How to set up a DAW using Free Linux Software

How to set up a DAW using Free Linux Software

What this Linux Ubuntu Studio DAW setup guide covers:

  • How to install a DAW using free Linux Software
  • Hardware required to Record
  • How to set up the DAW software

How to set up a Digital Audio Workstation

The first thing you need is to choose an operating system for your computer.  The reasons why we are going for a Linux distribution is because it is free and it also doesn’t require the latest hardware.

Operating Systems

There is a number of different operating systems to choose from but today we are going to use Linux Ubuntu Studio.  Ubuntu Studio will provide the operating system as well as the recording software.  Another great choice for this is also Ubuntu Desktop.

Both Ubuntu Studio and Ubuntu Desktop will allow you to use the exact same software.  I suggest also trying them both to see which one you like best.

The Recording Software

The software we will be using is called Ardour5.  If you get the Ubuntu Studio operating system is already installed.  If you download the Ubuntu Desktop version you will need to install it via the app shop.

What Hardware You Need

Other than an old PC or Laptop you will also need an audio interface. My suggestion would be for a beginner to get one of these three models.

The reasons why I suggest this is because they have 2 Microphone inputs which will allow for more than 1 tracks of recording at a time.  The other reason is, they work great with Ubuntu.

What about Drivers?

Unlike Windows 10, Linux is very plug and play.  This means you can just plug them in and they will “work”.  This is very similar to how MacOS works as well which is why so many audio engineers choose Mac.

How to install the Linux Operating System

Once you have decided on either Ubuntu Studio or Ubuntu Desktop you will need to download them to your current computer.

If you are using a Windows computer you will need to download a program called Rufus.  This is by far the easiest way to get an “.ISO” (the format for the operating system file) onto a USB stick.

At this point plug your USB stick into the computer.

For MacOS users download balenaEtcher.  This is a great Rufus alternative for Mac users and will do the same exact thing.

Install and open either Rufus or balenaEtcher and follow the prompts.  Both programs will format the stick as part of the installation process.

Please Note:

After formatting, if you see a message that your computer can’t read the stick just eject it from your machine.  This is totally normal as the file formatting of the USB drive has now changed.

The Installation Process

If there is ANYTHING on the computer you need now is the time to get it because the following guide will wipe your computer.  Please make sure to back up any personal files you may have on your old computer.

Once you have the USB stick ready to go you can now set the operating system up on your computer of choice.  Start with the current computer off and put the USB stick in a USB 2.0 port.  It might work fine on a USB 3.0 port but sometimes it won’t so just try a 2.0 port if you have one.

After Installation

As soon as the computer starts you generally see some text along the bottom of the screen.  You want to look for “Boot Devices“.  On my computer this option is F12 but it might vary from computer to computer.  Another one of my computers has it set to F4.

You will be greeted with a screen that asks you to try the live version or install.  Select install and continue.

Ethernet/Lan Cable

While installing Ubuntu please make sure you have it hardwired to your modem or switch.  This makes getting the updates a lot easier.  You will see an option right at the start that will ask you if you want the updates and extended options.  Click both checkboxes and continue.

Once this process is completed you are ready to go! If your computer restarts please remove the USB disk and you’ve now installed Linux Ubuntu Studio or Ubuntu Desktop.

Additional Software

If you opted to go for Ubuntu Desktop then open the app shop and type in “DAW”.  You’ll see Ardour5 popup and click install.

Selecting Your Audio Interface

Plugin your audio interface before opening Ardour5.  Part of the first launch process is selecting your sound card.  From the ALSA option, select the USB codec for both drop-down menus.

ALSA Audio Setup Ardour5
ALSA Audio Setup Ardour5

Keep selecting next until you’re in the project and you’re done!


Limitations and Considerations

If you have been recording for a while or have purchased Windows or Mac VST files then get ready for the bad news.  While there are some “known tricks” for getting Windows VST files to work on Linux it can be very tricky.  My suggestion is to focus on the software and see if you like it first before transitioning over to a new operating system entirely.  You can boot Linux in dual boot mode with Windows in case you want to test it before committing to it.