LMMS: free, open source music sequencer & multitracker


LMMS is a free, open source music production software inspired by commercial apps such as FL Studio (FruityLoops) .

It enables you to create melodies and beats and to create, mix, and arrange sounds and samples, and will even import Fruityloops project files.

It allows access to LADSPA effects and is compatible with many standards such as SoundFont2, VST(i), and GUS Patches, and offers full MIDI/MIDI project files support. LMMS is multiplatform (Windows, Linux).

If you’re a musician or just curious about creating music, and if you’ve been looking for a viable freeware/open source alternative to paid music creation software then take a look at this one.

LMMS (short for Linux MultiMedia Studio, but yes it runs on Windows) is an ambitious open source project that, although still in its early stages, nonetheless manages to deliver a complete music authoring platform that comprises the following:

  • A sequencer: including a bassline editor as well as a so-called Piano roll for editing/creating patterns and melodies.
  • Software sound synthesis, mixer, and effects: with 64 FX mixer channels, audio sample playback, and the ability to implement any number of effects.
  • Support for a wide range of technologies: including SoundFont2, VST(i), LADSPA, GUS Patches, and full MIDI support.

I am not a musician and will admit that I am not the most qualified person to evaluate this software. I have some experience with sequencers that goes back to the days of music trackers on the Commodore Amiga computer, but the landscape has changed radically since that time. I therefore turned to my friend Ala Diab (which I will refer to using his online moniker, Diablo), an accomplished musician who has performed his brand of computer-driven blend of cotemporary experimental Arabic/electronic music in multiple venues across the Middle East and Europe. He played around with LMMS, and I had the following conversation with him afterwards:

Me: tell me what you like about this program.

Diablo: that it’s free :). It also supports a lot of plugins and standards. I like that it supports VST; a lot of apps lacked support for a scoring section and VST, and that was their Achilles heel.

Me: can you say a bit more about VST?

Diablo: VST is a plugin standard for DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations), created by Steinberg. LMMS program also supports LADSPA, which is the open source answer to VST that appeared on Linux first, and now moving slowly to other platforms.

This program supports both. It definitely has a lot of potential. It’s copying quite a bit from Fruity Loops. They’re using the tracker model, pattern and ordering based, to sequence the patterns into a song, just like Fruity Loops. In the interface there are direct rip-offs from Fruity Loops.

Me: that’s good, right?

Diablo: yes and no. They didn’t go all the way with it. I dislike floating windows in music software, like LMMS has. Most of the great ones give you everything in one screen. The interface needs a lot of massaging and to be more intuitive. Fruity Loops, for example, has everything in one window, or even Ableton Live which is the golden standard in integrated interfaces. It would take me twice the time than FruityLoops if not more to build something interesting. I don’t know which window is for composing vs. stacking effects and synths vs. mixing and mastering.

Me: is the interface that much of an issue though? Wouldn’t you eventually get used to it?

Diablo: it is significant. If I’m previewing a sound from a synth I don’t want the sound to go off if I accidentally change the window and try to look for the one to highlight.

Me: any other thoughts on LMMS?

Diablo: I think the sound engine is still clunky.

Me: what does that mean?

Diablo: you know how sound is played through the sound card? I think LMMS has its own little virtual driver. I can’t see my sound card when I go to the setup. Also I didn’t know whether I could record sound on it, which is also important. Unless I’m going to use a sound editor, it would be nice to be able to do everything in one place.

Me: to make samples?

Diablo: to just record. Let’s say you’re working on a song and you want to add vocals; I didn’t see a facility to record sound from a Mic.

Me: you would want to add vocals straight onto a project like that?

Diablo: yeah. FruityLoops does it; so does Live and other competitors. But maybe that’s expecting too much, after all it is a free product. But look at near free products like Reaper ($50 for non commercial license), or Zynewave Podium (also $50), they’re very polished and inexpensive. Or you could get the excellent EnergyXT for under $100. You don’t have to shell out $500 or so for an Ableton Live or FruityLoops.

Me: So what advice would you give the developers of LMMS?

Diablo: I would put a lot of effort on the interface, make it clear and clean, put everything in one window, don’t make the user look for stuff. I would even make strict rule on what appears where on the screen, like for example if you double click on a plugin it appears in the same location on the window and if it’s has a bigger layout, add a slider.

But I realize that it’s version 0.4, so it’s still early in the development process, and so far they’ve got a great start.

The verdict: if you’re looking for a free alternative to professional music sequencers/multitrackers such as FruityLoops, LMMS may be exactly what you’re looking for. Bear in mind that at ver. 0.4.x its still somewhat early in its development, but what there is so far covers all the bases that you would expect, and is quite an accomplishment. Check it out!

Version Tested: 0.4.3

Compatibility: Windows, Linux.

Go to the program page to download the latest version (approx 15 megs).