Can You Produce Music on a Raspberry Pi?

The Raspberry Pi is a tiny (think cigarette packet sized) computer designed to be cheap and easy to use for projects. A tool to teach computer science to schools and third world countries, they have inspired many people and are used for millions of projects. They are available for £20-30 and are awesome to have, even as just a small backup computer! There are of course downsides to a system that small, it lacks significant processing power for any major scale work, even the recommended operating systems tend to be smaller versions of Linux.

So the question one might ask is it powerful enough to produce music on it?

Many will say it's not feasible. The only "proper" DAW (digital audio workstation) available for Linux anyway is Ardour, which is way too much for the Raspberry Pi to handle. Since you can't really install another kind of operating system, you are basically out of luck.

But, it turns out there is a way, Non. Thanks to a developer called Jonathan Liles, an American software architect and musician who has made it possible. Setting out to make a DAW under the aim of it being "fast, light, [and] reliable" he has developed a modular system great for use on small computers, such as the Pi itself.

Best of all, Non is entirely FREE!!!

At 43k lines of code, it is an impressive feat, getting most software in that size is admirable, let alone a fully functioning DAW. He aims to maintain the simplicity throughout the life of Non.

Non differs from other DAWs in its modular nature in which each component can work independently of the others. Originally designed as the Non-Sequencer, when Liles encountered difficulty with the available resources, he kicked the project into gear using JACK, a recently released, low latency sound server.

Non comes with several modular packages:

  • Non-Sequencer - A MIDI sequencer 
  • Non-DAW - The timeline/arranger section
  • Non-Mixer - The mixer section with plugin hosting

The only real issues with Non as a DAW are that it is very much a one-man project, he is releasing it for free and updates are infrequent. Obviously, for the serious producer, this won't be a problem, as they will have another DAW, and for the hobbyist fan of Raspberry Pi hardware, it will be enough to tinker about with, so don't let that put anyone off.

If you do plan on running it on a Raspberry Pi, you will find you need more kit eg. a soundcard, however after the price of a Pi, you will likely have some money spare for these extra devices.

It really comes as a shock to realise that most computers are more powerful than the Pi, and so should really be able to handle sound production processes. In reality, the bottleneck is the size of most software DAWs.

When provided with enough computing power (as most modern computers provide), developers don't need to refine and streamline their products as much. This, in turn, leads to unnecessary amounts of code in some cases. Yes, most computers can handle it, it's still a waste of efficiency.

It's only when you get someone who realises what can be done, and is willing to invest the time, that you realise how little computing is necessary.

For best performance, I would recommend using the latest model Raspberry Pi's (I have embedded some options from Amazon below which show the current prices, Adblock may prevent this from showing so here is the link)

Become a Patron!
Print Friendly and PDF