The Linux MultiMedia Studio (LMMS) seems like a good answer to any aspiring music producer to learn the ropes of music production, considering its features. Let’s look at what this DAW offers and if it can meet the needs of music producers and artists alike.
Indeed, LMMS DAW is worth it, considering that it’s free to use and offers a lot of beats, samples, and instruments from its library to expand your creativity. There’s also a piano roll that lets you edit sounds and even create templates for future songs, and you can use odd time signatures if the song calls for it.
For anyone looking to start music production, or musicians looking for a digital sketchpad for music ideas, LMMS can take on these roles. With its wide sample library, you can create tracks of the instruments that you envision in the song inside your head.
A Brief History of LMMS
LMMS was developed in 2004 by Paul Giblock and Tobias Junghans. They released the first stable version of the software in 2005, and it has been available on Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. The software was designed as a sequencer and has become a good option for music production.
Many compare LMMS to FL Studio, and you’ll see why in this article.
How to get LMMS
LMMS is free to download and use since it’s open-source software licensed under the GNU GPL-2.0-or-later. You can download LMMS through this link.
For its system requirements, LMMS takes up around 100 MB of space on your computer.
- It will run on Linux, OpenBSD, macOS, and Windows.
- It also needs a 1 GHz processor, 512 MB of RAM, and a two-channel sound card.
- Given its system requirements, LMMS is a good DAW and sequencer for those who want to explore music production without investing in a powerful computer.
If you are using Mac OS, do note that you will need to unblock LMMS under the General Tab of the Security and Privacy Settings.
To grant permission:
- Run LMMS for the first time
Exit the prompt that says LMMS is not an identified developer, open Settings, and click on the padlock in the lower-left corner.
- Enter your password, then unblock LMMS.
Then, run LMMS once again.
LMMS User Interface & Usability Overview
In a nutshell, the developers behind LMMS took a cue from the FL Studio’s user interface and distributed it as a free app. No wonder LMMS is touted as a free alternative to the popular sequencer.
When you launch LMMS for the first time, you’ll be asked to check your MIDI settings, audio interface, and other audio settings. Once you’re done setting up, LMMS will advise you to restart the program.
LMMS will also ask if you want to create a folder dedicated to your projects. By default, LMMS will save your tracks here, including those you export.
Once those are set, the next time you launch, LMMS will bring you to the main screen, which will have the following windows:
- Song editor
- FX Mixer
- Controller Rack
You can opt to hide some of these windows if you don’t need them. You may also have to open new windows in the project to adjust or compose tracks for your song.
The Main Window
Aside from the three windows, you will find the top panel, which has two rows that you can use to save your work and adjust the tempo or time signature of the song.
- If you want to adjust the tempo or time signature, you can double-click the number and enter a new value.
- For time signatures, you can input any number from 1 – 32.
The second row in the top panel allows you to show or hide the Song Editor, Beat and Bassline editor, FX Mixer, Controller Rack, Automation, and Project Notes.
A tab panel on the left side of the main window allows you to explore sample libraries, instrument plugins, and a file explorer to import other tracks from your computer. You can load these files by dragging them to the song editor or the beat and bass editor.
- Song Editor
The Song Editor window is where the final output of your song is made. You can create Automation from here or plot out how long a sample will be. The Song Editor Window also lets you launch other features, such as the bass and beat editor and the piano roll.
- Bass and Beat Editor
You can access the Drum and Bass Editor by clicking the icon beside the track’s name, usually “Beat/Bassline X,” where X is the number of Beat/Bassline tracks in the Song Editor. You can rename this in your project by double-clicking the name.
- Piano roll
The Piano roll lets you plot out notes and adjust the velocity of each note being played. You can copy notes and paste them anywhere on the grid. You can shorten or lengthen these notes accordingly.
To access the piano roll, you must have a sample loaded on the song editor, after which you add a block by clicking on the track you want to edit.
