Setting up a Multitrack Audio Recording Studio

Become a star from home using Gmurf and Broadcast 2000.

Ever since Elvis plopped down his nickel and crooned a song captured in glistening black vinyl, children everywhere have dreamed of making the next hit single. Unfortunately, doing so usually costs more than the paltry sum The King laid out for his tracks. Today, anyone with a PC can be the next George Martin or Trent Reznor, making the next big hit to be traded illegally, right in their own bedroom! Linux's capabilities make it perfect for multimedia production, and as distributions become easier to install and set up, more ordinary users will want to do more multimedia projects.

To begin, start with your favorite Linux distribution, it doesn't matter which one. I choose Slackware. For this article I will assume you have the sound working and X running on x86 architecture. I'll also assume you know how to navigate Linux and install programs, although you don't have to be a guru. Because this article is targeted toward users who want to make good recordings, there will be less emphasis on the technical aspects of using Linux and more on recording theory and practices, including program-specific HOWTOs.

The two programs I discuss are Gmurf and Broadcast 2000, the latter of which had a nice introductory article in the January 2001 issue of Linux Journal. Neither program requires root privileges to install or run, and both are easy to install and run (just follow the documentation), so I won't cover that here.

The only other things you'll need aren't computer-related at all and consist of noise-making items (such as your voice or a pan and spoon), studio gear (such as a 48-channel powered mixing board with DSP or a Wah-Wah pedal) and a mic or three.

Once you have everything you think you need (trust me, you'll want more stuff once you get going), the next step is to record. Multitrack recording is essential for getting the best possible sound out of more than one instrument, and it is necessary if you are the only one playing the instruments.

Multitrack recording, in its simplest form, is simply multiple single tracks recorded and played in synch, so that the resulting music sounds like one composition. An audio CD is a multitrack recording consisting of two tracks that are played through a machine that sends one track to the left speaker and one to the right.

Music studios traditionally have tape machines that can record up to 64 tracks, and multiple machines can be synched to make an unlimited amount of tracks available. Then each track can have effects added to it and be mixed down to a regular stereo recording for placement on a CD, cassette or web site. With Linux, you can have an all-digital studio, with the number of tracks limited only by the space on your hard drive.

The two basic formats that we'll be working with are .wav and Broadcast's hypertext audio language (HTAL). Gmurf and Broadcast 2000 both work with .wav files; while Gmurf will actually let you edit and manipulate the bits of data that make up a sound file, Broadcast 2000 works only with pointers to various parts of sound files. The result is a small project file, one that leaves no fear of accidentally chopping the middle out of that killer take, and one that makes it incredibly easy to add "just one more" track.

The First Step on the Road to Utopia

The two quickest and cleanest ways of getting audio onto your computer are to rip from a pre-existing CD or download samples from the Web. The first method has the advantage of offering an enormous selection of samples to choose from, acquired simply and easily with countless CD-ripping utilities for Linux. However, current law limits the duration of samples you are legally allowed to use, and you'll need to be creative in finding even small samples that would be appropriate to use in an original composition. The second method has the advantage of being an easy way to get usable instrument sounds presampled. This is a great thing if you are looking for a unique instrument or any instrument to which you do not have access. I use downloaded samples to create drum tracks for lack of a real drum machine or drum kit.

The major disadvantage to using prerecorded sounds is that you will need some kind of sequencer to get maximum benefit and flexibility from the samples. For example, it is easy to arrange drum samples in Broadcast 2000 to create a great-sounding beat, but there is no easy way to add swing to the track to make a really funky groove, aside from tweaking it by trial and error.

Making a live recording using a microphone through your sound card will give your opus the "you are there" energy that can make a good tune rock. Synthesized noises are okay for backgrounds, but if you want your creation to turn out sounding more like a person played it and less like a midi-enabled web site, you'll have to break out some real recording tools.

Some programs will allow you to make a stereo recording on your hard drive, using the input jacks on your sound card. Broadcast 2000 is no exception, and shortly I'll discuss exactly how to record that screaming guitar solo quicker than you can say "real recording studio".



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Another recording article

Anonymous's picture

Check out The Linux-Based Recording Studio for a more up-to-date (2004) look at this subject.

There's also
Using the Hammerfall HDSP on Linux

Re: Setting up a Multitrack Audio Recording Studio

Anonymous's picture

How about an external USB sound card/DA convertor device like the Edirol UA-5? Anyone familiar with using it with Linux.

Re: Setting up a Multitrack Audio Recording Studio

Anonymous's picture

Multitrack recording means the ability to record multiple tracks (8 or more) AT ONE TIME, as well as the ability to do sound-on-sound type work. It is hugely dissapointing to me that I cannot find a competative hardware product, such as the Echo Laya, for which there are Linux drivers. I, for one, would opt for a Linux solution, if it were viable. But I find, once again, that I must support the giants whose marketing skills exceed their product quality.

