect the output of Scene A to Scene B and mix it with the Audio Input. Moreover, FM2/3 oscillators can deliver negative feedback.

LFOs can activate filter and amplitude envelopes, deactivate the LFO rate parameter and adjust its constant value. The GUI of the step sequencer has been improved a lot. Now it displays vector rendering, accurately represents the curve and values. Moreover, the developers complemented the software with ramp drawing options. Also, this open source music composition software has undergone significant portamento changes.

surge interface open source music software

5. Ardour

 

The best option for Linux

  • Linux-compatible
  • Neat linear UI
  • Support for LV2 plug-ins
  • Great support community
  • Isn’t user-oriented

ardour open source music software

Ardour

DOWNLOAD

Verdict: You can use all Ardour’s capabilities absolutely free of charge. Also, it is possible to improve this software if you are well-aware of open source code modifications. Ardour caters to the needs of the musicians, who want to record songs by incorporating different musical instruments into their workflow. Instead of focusing on electro and pop music standards, Ardor allows you to express all your creativity by using well-designed musical instruments.

You can work both with audio and MIDI using the same features and workflow. To generate sound, you can use external hardware synths or pre-installed tools. Whether you are going to create an electro-acoustic composition or perform multitrack MIDI editing, you can use this open source beat maker to the fullest.

ardour interface open source music software

6. FL Studio

 

Perfect tool for visual learners

  • Easy-to-use piano roll
  • Excellent flexibility of timeline
  • Free lifetime updates
  • Well-elaborated stretching algorithms
  • Frequent crashes

fl studio open source music software

FL Studio

DOWNLOAD

Verdict: Though it is open source music composition software, it amazes with a plethora of powerful features. While the software has been designed as a basic loop sequencer, it can compete with DAWs in terms of functionality, interface, and workflow. While most popular DAWs let users organize their work within the same timeline, FL Studio arranges tasks into separate sections, each of which is located in its own UI window.

The Playlist section offers all the necessary tools for work, including those to edit audio patterns. In the Channel Rack section, you can create unique MIDI channels and automation, select instruments and plug-ins, and route a track to the Mixer. Each instrument located in the Rack uses its own X0X-style step sequencer. You can extend it to a pop-out piano roll to perform more complicated sequencing tasks.

fl studio interface open source music software

7. LMMS

 

Plenty of excellent sounds

  • Compatible with multiple platforms
  • Support for several languages
  • Works with VST plug-ins
  • Well-developed community
  • UI design looks boring

lmms open source music software

LMMS

DOWNLOAD

Verdict: LMMS employs a rich array of instruments that imitate different types of sounds. The interface of this software may seem confusing at first. It incorporates multiple floating windows making the layout a bit cluttered. Nevertheless, if you scroll around and read a user manual, you will quickly master its functionality.

The strongest advantage of this open source beat maker is a helpful “What’s this?” feature. When you click on a certain tool, there will appear a pop-up window with a brief description. After you use this program for about 15 minutes, you will find the interface relatively straightforward. You can customize the desired features to generate the functionality you can expect from a digital audio workstation.

lmms interface open source music software

Written by Jane