- FX Mixer
The FX Mixer serves as a master volume control for each channel on your song. You can group tracks into channels so that they can share particular effects or set them at a specific level of volume.
If your song needs less bass, you can group all bass-heavy tracks into a channel so that they can share a single master volume control.
You can group a track to a channel by clicking on its name. a small window will pop out and on the upper right corner is a number that corresponds to a track. You can right-click it and assign it to a particular channel. For beat/bassline tracks, you will need to assign each track within it manually to a channel.
- Controller Rack
If you don’t have a MIDI controller, the Controller Rack function helps you automate specific parameters as if you had a physical controller to manipulate. The Controller Rack acts like a virtual MIDI controller that you can use to adjust parameters that run from 1 – 100.
All you need to do is add a controller in the rack and assign a parameter by right-clicking it and selecting Connect to Controller. Select User Controller and assign it to any controller you have set in the Controller Rack.
- Automation Control
The Automation Control is similar to the Controller Rack. Here, you can plot out how a parameter is set in each part of the song. Using the grid, you can plot out where a parameter is towards a part of the song.
You can use it to pan instruments, adjust volume, and do other things you may want to tweak.
Automation Control is different from the Controller Rack as it affects the behavior of a track for the whole song. The controller rack makes constant adjustments for each measure.
What do you get with LMMS?
LMMS provides virtual instruments, beats, and samples for you to explore and make your first track. You also get a collection of plugins that allow you to enhance your tracks.
One of the reasons why you would want to try LMMS is its sample library. You get a wide selection of instruments and samples to create beats. It also emulates famous drum machines, including the TR-808. Many users have noted that its sample instruments are an excellent blank slate to work on to get your desired sound.
To use these samples, you click and drag them to the song editor or beat/bassline editor.
If you want to make certain elements of your song stand out, LMMS includes presets that you can use to enhance channels on your track.
These plugins work with the Channel Mixer of LMMS. You need to assign a track to a mixer to utilize these plugins.
LMMS compared to other DAWs or sequencer software
If there’s any software that LMMS may be compared to, it’s FL Studio and Ableton.
LMMS versus FL Studio
If there was a software closest to LMMS, it’s FL Studio due to the function the latter offers. There’s some similarity in their layout, and they are suitable for beatmakers and arrangers.
Both apps use drag-and-drop systems to help you arrange music
You must drag a sound effect into the song editor or bass and drum to the Beat and Bassline Editor to begin composing.
Both apps let you use plugins to improve the sound of your tracks.
You can add some plugins like reverbs or delays to give your samples stand out.
Both apps offer virtual synths, drum samples, and loops.
If you can’t play certain instruments, the virtual synths, drum loops, and samples can cover you for any instrument you can’t play yet.
As FL Studio has four versions, LMMS is closest to the Fruity version of FL Studio. These two don’t have recording functions, unlike the higher tiers of FL Studio.
While LMMS and FL Studio feature virtual synths and drums, many users have observed that LMMS has a strong potential as a virtual synth engine, while FL Studio is more potent with its beat offerings. You can still do either instrument on these apps, but your mileage may vary.
Another notable difference is the compatibility of the apps with operating systems.
LMMS gains an edge with its compatibility with Linux.
That means you can create a music production system revolving around the open-source environment. (e.g., Audacity, Ardour).
FL Studio gains an edge with its Android and iOS app.
You can use it when inspiration strikes while away from your studio.
LMMS versus Ableton
LMMS and Ableton are similar software, as both are designed for producers or beatmakers. But unlike FL Studio, LMMS and Ableton have more distinct differences, aesthetic-wise. Their interfaces are pretty different, so it’s going to be a whole new setup or learning curve should you switch from LMMS to Ableton and vice versa.
The two applications have similarities, not just in the capabilities to make beats. Drilling down to the details of these similarities will reveal the difference between the two.
Both LMMS and Ableton have support for plugins.
But LMMS has support for LADSPA plugins.