Re: Setting up a Multitrack Audio Recording Studio

AlexHeizer's picture

Actually, multitrack recording means "more than one track". I don't think the prefix "multi-" has ever been defined as "8 or more and not any other number". Multi-head monitor setups usually feature 2, 3 or 4 monitors, so I'll assume multi-track recording can include only 2 tracks at a time. :)

I've developed a system where you can use multiple "donated" computers to record to bcast2000 as many tracks as you have soundcards for. Of course, you need quick hands to start each copy of bcast at the same time. But with two hands you can start to record 4 tracks at a time, so with a co-engineer you can record 8 at a time. Networked together, you can save the sample tracks to a common directory and import them into a master bcast edit file. Sort of crude, but not bad for donated hardware and free software, but that's what the article was about.

You can always write your own multitrack solution and give it away for free so we all can enjoy it and not have to support the giants. I would love to be able to record more than 2 tracks at a time, so if you find anything let us know.


Re: Setting up a Multitrack Audio Recording Studio

Anonymous's picture

I would love to be able to use the UA-5 in linux, anyone with any ideas on it please let me know, even 44.1/16 bit would make me happy.

Re: Setting up a Multitrack Audio Recording Studio

Anonymous's picture

i got the ua5 running under linux with the 2.4.18 kernel. just use the general usb-audio module (audio.o) and plug it in. works fine!

Re: Setting up a Multitrack Audio Recording Studio

Anonymous's picture

While this seems like a lot of fun for someone who wants to play around at home, this article misses one very important point. For any *real* recordings, you need an audio-in card which supports more than two tracks.

If you use a mixer to record bass and drums at one, you can't go back and vary the drum mix. A number of companies have made cards with 8-track optical-in connectors (TDAT-16 was my favorite), but driver support under Linux seems to be lacking for these.

I would very much like to see a follow up article describing the multitrack possibilities currently available for Linux, whether "four PCI soundcards", "a specialized microphone breakout box", or "a Yamaha ProMix and specialised PCI card".

Geoff Silver

Re: Setting up a Multitrack Audio Recording Studio

Anonymous's picture

Just a quick note for those interested in setting up a recording studio: You can find EXCELLENT Deals for Music Gear and MIDI workstations at

I'm sure you'd find that site very useful! = )

- Music Fan

Re: Setting up a Multitrack Audio Recording Studio

Anonymous's picture

geoff's point is well-taken if you are recording multiple instruments simultaneously. however, if it's just you, or if your bandmates show up one at a time, the great thing about multi-track hard disk recording is that you don't even need more than one (1) track input. once the first track is recorded, you play it back and record the second track, then so on. you can easily mix down the volume, pan and eq as you wish later. you *do* need simultaneous playback/record, which most current sound cards have.

(note: i am only in the research stage as far as linux recording is concerned, but i have done quite a bit of multi-track recording using cakewalk under windows, using only consumer-grade stereo sound cards such as soundblaster and yamaha, up to 9-10 tracks.)

here's a question: are products available under linux (possibly these reviewed products) which allow midi/audio mixing? i usually record drum and/or keyboard tracks in midi, then do the guitar, bass, and vocals as audio .wav files.

and here's question #2: when you're dicing and splicing audio samples, it's essential that you cut where the sound wave amplitude crosses zero or you will get pops when you splice. do these products offer the ability to snap to zero crossing?

lex lindsey

Here's a question

Jim's picture

Why doesn't some enterprising young programmer/musician write the required library to make FireWire audio a reality on Linux? Then you can hook up a Mackie Onyx 1640 and record 16 tracks simultaneously at 400MBs.


Anonymous's picture

I guess by now you know about it but if you do not, checkout the FreeBob project They made that happen..

Cheers from Brazil

Re: Setting up a Multitrack Audio Recording Studio

Anonymous's picture

There is one Multitrack Sound Card that's supported by ALSA that I know of, it's the Terratec 88 something (the correct model number i don't know right now but you can figure it out on I't like to know whether that works well enough for home recording, before I invest in Yet Another Soundcard, and a pricy one as well. Turtle beach makes Linux-compatible MT boards as well but they are even pricier. Has anyone found a nice solution for multitrack home recording?

Re: Setting up a Multitrack Audio Recording Studio

Anonymous's picture

Check out the maudio cards 'delta' series from midiman, those are supported

by the alsa drivers as other cards based on the ice1712 chip (other cheaper

cards are the hoontech). The rme hammerfall are more expensive i think

but prousers seem to prefer them.

Me, i still have to wait to buy a decent multitrack card :-(

I have a wamibox, (it´s a be

flora's picture

I have a wamibox, (it´s a beautiful machine) but there´s no drivers available for it.
I want to run away from windows, but I can´t... I spend a lot of many when I bought this soundcard, and now I see that´s useless in linux :(

Re: Setting up a Multitrack Audio Recording Studio

Anonymous's picture

the midiman d-man (2-input card) has the crystal soundfusion chipset (cs4614) which is supported under alsa. This is a good little card for guitar players and others who want simultaneous recording of vocal and string but don't do direct recording of drums. I bought mine for about 130 bones.. not too bad