Tools for the Traveling Producer: Everything You Need To Make Music On The Road
Updated: Oct 20, 2021
In today’s day and age, you can produce music from just about anywhere. That being said, not all portable production studios are created equally, and it can be challenging to strike the fine balance between durable and professional while on the go.
Luckily, we put together a guide of everything you need to take with you in order to make quality beats while you're away from the studio. This can also serve as an outline for a basic recording setup for those who are just starting out. Let’s go ahead and get into it!
Portable Music Production Essentials
Whether you’re a traveling music producer or simply want a compact setup to bring to your client’s studio, here are the foundational pieces you’ll need to have readily available. Don’t skimp out on these essentials as they will heavily impact the quality of your production.
The basic portable music production setup includes:
A Decent Laptop
1. A Decent Laptop
By far, the most important piece of music production gear is your computer, or in this case, your laptop. While it may be tempting to settle on the most affordable laptop you can find, keep in mind that your DAW has to operate based on the limitations of your computer. If your laptop can’t handle any of your favorite plugins, let alone basic processing, it’s not going to be very useful.
Most music producers swear by Mac products for their reliability and sheer power. That being said, any well-built computer with a strong processor, RAM, and plenty of storage will likely be suitable for basic music production, regardless of the brand. For example, this Macbook Pro has a powerful M1 processor, and a minimum of 256 GB of SSD storage. A 13-inch screen may be small for some, but it’s not a huge deal especially if you plan on connecting your laptop to an external monitor.
Different genres of music can also demand various specs. For example, an EDM producer is going to potentially need a lot more tracks that someone who wants to create simplistic acoustic tunes. When in doubt, splurge on the more powerful device.
You can also make beats on hardware equipment like the Roland SP-404 or AKAI MPC. While this may be an option for some, keep in mind that you’ll still need to connect these devices to a computer at some point if you plan on releasing your creations to a digital platform.
Don’t forget to pack your adapters! Make sure you have everything you need to connect your controllers, interface, and any potential instruments directly into your laptop.
2. Portable Storage
Sadly, many amateur beatmakers neglect the importance of investing in proper storage. There’s nothing more unprofessional than losing a client’s files, so make sure you have some portable solid state drives ready to go use while on the road. Something basic like this can make an excellent entry-level pick. Avoid traditional hard drives as well-- these are much easier to damage, particularly when you're on the road.
It’s also important to have a backup stored on the cloud. Whether you use Dropbox, Google Drive or a software solution like Carbon Copy Cloner, your future self will thank you. This not only protects your business, but it also ensures that you have access to your tracks while traveling from one area to the next. Get into the habit of backing up your sessions if you haven’t already.
3. Studio Headphones
Another key component of portable production is studio headphones. This means that your headphones should be designed for studio mixing which has a flat, neutral playback. Note that headphones intended solely for listening (such as Beats by Dre, Bose headphones, etc.) may have a built-in bass boost or other adjusted frequencies.
While this may make for an enhanced listening experience, it’s sure to distort your recordings. Invest in a studio pair like this set from Audio Technica to give you the most ideal listening environment wherever you may be. It goes without saying that you should aim to produce in an isolated room, but in moments where this isn’t entirely possible, your headphones can make or break your session.
Don’t use bluetooth headphones either. This is because there’s inherent latency from the playback of your DAW to the bluetooth headphones, so producing with them could easily lead to creating beats that aren’t exactly in-time.
4. MIDI Controllers
The last item you’ll need is a MIDI controller. Sure, you could map the keyboard built into your laptop, but oftentimes, this isn’t as intuitive and can interfere with your creative workflow. This can also get tricky if you have quick keys you rely on to move efficiently throughout your DAW.
Instead, you could utilize a tool like Controlla which allows you to map multiple parameters in your DAW, allowing your phone to serve as a MIDI controller. This is great for any producer who wants to quickly record transitions, build interest in a section of a song, or create an organic-sounding effect chain without having to commit to the tedious task of drawing each automation line. You’ll have your phone anyhow while traveling, so you might as well maximize its capabilities for music production.
It’s also a good idea to have a compact MIDI keyboard so that you can easily translate ideas on the go. I recommend purchasing something durable like anything from the AKAI mini series.
Other Equipment To Consider For Recording on The Road
If you plan on recording basic demos, vocals, or instruments while you’re away from your studio, there’s a couple of other items you’ll want to have in your toolkit.
Microphone and Mic Stand: You can’t record without a microphone, and it’s hard to record properly without a solid stand. Therefore, pack both with you for recording away from home. It might be best to keep ultra delicate microphones like ribbon mics, for example, back at the studio to avoid unexpected damage. Ideally, you record scratch demos while traveling with the intention to re-record in a proper environment.
Audio Interface: Unless you’re using a USB microphone (which isn’t ideal due to latency issues), you’ll need a basic audio interface to take with you while recording on the go. Something simple but functional like a Scarlett 2i2 will do.
Ear Protection: If you plan on going to shows, remember to bring proper ear protection by using something like Earasers. Don’t forget that your ears are your greatest overall investment, so it’s crucial to protect them in loud settings.
Hydration: While it may seem like a no-brainer, being hydrated can make all of the difference in your vocal performance. Make sure you pack a filled water bottle especially if you plan on producing outdoors. Keep your water bottle in a separate compartment away from your sensitive gear.
Hopefully, this article will make it easier for you to confidently make beats wherever you go. Remember to take great care of your equipment, especially while traveling, in order to maximize the quality of your recordings. Enjoy becoming a portable producer!