LMMS and Ableton have support for Automation.
Ableton, however, has more advanced Automation that makes the changes smoother and easier to apply in different parts of your song without redoing things.
Both LMMS and Ableton have good workflows.
LMMS dwells on simplicity in design, while Ableton has a well-designed interface, which is easy to adapt to despite being more complicated looking. Ableton gives you more flexibility in workflow, unlike LMMS.
LMMS and Ableton can do sampling.
But Ableton has a more robust sampling system that allows for quantizing, chopping, and even pitch shifting. LMMS has a relatively stripped-down sampling feature and can only take in wave files.
You may use LMMS and Ableton for playing live.
But Ableton has wider compatibility when it comes to MIDI controller compatibility. It’s also more DJ-friendly when used for gigs.
You may download LMMS and Ableton for free.
But Ableton Live Lite, the free edition, has limited function, particularly the eight-track limit. LMMS is totally free, and you can have as many tracks as possible.
What are the Pros and Cons of LMMS?
LMMS has its share of strengths and weaknesses worth looking into if you plan to use this software as your first music production DAW. Like any DAW in the market, you must scrutinize these limitations and features before deciding which platform is best for you.
Pros of LMMS
LMMS is free to use.
Whether you’re someone looking to study music production or need to create some beats for a commercial project, you can use LMMS as its license is free to use. It’s even open-source, should you decide to examine the software and modify it to your liking.
LMMS has a lot of good drum samples
If you want to create beats for sample packs or need to create drum loops for demos, the drum samples that LMMS are pretty good. You get good emulation of classic drum machines like the TR-808, which you can modify later with effects.
LMMS gives you versatility with time signatures
Unlike other free sequencers, LMMS allows you to play around with time signatures. Even practicing other instruments, you can use LMMS to help you tighten your chops when doing odd-time signature songs.
LMMS has extensive community support
You can count on the LMMS forum to help you navigate the ins and outs of LMMS. That is the norm in any open-source software, wherein community members support each other, which helps increase the popularity of the software.
LMMS is lightweight.
With only 100 MB of hard disk space needed, you can run LMMS off a flash drive in case you can’t bring your desktop or laptop. Are you going on a holiday to your folk’s house? Plug that flash drive when inspiration strikes so you don’t have to install added software on someone else’s computer.
Cons of LMMS
Some samples and instruments sound too processed.
While LMMS offers a wide selection of samples and instruments, some sound too processed and devoid of any characteristics. You will need to do some tweaking later to make them sound more realistic.
Considering the software is free, this is something that you should work around.
LMMS has a learning curve.
If you are new to music production, you might not get LMMS right from the start. While sample projects come with the LMMS installation, you may need to check out user forums and video tutorials to understand how some functions on LMMS work.
LMMS does not have recording features.
This downside won’t matter if you’re inclined towards instrumental beats. But if you’re an aspiring singer or rapper who wants to make a demo, you will need another recording software to help you track your vocals. FL Studio and Ableton have recording features, which makes demo recording easier.
Some controls need some guessing.
Getting used to the controls of LMMS can take some guesswork as there aren’t proper labels on them. Notably, the mute and solo controls on each track may confuse you as they are only indicated by a colored icon, unlike other DAWs that use letters to indicate mute and solo.
Since LMMS is a free application, it makes sense to use it, especially if you are running Windows or Linux or want to get acquainted with FL Studio without the limitations of a free trial.
If you’re running macOS and looking to use virtual instrument samples, you may want to use Garage Band, which is free for Apple users, as there are more options here and comes with a robust recording system.
That said, LMMS will always be here to provide aspiring music producers an opportunity to experiment with beats and samples and sharpen their skills before upgrading to more industry-standard applications.
John Narciso is a guitar player and music technology hobbyist. He loves exploring guitar effects processors in pedal and plugin format and free music applications. His music preferences tend to be diverse, listening to genres spanning from metal to alternative rock and a little hip-hop.