roasting bacon

I don’t often listen to the TLLTS podcast, but I caught a recent episode (number 361) featuring Jono Bacon, and I was not impressed. I wish Bacon would stop commenting about the state of Linux audio, because it’s clear to me — but probably not clear to the larger community — that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

He explained on the show that he doesn’t use Linux for his music production, and I should say up-front that I don’t have a problem with this. Linux certainly isn’t ideal for everyone, and if Bacon has a solid, working Windows-based setup, there’s nothing wrong with him sticking with that and focusing on making music.

However, it’s very clear to me that he has no idea about the current state of Linux audio production, spreading the usual outdated nonsense about JACK being overly complex to set up, ignoring the existence of quite usable MIDI sequencers like Qtractor and Rosegarden, and giving very short shrift to Hydrogen’s abilities as a drum synth. These tools, with a suitable velocity-layered drumkit, might not give the same results as quickly as Bacon’s proprietary setup can, but they’d certainly do the job, especially once you run each drum in to Ardour for separate processing.

Why do I have such a problem with this? Well, it’s because Bacon is widely known and respected as an open-source evangelist, and also as a musician, so his words carry weight. I and my fellow Linux musicians know he’s mistaken, but a casual listener would assume that he knows what he’s talking about, given his background, and would probably write off Linux as a music production platform because of it.

Again, to be clear, I’m not saying Bacon should use Linux. I’m not even saying that he should spend the time to learn about making music on Linux. I just wish he’d stop talking about it as if he does know what he’s talking about.

9 thoughts on “roasting bacon

  1. Hey,

    While I am always happy to agree that I don’t know everything about audio production on Linux…far from it…I have merely said that it doesn’t do what *I* need it to do. Last time I checked Hydrogen I couldn’t adjust mic placement of drums, EQ the different drums, compress them effectively, and the quality of the drum sounds and kits I need were not there. I never said Hydrogen is crap, just that it doesn’t meet my needs.

    Also, as for MIDI, maybe I am out of date with information, but last time I checked I could not bring MIDI into Ardour and have it play the drum sounds from a drum sequencer in there. Today I play the drums and save them as MIDI, which all happens in Cubase…so when I play back…I hear the drum tracks. As far as I am aware, Ardour does not support this.

    And as for JACK being too hard, well, frankly while I need to even care what JACK is…I believe it is too hard. I care about my DAW, not about the audio processing engine. While JACK is awesome and not too complex for professional sound engineers, it is for me as an amateur who is just trying to make an album.

    I am not deliberately setting out to rail on Linux for audio production, but people ask me all the time why I use Cubase, and these are the facts – I need MIDI production in my DAW, I need high quality drum sounds in my DAW, and I need my Tascam control surface to work (as it is my sound card). Believe me, if Linux offered the same kind of experience and quality as Cubase, I would be the first to switch.

  2. Hi Jono, thanks for taking the time to respond. While it might’ve been your intention to simply say that it doesn’t do what you need, it didn’t come across that way to me. The MIDI drumming stuff particularly stood out to me — taken at face value, your comments made it sound like it’s impossible to record MIDI and have that MIDI routed to a software drumkit under Linux. You’re right to say that Ardour can’t do this, but it can definitely be done.

    I use Qtractor as a MIDI sequencer, for both software and hardware synths, and it really works quite well — it would certainly handle recording and editing of MIDI input from a drumkit. Hydrogen also works well as a MIDI drum synth; free drumkits like GSCW provide high-quality, velocity-layered drum sounds. Hydrogen doesn’t handle mic placement as such (it does handle panning and gain per-drum, but that’s not quite the same), but you can certainly EQ and compress them separately — you just don’t do it inside Hydrogen itself. Through JACK, you can route the audio from individual instruments, or groups of instruments, in Hydrogen to distinct Ardour channels, and run whatever EQs, compressors, reverbs, or other effects you like on them there.

    For my music, I’m often running Qtractor, Hydrogen, and Ardour all at once, but JACK ties them all together — I can route audio between the apps freely, and the JACK transport ensures that when I hit “play” in one, the others kick off from exactly the same position. JACK is the secret sauce that makes Linux audio great, and while its operation might not be completely obvious immediately, it’s really not that hard to set up, and the flexibility it brings is phenomenal. It’s truly a UNIXy way to work, letting you combine multiple apps instead of relying on a single monolithic app to do everything.

    Now again, as I stated in my post, I don’t expect you to know all of this — I’m sure you’re very productive with your Cubase setup, and I’m not saying that you should, or even that you could, switch. I just hope you won’t go saying that “Linux can’t do x” in future, when what you really mean is “I’m not sure if Linux can do x“, or “I don’t know how to do x under Linux”, or “It’s just easier for me to do x under Windows”.

  3. I want to comment on this because I have used/use both systems. I used to work with Nuendo, soft-synth/sequencer Reason from propellerhead and wavelab a couple of years ago. I only needed these 3 applications. When I quit the band I decided to switch to open source because I do am technical minded and know some things about software/computers and I didn’t have any deadlines anymore. I had the time to make the switch.

