With Bitwig, EnergyXT and Ardour3, we are getting closer and closer to having good Linux alternatives to Ableton, Cubase and Pro Tools.
Disclaimer, I do not hate Linux. I want to say before you read the rest of this post that I love Linux and have been using it for a long long time, also I was an avid Linux audio user for much of that time until recently I switched to using windows again for audio work because of wanting to use some commercial software that is not available in Linux. The first several demonic sweaters LPs were all done with Linux in one form or another.
With all of that being said, I feel 100% confident in saying that Jack (Jack Audio Connection Kit) is still a major pain in the ass and is probably one of the quickest ways to break a person’s sanity. I am pretty decent with using it because I have been doing it for so long, but I think the average user will not want to mess with it so much. Most people just want their stuff to work so they can spend time creating, not messing with dependencies and config files.
Since I’m a pretty big nerd, tinkering with the software and messing with all the ins and outs of Jack were kinda fun, but if Linux is ever going become a full replacement for Win/Mac in major studios and on mass stages, it really needs an ASIO equivalent audio driver setup that will install and run simply as well as coexist on a machine with something like Pulseaudio. Especially when more and more cool stuff like Bitwig Studio is making its way into Linux. If there were such a standard in audio for Linux, maybe larger companies like Ableton and Steinberg would actually port their flagship apps to the Penguin.
It’s cool how you can run inputs and outputs of software and MIDI in such advanced ways with Jack, but the configuration hassles and the pure instability of it can be a serious creative roadblock. For instance, does this following scenario sound familiar to you? You decide that you want reverb plugin A from (insert repository name here). Reverb A decides it needs such and such software dependency to work, however, Jack2 hates such and such dependency’s guts and decides to go back to Jack1 during that same install. That’s all well and good until WineASIO says:
“what the fuck Jack1? What did you do with Jack2 and my blabla.so files I need? Now I’m not going to run at all and make it completely impossible for you to uninstall what you just did without you completely removing me and all my friends then starting over and reconfiguring your entire audio system. And oh, by the way, I might have accidentally removed an essential part of your Gnome Desktop, so the next time you reboot you’ll probably just get a command prompt. But that’s okay, you’re going to be working on this shit all day anyway, so you can just fix that too. “
Likewise you can install the wrong thing or update Wine and your audio system is completely fucked then the whole day is spent trying to revert your system to get all the Wine VSTs, Qjackctl, Dbus (that asshole) and all of that crap working again. When it works it’s brilliant, and once you get it working the latency is low and it’s way cool! But so many things can break it that is like balancing an entire city on a toothpick that’s held up with tape. Not duck tape either, just crappy-ass scotch tape that if you sneeze or look at that shit the wrong way your entire city comes tumbling to the ground.
Anyway, I am still an avid Linux user, but have migrated to not doing as much audio in there now. I have another laptop I just did a fresh install of Debian Stable to, which runs perfectly. This should be the standard. Debian Stable is solid as a rock. But it’s not going to run any of that cool audio stuff without modifying repositories, changing config files, etc…etc…. then starts the problem I was just speaking of above.
I am not a developer, so maybe what I am about to suggest isn’t possible with any of the current Linux kernels, but if it were possible, all the old Linux audio drivers need to be completely canned and start with one standard and allow NOTHING ELSE. No Jack, no Alsa, no Pulseaudio, no OSS. None of those work the way they need to work. People will argue that Jack is low latency and it works great without all the others getting involved. But it is still weird. Something like qjackctl should be optional, not required. You should just be able to open Bitwig or LMMS and have them work without fucking around with a bajillion things. Until something like that happens, Win/Mac will always have the upper hand in audio production/performance.
Bitwig does look very cool though, which is what this post is supposed to be about before it turned into a completely insane rant. It really looks very much like Ableton in it’s concept and workflow. I really think that it’s great that there’s something like this for Linux now. Also, they have a demo download of the Linux version. If anyone reading this wants to check it out then please comment here about your experiences. I’m really curious as to it’s performance and ease of use compared to Ableton. I have not personally tried it, though from a lot of these videos I watch it appears very similar.
Anyway, thanks for reading my rant. If you want to hear some of my Linux-made music, check out my video below for the song Daydreaming. I made this one in LMMS on an Acer Chromebook running Ubuntu.