Home Recording with Ubuntu Studio is a three part series of articles that discusses how to create an affordable home recording studio with free and open source software. In Part One: Gearing Up. I discussed the hardware components that are integral to home studio recording, and demonstrated how you can acquire this equipment for under $1,000. In Part Two: Install-O-Rama we installed Ubuntu Studio, a Linux-based operating system that was specifically created for audio production and added in a boatload of additional software from the KXStudio repositories. In this final installment, we will connect some of the hardware we discussed in part one with some the software we installed in part two and start to explore our new environment.
Note: When recording under Linux, you will have a dizzying amount of options when it comes to instruments, effects and recording software. The purpose of this article is to gently guide you through the process of getting sound from your equipment into your PC. Future articles will build on this series and cover more topics in depth.
By now, you probably have the equipment you ordered from Amazon sitting patiently in its boxes and waiting to make some noise. Take this time to open your parcels, examine your new purchases and breathe in that new gear smell. Then connect the equipment as directed by the manufacturer, turn on your PC and log into Ubuntu Studio.
Getting to Know JACK
In part two of the series, we briefly discussed JACK, a software application that acts as a sort of patch bay between audio hardware, and the software that we use for recording sound. Start by opening qjackctl from the application menu and click the Setup button. The setup applet opens to reveal the settings tab. The settings in this tab provide a good 42.7 milliseconds of latency, which is the time from when you strum a guitar or scream into a mic to the time it is processed by your operating system’s software. To adjust latency, tweak the sample rate, frames/period or periods/buffer settings. Bear in mind that lower latencies use more system resources. Usually, the defaults in this tab are sufficient for smaller recording environments.
On the settings tab, switch from parameters to advanced. There are a lot of options here and, conversely, a lot of ways to mess up your audio setup, so we’re only going to concentrate on two entries, the Output Device and Input Device. On the drop down-menus, select the make and model of your audio interface, as seen in the screen-shots below and close out the Setup menu.
Making the Connections
By now, you should have already connected your audio equipment to your PC. Before we proceed, let’s go down a pre-flight checklist.
- Your audio interface, and MIDI controller should be connected to your PC via USB cables.
- Your guitar (if you’re a guitarist) should be plugged into your audio interface through its ¼ input.
- Your microphone (if you’re a vocalist) should also be plugged into your audio interface through its XLR input.
- Your monitor speakers should be connected to your audio interfaces line-out jacks.
- Your audio interfaces, instruments and monitor speakers should be powered on.
With the preliminaries out of the way, click the start button on qjackctl, hit some keys on the keyboard, strum some guitar chords or sing into your microphone. You should now hear … stock … still … silence. Although your equipment is connected to the PC, the signal coming from your mic, guitar or MIDI controller has nowhere to go. Let’s fix these issues, starting with the guitar.
Guitar Effect Processing with Rakarrack
Rakarrack is a software effects processor for guitarists and bassists with a healthy number of presets on which to base your instruments sound. From the applications menu open Rakarrack. Next, go back to qjackctl, and click the Connect button. You will notice that a new connection has been established between the rakarrack entry (its output) on the left and an entry for system (its input) on the right. Think of this as a real world effects processor being connected to your guitar amplifier.
Next, click the system entry on the left and the rakarrack entry on the right so both are highlighted and click the connect button. Your instrument is now connected to the effects processor. Qjackctl’s connection panel should now look like this.
Finally, in Rakarrack, turn on an effect preset by clicking the fx on button on the top left corner of its interface. Adjust the volume, input and output sliders to your liking. Try out some of the software’s built in presets and when you’re done shredding, we’ll move on to vocals.
Testing our Mic with Carla
To test out vocals, we will be using a an application named Carla. Carla is a virtual instrument and effects rack that supports numerous Linux audio formats including LADSPA, DSSI, LV2, and VST. Additionally, Carla supports some Windows VST plug-ins through the use of the Wine comparability layer. For this example, we will be using a simple reverb effect provided by the TAL reverb plugin. From the applications menu, launch Carla and click the Add Plugin button at the top of the interface.
