Is there a hard and fast rule on what software you need to use? According to big tech, yes. There is only Windows or macOS! There is only Photoshop! There is only Office!
As Big Tech gets bigger and swallows up smaller companies, the landscape for software can seem pretty one dimensional and expensive unless you’re willing to do some digging and be skeptical about how you procure these products.
I’m already a little off the beaten path with software mainly because I loath the subscription model when it comes to applications. I don’t mind subscriptions for services such as music/video streaming or online storage; I subscribe to Spotify and Netflix (the originals!). I also have online storage and password manager accounts.
For apps though, I just don’t agree with the subscription model. I like to pay for an app and be done. Some subscriptions are kind of ok; Microsoft 365 is good because you get Mail (sans advertising), all the Office apps, and a terabyte of OneDrive 1 storage for a decent yearly price so you’re getting a full package of stuff. Some are meh (Adobe), and some are downright awful (I’m looking straight at you, Pro Tools).
The bright side to all of this is that you can still buy apps that are just as good, or often times better than the flagships.
Paid Apps: MUsic
I’ve paid for two DAWs over the years: Reaper and Harrison Mixbus 32c.
Reaper is classic shareware 2. There is a free 60 day, non crippled evaluation that never really expires. Once the evaluation period is done, you’re presented with a nag screen every time you launch the product which you can close out after a few seconds. But honestly, if you’re a bedroom musician, pay the $60 for a license. Reaper is a goddamn steal considering its massive feature set, and it’s good through two full version updates.
Mixbus is interesting. It’s based on Ardour but customized and tweaked to emulate the sound of Harrison’s hardware consoles. While Mixbus is excellent, it’s not perfect. Editing is not as intuitive as Reaper, and it and can be a resource hog at times. Who cares though? It sounds great.
Harrison also promotes discounts once and awhile. I signed up for their mailing list and managed to snag a 32c license for just $100 rather than the regular price of $472. And I get emails when a new version is released offering me a heavily discounted upgrade price.
The best part for both of these applications is that I have no need to move to the next version if I don’t want to so I’m happily humming along on version 7 without worry of a forced upgrade.
As a bonus, both Reaper and Mixbus licenses are transferable across Windows, macOS, and Linux so you don’t need to purchase a license for each platform if you decide to switch. 3
For me the combination of these two apps is perfect. Reaper for recording and editing, Mixbus for cleanup and mixing.
Still on the music front, I was a big user of the free Player version of Native Interments GuitarRig. I mostly used it to augment whatever I’d recorded naturally (always get a clean DI when recording guitars). Due to this I’d never felt the need to pony up the $260 for the Pro version. Unfortunately, GuitarRig is Windows/Mac only.
After a brief search I came across ToneLib who created the fantastic GFX application. So far I’ve found it to be slightly more intuitive and much better sounding than GuitarRig. It’s also under $100. But, like Reaper, when you get to the end of the 30 trial, the software doesn’t lock up, you just have to sit through their timed nag screen. Again, for the price, it’s a no brainier.
Free Apps: Graphics and Whatnot
For a Photoshop alternative, I’d been using the superb Affinity Photo for a few years no. I cannot say enough good things about this application – with the exception that it doesn’t support Linux natively. This is not a huge deal as I’m not doing any graphics heavy lifting these days.
For now, I’m bouncing back and forth between the tried and true Linux standard GIMP and a newer app, Krita.
I’ve used GIMP before; going wayyyy back to my college Web Design courses. It’s ok and does a good job, I’ve just never managed to get used to it.
Krita is quite good but it’s taking a bit to get used to its workflows. Slow and steady wins the race 🙂
Free Apps: Video
I used to have a copy of the Adobe CS4 Master Collection I picked up when I worked for Adobe back in 2009. I spent a lot of time learning Premiere, as well as picking up some practical knowledge of AfferEffects, and Encore.
DVDs are no longer a thing, so Encore is no longer a thing. I don’t do any fancy shit in my videos so AfterEffects is something I don’t really care about. So it was all Premiere which I made it work until Adobe switched to the Creative Cloud online subscription model.
It didn’t matter in the end as I found Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve. The free version of this thing is awesome and worked great for me. They have a Linux version but my laptop doesn’t have a dedicated video card so it doesn’t meet the minimum requirements to run Resolve. So what to do?
After a quick search, I found KDenlive. It’s free so I installed it and wow, it is exceptional. After playing with it a little, I’m finding it has all the best parts of Premiere and Resolve wrapped up into one, intuitive video editing app.
Multi track video and audio? Check. A good title system? Check. Decent effects and transitions? Check. Supports pretty much all video/audio formats? You bet.
Yes, I’m sure there are a pile of “missing features” but I’m not directing Hollywood movies here, I’m just farting around and doing my thing.
Free Apps: Audio
I’d say Ardour, but I have Mixbus so, yeah. I have found some sweet plugins though.
Linux Studio Plugins are pretty excellent so far. I can’t say much past that as they offer a lot of plugins and I haven’t had the time to really dive into them yet. But the ones I have played with (the EQs. I’m a sucker for good EQs) are just fine as paint
That’s about it for now. I’ll add more as I find more. What I will say to end this off is I still can’t believe how damned good Linux has become over the years. I know why it’s not as popular as it should be, but it should be more popular than it is.
1: Out of all the online storage options I’ve tried over the years, OneDrive is the best. I gave up on Dropbox a decade ago and iCloud is still super clunky even on macOS/iOS. Microsoft doesn’t have a native Linux app for OneDrive, of course, but there is the wonderful Insync app that does just what the doctor ordered.
2: Of course it is. Reaper was created by Justin Frankel, the person who brought us WinAmp (you fucked this app, AOL). He also created Shoutcast and Gnutella (fuck you, RIAA) and WASTE (no, really. Fuck YOU, RIAA). Rock n’ Roll.
Another plus of Reaper is that there are ways to use it as a MainStage alternative where I can plug in my little USB midi keyboards and trigger synths. I’m currently looking into this and will post my findings here at some point. MainStage is the only reason I’m keeping my little 11″ MacBook Air on life support. As soon as I can find a suitable alternative to this app, I’ll be selling the MBA.
3: Hear that iA Writer??