    It works, indeed, but for the same kind of music I now need to use : Ardour and/or Rosegarden, Hydrogen, numerous softsynths being seperate applications and which don’t give me quality of sound like Reason does and samplers. I need to route everything together in jack, which gives me a huge freedom, but also a more complicated way of working. On top of that, to get that amount of software running together properly, I need a rt-kernel, or at least a preempt kernel (latest ubuntustudio even did not include the rt-kernel, I had to set it up afterwards, while ubuntustudio is designed for audio work).

    It is a fact that Linux can be used for audio production on a professional level, but it still remains a fact that there is a huge lack of user oriented design of the applications and the tools. I do have the impression that this is changing, following the designers now working for Ubuntu. Hopefully this trend is being followed by developers of the more professional applications.

    I have made the decision to work with linux and open source tools only. I see it as a challenge, also to prove that it is possible (heck, I even don’t use my hardware guitar effects anymore, only rakarrack) but when I compare my workflow now with the workflow I used a couple of years ago with Nuendo, Reason and Wavelab, I must admit it is a huge step backwards.

    In my opinion it is all about making decisions. I made the decision to use open source because I like the ideology behind it, and because it can do the job. It works and for me that’s what counts. I accept the extra work (setting the system up, configuring, the many different applications) because after all, it is free software, and I appreciate the efforts put into the coding very much, and I can afford taking this extra time.


  4. I agree with Bart. I think the question is much larger than Linux as a platform, however. There is no technical reason the popular proprietary applications could not be ported to Linux and work with jack. Few companies do this because there is little benefit for them. Maybe their best bet would be to pick a distribution and distribute in the form of a liveCD or USB media, or offer official support for a particular distribution while leaving it up to the community to make it work elsewhere.

    I think the real comparison is free open source software compared to proprietary software.

    When you consider the development time and investment for proprietary apps, you can see why often the progress to a well-polished user friendly, work-flow productive environment. Customers pay money up front to save (hopefullly) what they gain in productivity from a well supported software. Not only that, but the companies who develop this software spend their 40+ hours working week working specifically on this software.

    I can speak for myself as an open source developer. I work an 8-5 job and squeeze in time writing code when the kids aren’t mashing their hands all over the keyboard and all that. I do it for the pure enjoyment of accomplishing something…then because it doesn’t cost me any more, I make it available for free to whoever may find it useful.

    As you can imagine, projects I work on don’t progress nearly as rapidly nor completely as that of somebody who has time as well as large numbers of devleopers to dispense upon the work.

    Of course, there are FOSS projects that have better support and are actually able to fund a certain number of people to work diligently and constantly. Such projects (Linux Kernel, Mozilla, Ardour…) seem to become the FOSS flagship products that say “hey” you can be productive with free software.

    My own attraction to FOSS is it’s a great educational playground. I don’t mean that to compare it to a toy…but the very fact that much of the software is technically well-written and well designed from the ground up makes it worthy of the title of “educational tool”. Thus many universities teach a good deal of CS classes based upon some flavor of Linux & GNU development tools.

    Secondly is competition in the market. I don’t hate Microsoft, but they unfortunately have such a wide-reaching hold on the software industry that we really don’t have much freedom in the current environment. Being an Apple fan boy and cheering for Apple to gain 50% market share is no better, because then we have two choices: Eat the Apple or throw it through a Window. Instead if there were 4 or 5 viable platforms with comparable proportions of wide-spread use, all of the entities would be obligated to develop open and compatible standards.

    I hate it when talking to my ISP tech support and they say, “Open up Internet Explorer” fully expecting that I’m using Microsoft Windows…just reminds me of the painful fact that there isn’t much choice if you’re a professional in any given industry. As an aside, it really rubs me wrong as a Linux user to be treated like an ignorant “PC” user. “Open Internet Explorer”… it’s like asking me to spill some gasoline on the floor and light up a cigarette.

  5. I’ve never done any serious music recording/production with proprietary software. First of all I could never decide which tool I should use because of the myriad of audio apps available. And whenever I picked one I was confronted with an über-complex piece of software that took me like hours to figure out how to record a single track. And when I finally got something recorded tracks started to vanish into the ether or projects got messed up by blue screens or crashes.
    So I gave up recording with my computer.
    Until I decided to make the complete switch to GNU/Linux.
    And picked up recording with my PC again.
    Now I can do everything I want to do, create the sounds I like, record as many tracks as I wish without any problems, even on my cheapo netbook. If I have questions, if I run into bugs or if I have a feature request there is this small but ardent community to help you out. I can route all audio input and output to whatever piece of software that supports JACK.
    JACK, of which I believe it is not too hard, even though I’m not a pro audio engineer.

  6. Nothing new here. Mr. Bacon has been complaining about the state of Linux audio since it first became common knowledge that Lug Radio was actively produced outside of the OS it espoused.

    I am persuaded to believe that his barbs are little more than a cover for his general lack of interest in the OS he is paid to promote. The greater Linux community would be better served if Steinberg would see it fit to give this man a job. At least then he wouldn’t have to feign interest in his work.

    Also, Jono would do well to listen to some of LSD’s music. For ever playing the consummate artist, Jono’s music is technically and creatively far less interesting than LSD’s.

    Loved the post, keep making music LSD,


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