A musician's transition from distro to distro

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Bird singing and music notes

Internet Archive book images; modified by Opensource.com. CC BY-SA 4.0

My first encounter with computers was in 1980 when my friend's father borrowed an ABC80 from the school where he was working. It was the coolest thing I had seen, and smelled of warm plastic and mystery.

My friend and I spent many days and evenings writing programs and games. But because there were no games available, we had to create them ourselves.

A year later I got my first computer from my parents. It was a Texas Instrument TI-99/4A. It was marvelous. It was gorgeous. We spent even more time creating new things on the new gadget, with all of its new features and amazing graphics.

The years went by, and I dabbled with Spectrum ZX-81, played with Commodore VIC-20, upgraded to Commodore 128. I ended up with the Amiga. I kept the Amiga until I started working, when I became a sound technician and was recording audio books for the visually impaired. There were a few computers at the workplace and when they acted up people asked me, being a kind of computer geek, what to do. I hadn't kept up with the development and still ran my Amiga for games and music; however, I had learned how to troubleshoot, so I used that knowledge on Windows 3.11 and hardware issues.

Then, when the company decided to start investigating digital recording for audio books, I was asked to manage the development.

My first encounter with Linux was when we were setting up the company network and connecting to the outside world through the then outstanding 64KBps ISDN. We needed a firewall, so a consultant installed one for us. In the small server room and closet, he quickly tinkered away on the keyboard. I had worked with the DOS command line to get sound cards to work, but this was something else. Text flew over the screen. Configurations were done. I vividly remember his double-finger tapping on the backspace button when something went wrong... then, he used two fingers to go back faster, what a magician!

Suddenly, the firewall was up and running. He logged off, and I wouldn't get in contact with Linux again for a few years.

In 1998, I saw my work as a Windows server administrator at a large company in Sweden evolve. One of the network guys decided to educate me in UNIX, and he set up a SUN Solaris workstation in my office. I learned a few commands, but having no real task to perform, I didn't go very far with it. I also got a PC to bring home for experimenting and remote work. I decided to check out that Linux thing again. At that time, you could get some installation disks when buying a computer magazine. My first installation was Red Hat 5. It took quite some tinkering to install on my Dell machine. I bought the largest book I ever owned called Linux Undercover. This book helped me along for many years, and I still have it.

This is where my distro hopping began.

I tried all the distributions I could get my hands on; however, I was only installing them, getting them to work, and then moving on to the next one. I was still using a Windows PC for all everyday stuff.

When I started my own company for IT consultancy and web design, I bought the first iMac and also set up a Linux workstation to check web designs on all platforms. Total overkill. No one was browsing the pages I created with Linux then, but at least I knew they would work. Later on, when the iMac was too old to get more updates from Apple, I installed a Mandrake version, which brought new life to the old beauty for years to come.

I got news about Ubuntu Studio in 2007, and moved to it. As a musician and sound technician, I had used a digital Portastudio to record and mix because I enjoyed turning actual knobs when mixing. I used Ubuntu Studio for mastering in Audacity before I had the chance to upgrade all my studio equipment with a new laptop and sound card in 2010. I did a lot of research to get the best USB sound card and compatible laptop for recording. I was quite sad when I realized that even though it looked good on paper, everything didn't quite work well in reality. I could only get the card work on 16 bit in Linux, but in Windows it would record with 24 bit and 96 KHz. I felt frustrated, I was back to a dual boot life.

Then Ubuntu Studio 12.10 was released and my sound card and laptop finally played nicely together. What a joy! However, much had changed in my life with family and work, and I wouldn't be doing much recording at home for quite some time. Instead I found out I could contribute to open source without being a programmer, which had never occurred to me before. Because I had so much joy and benefit from open source I wanted to give something back. I had participated in the Ubuntu Forums for a while and reached out to the Ubuntu Studio team.

For a few years, I would contribute when I could with the little time I had available between family, work, sleep, and all the other things I wanted to dabble within the 24 hours available each day.

Lately, I've moved over from Ubuntu to Debian because I wanted to get closer to the source. Both Debian and I had also developed since the trials I made in earlier years: Debian gained better support for the drivers that I needed, and I had more experience fixing things that might not work out of the box. I have recently upgraded my old laptop with memory and an SSD drive, set up my recording studio in Debian, and I am ready to start creating.

Now, if I could just free up a little bit of time.

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Jimmy Sjölund is a Principal Agile Practitioner at Red Hat, focusing on organisation transformation and team excellence while exploring agile and lean workflows. He is a visualisation enthusiast and an Open Organization Ambassador.


Why you did not try KX Studio too?

I did do some trial runs with KXstudio repos while in the Ubuntu Studio team but never used it in production (so to speak). As I was getting what I needed from Ubuntu Studio and it was supported by a team and Canonical it seemed to suit my needs better. The issue I have with my Sony Vaio was fixed by a kernel release so it was no joy until that with either distro.

In reply to by Miguel Mayol i Tur (not verified)

I read this post with some affection and a lot of relation. As a musician in the third world, getting a computer in itself was a miracle. It was the 90s and my first encounters with mandrake were magical. It was love at first site, eventhough nothing worked. I eventually studied IT, and got the learn the quirks of opensource software, but until this day, sequencing beats is still a challenge with Linux. Any suggestions and maybe a continued trend of articles in this regards would be awesome.

Depends on what you mean by "sequencing beats". If you mean pure midi sequences done on-the-fly for live performances, then yeah there really isn't anything filling that right now.

That said, there are some options. Hydrogen is a pretty decent midi-sequencer/sampler for drum loops. Ardour has gained solid midi support in the editor via a piano roll interface on midi tracks. If you're looking for something simpler, LMMS has a pretty easy-to-grasp interface for their midi sequencer.

If you build loops yourself (or find some online) there are a few live sample sequencers you can use to craft beats from that. Luppp is pretty good in this regard, though it's a bit of a hassle to get midi devices bound the first time.

If you haven't played with them yet, the KXStudio repos for Debian/Ubuntu have a TON of audio production apps and instruments to dive into. They also support Arch via the AUR, but I'm not an Arch guy so I can't vouch for running it on that distro.

The main limiting factor for me has been the fact that most popular instruments are Windows or Mac only (but a lot of them work through a combination of Wine and VST hosts that support windows plugins like Carla).

In reply to by Belizeño

There is (was?) Musix, too, a Debian customization for sound and all; AV Linux and KXStudio, too. Any thoughts?
Many musicians prefer Macs, perhaps following the mermaids singing, or is it that better??

Way back I had issues with my laptop and Debian so AV Linux was not a choice for me then, while Ubuntu worked fine. Today it would be a viable option, but nowadays I configure my own "studio" environment in Debian modeling just the things I want instead of using a prepared studio distro or repos. Mac has always been a preferred option for musicians, but also an expensive option that was never available for me. Now the price comparison between mac and pc are getting closer to each other but for my own part I'm too involved in open source to tie into a closed system again. I could run Ardour and other applications in on a Mac but I experience more freedom to tweak my system on a Linux machine. Also there's the whole philosophy behind using open source which is a big part of who I am these days.

In reply to by Gonzalo (not verified)

I'm embarking on the same kind of musical journey. Rumning Mint and Ardour, after having madedrum tracks in hydrogen (with samples I made from a friend's DW drum set a few years ago) and am recording my first album with this setup. Goingto have to retire the Mackie HDR before it craps out on me...

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