A new applet will appear. On the new applet, click the Refresh button and a third window will appear. Click start on the bottom right corner of this window and Carla will search your system for all available plugins. Refreshing your plugin list will take a few minutes, but you only have to do this with new installations of Carla and whenever a new plugin is added to your system. Once the process completes, close the newest window, and type the word reverb in the search bar of the second window.
A list of reverb plugins will appear. Dsouble click the selection named Tal Reverb. The second window will close and a rack mounted version of the plugin will appear in Carla’s main interface.
Tal Reverb is almost ready for use. All that we need to do is connect our microphone to the reverb, and the reverb to our audio outputs. Once again we can use qjackctl, but there is another way to do this without having to leave Carla. First, click the Patchbay tab in Carla’s main window. Next find the box labeled system that has two capture outputs. Click and drag the first output to the input labeled Tal Reverb Audio Input 1. Repeat this step with the second capture output and Tal Reverb Audio Input 2.
Now, let’s connect the reverb to our audio inputs. First, find the box labeled system that has two playback inputs. Click and drag the first playback input into the output labeled Tal Reverb Audio Output 1 Repeat this process by connecting the second playback input into the output labeled Tal Reverb Audio Output 2. The patchbay screen should now look like this.
Tal Reverb is ready to go. Sing into your microphone and you should hear your voice with the effect we selected. To adjust the settings on Calf Reverb, select the Rack tab, go to the Tal Reverb object and click the small button shaped like a gear. A graphical representation of Tal Reverb will open, complete with knobs and sliders. Adjust the settings to personal taste, sing Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, do a brief stand-up routine or anything else that you would normally use a microphone for. When you’re finished, we’ll hook up our MIDI controller.
Tickling the Ivories with ZynAddSubFX
ZynAddSubFX is now wired for sound but it still needs to be connected to our MIDI controller. In Connect, select the MIDI tab. On the left, expand the list entry for a2j and select the make and model of the keyboard controller you’re using. On the right, select the entry for ZynAddSubFX and click the connect button.
Play a few chords or a melody line and the sound of a very dull and simple sound should come out of your speakers. Let’s find a sound that is a little more interesting. In ZynAddSubFX, open the instrument menu and select Show Instrument Bank. A new applet will appear with a drop down menu that displays your current bank or collection of sounds. To change banks, use the drop down menu. To select a specific sound, click one of the buttons below. Jam out and enjoy.
Wrapping it Up
In this series of articles, we built a complete home recording studio from the ground up using inexpensive recording equipment and open source software. But although this is the end of this series, this is only the beginning of your journey with Linux and audio recording. There are a lot of software synthesizers, effect processors and digital recording software that are installed on your system that are waiting to be discovered. I will be writing more articles on audio recording with Ubuntu Studio. But while you wait, allow me to direct you to some additional resources for your immediate edification.
Libre Music Production is a website dedicated to open source software and audio recording. On this website, you could find tons of articles on open source software as they pertain to the field of music and audio. Libre Music Production also has its own Youtube Channel.
Another YouTube channel of note is Linux Music for Beginners. This channel teaches the basics of various software synths, sequencers and recording applications in a simple, digestible manner. Additionally, Linux Music for Beginners discusses a lot of fundamental topics for music production, such as how to use software synthesizers, filters and other pieces of studio technology.
Kris Occhipinti’s YouTube channel is another excellent resource for learning open source software for music production. In addition to discussing various software synths and recording applications, Occhipinti’s channel also offers tutorials for 3d graphic creation, image editing with GIMP and other topics for the open source creative.
Finally we come to Yassin Phillip’s YoutTube channel. Yassin’s tutorial on his creative workflow with Qtractor, a powerful digital audio workstation for audio recording and MIDI sequencing is both educational and highly entertaining.
The above resources are among the best tutorials for music production under Linux. Enjoy them and until next time, go out there and create something awesome.
Thank Yous and Unattended Business
I’d like to thank everyone who has read these articles and have found them to be useful. I’d also like to give a big thank you to Tyler Beller who loaned me the equipment to make this series possible.
Finally, I’d like to offer more thanks to those who have generously donated to my gofundme campaign so I can purchase recording equipment to write future articles and tutorials about audio recording under Linux.
At this time, the gofundme campaign is still active and needs your help. If you’ve found this material useful please take the time to donate whatever you can afford. Thank you for your time.