It’s always great to see someone using Linux for music. Jeff is using it for live performance, which is interesting since some people avoid Linux for that sort of thing because of concerns about lag. Obviously, it’s not an issue for Jeff. Jeff’s working on a site for Linux guitarists and when it’s live, it’s going to be huge because there isn’t enough out there in terms of making Linux work for guitars. But lest you think this interview is only helpful for musicians, he also has a lot of great tips for non-musical purposes, too.
- Who are you, and what do you do?
I’m Jeff Hendricks. During the day, I am a technical writer for the Manufacturing Engineering department of a major agricultural equipment manufacturer. By night, I’m a writer and musician. On the weekends, I organize and lead music in our local church.
I’m currently working on putting together a website aimed at guitarists using Linux for live performing, which highlights Guitarix, SooperLooper, Hydrogen (which all have extensive live performance options), and other free and open source tools as alternatives to expensive software effects, synths, and loopers.
Why do you use Linux?
I initially used RedHat 7.3 on servers, as part of my job as a tech. I was curious and ran dual-boot for a few years, but when they announced end-of-life for Windows XP and I wasn’t thrilled about its successor, I decided to switch completely. It wasn’t until later that I realized how much I appreciated the freedom, security, and cost benefits.
What distribution do you run on your main desktop/laptop?
I’m currently running Ubuntu Studio 12.04 64-bit. I had issues with my laptop’s older graphics card not being supported by newer versions, but eventually I will upgrade to 14.04 LTS. I started off with SuSE for a
few years, and then settled on Ubuntu somewhere around 2008. When I discovered Ubuntu Studio in 2010, I knew I had found what I was looking for. Ubuntu Studio is geared toward creative production in general, so it comes with just about everything you’d need for music production already installed and configured.
What desktop environment do you use and why do you use it?
I was a fan of Xfce before I switched to Ubuntu Studio, because it’s fast and simple. I never got the hang of Unity; it just didn’t fit my workflow. The older I get, the more I like simplicity. So, Xfce is on everything I use.
What one piece of Linux software do you depend upon? Why is it so important?
I can only choose one? Hmm…it depends on which hat I’m wearing.
For music I focus mostly on live performance and not studio recording, so I need real-time effects, MIDI outing, synths, and looping. Guitarix is probably what I use the most. I’m learning to program MIDI filters with Mididings and PureData, and I use Arduino SDK tools for making custom MIDI hardware. There’s just so much software out there, though. It’s very tough to narrow it down.
For writing, I use the Linux Beta of Scrivener, from Literature and Latte (I previously used yWriter). It’s simply the best writing program out there, on any platform.
For productivity, I use Dropbox, Evernote/Nixnote, KeePass2, and Thunderbird (with GPG). One of my favorite tricks is to use AutoKey macros for email and Evernote templates. But if I had to choose only one of those, it would be KeePass2. I use that all-day, every day.
What kind of hardware do you run this setup on?
I’ve got an inexpensive HP 625 laptop that I upgraded to 8GB RAM. It’s not that fast, and the touchpad on it is very iffy. Otherwise, it’s rock solid. I haven’t had a problem with it, though it could really use an SSD. HP has had phenomenal Linux hardware support in my experience (with their business-class PCs). I have a Roland/Edirol UA-25EX audio interface which is bombproof and is 100% Linux-compatible. I can run full-blown audio effects in realtime for hours without a hiccup at about 8ms latency.
For live music performances, I’m considering getting an HP twist-around convertible lap-tablet, so I can just put it on a music stand and run a single USB cable to the audio/midi interface. If I can get one with enough
CPU/RAM performance to do live effects, that would be ideal. An SSD and 12+ hours of battery life make it a tempting choice.
Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?
Here’s a shot of my guitar setup showing everything running for a live performance, and another with Guitarix in “Live” mode (what I see on-stage).
Interview conducted July 8, 2015