Open Source Music Software: Recording An Album, Part 1

open source music software

I’m working on an album with a friend of mine, and I’m using open source music software to do it. I’ve gotten as far as a drum track I can live with in Hydrogen, but I’m doing well with Ardour too.

December 7, 2017

In Download Free Music Software and Start Making Music I talked about embarking on a musical journey. I’m using open source music software to cut an album with an old friend. We cut his album once, but never finished it. We cut it on 1/2″ tape, and I can’t lay my hands on such a machine any more. So, we’re going digital, and what I’ve decided on, so far, is a combination of Ardour and Hydrogen.

As I mentioned, I recorded a friend’s DW set to get my samples. I’m missing brush sounds, but might be able to get by. 

Open source music software: laying down drums

So, we’ve got Hydrogen open, and a set that will work well enough to show you what I’m doing. Hydrogen has “patterns,” and while they can have various lengths, I’ve decided to make each pattern a measure. Since I’m currently working on an old-school sounding country waltz, I’m going to set my eighth notes to be of the triplet variety. See how I’ve got it laid out here:

Open source music software: laying down drums

You simply add individual drum hits to patterns, and then up top highlight where you want that pattern to occur. In my case, I’ve got two basic patterns. One is a verse (V1) with a kick on beat one, pedal high hat on all the beats, and a cross stick on beat three. I’ve also named a pattern “open_hh_on_3.” This pattern contains nothing more than an open high hat hit on the “and” of beat three, and I stick it in as a phrase marker every four bars. You’ll also note that I have a V2 pattern, which always follows that open hh pattern. This is the same as V1, but minus the high hat step on beat one, since it’s kind of impossible to have a high hat ringing AND get the step sound. I know I’m using a fake drummer, but I’m at least TRYING to stick within the bounds of reality. :)

The chorus pattern is similar to the verse, but in that I’ve got a ride cymbal going.

Variations to spice it up

Just like that open high hat phrase marker, every once in a while I want the kick going “ga-gung.”  So I’ve got a pattern with the kick on the and of beat three, another one with it on the and of beat two, and I’ve got those interspersed throughout the song. But wait, I’m not done.

I like to add a little variety to the individual hits, so I’ll drag the volume up or down just a smidgen on some. This means making bunch more patterns. I’ve got a few different variations of V1 and the chorus with varying volumes on the drum hits so that I can make it appear random overall. 

Now what?

Well, once we’ve got a drum track we’re happy with, mix it down. Hydrogen has an export function. Drums are one of the tracks I personally leave in the middle, so I don’t care about getting a stereo vs a mono track. I mix this puppy down to one mono audio track, then throw it into Ardour.

I’m still working on the other tracks, and getting things nailed down enough for another blog post. Subscribe below and get notified when I get something published.


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