Traveling Music Producer – 5 Studio Equipment You Can’t Leave Home Without
Making music shouldn’t be limited to be only in the studio. In fact, I’m now composing & making more music out the studio while traveling. Here I talk about the studio equipment that you’ll need when out traveling.
My experience from making music while traveling? You can get great musical ideas from your traveling experience. After all, being in a studio with no natural sunlight for too long can quickly drain your creative juices.
The problem with making music on the road is that you lose the luxury of having a complete studio at your disposal, from a full 88-keys keyboard, large studio monitors, powerful computer and a sound treated studio.
However, it’s still possible to make great music as a traveling music producer. So in this post, I’ll show you the 5 studio equipment that you’ll need as a music producer who travels.
1 – A Decent Laptop
You can make pretty good music armed with just a laptop these days. A music production optimized laptop whether Mac or Windows, would be able to take on literally anything you throw at it. Composing, mixing or even mastering, you name it.
Here is what to look for when buying a laptop for music production as a traveler.
The first thing to look for when buying a laptop for music production is to make sure it has enough firepower for the work you do. Nothing is more frustrating than coming into performance bottlenecks when producing, killing your creative workflow.
If you’re going for a Mac, either get the 13″ Macbook Pro or go for the Macbook Pro 15′ base model would get you pretty far in music production. It comes with a maxed out 16GB of RAM, which you’ll need, a nice 128GB SSD hard disk (very beneficial for music production) on top of an i7 processor. Don’t bother upgrading the 13″ base model as the 15″ is definitely more worth it.
If you’re going for a PC laptop, make sure you have enough RAM onboard, i7 processor recommended and an SSD hard drive. The performance jump in having an SSD hard drive is seriously a lot and you’ll love it for its speed.
Still confused about whether to go for Mac or PC? Read my previous post here: Mac or PC for music production?
Laptop Battery Life
Producing music on a laptop takes a lot of battery juice, and I mean A LOT. I hate to break it to you, but the winner for all laptops for battery life is the Macbook Pro. Of course, Windows laptops like the Surface 4 or HP Spectre 360 has pretty long battery life too, but they simply don’t have enough power for serious music production. Sure, you can get by with few tracks and VSTs in your arrangement, but you’ll soon hit performance bottlenecks.
While battery life is very important towards the mobile music producer, I’m currently on a Asus GL552VW which is essentially a gaming laptop and not the best when it comes to battery life, but I’ve always gotten by finding a power socket at the places I travel to.
Laptop Connectivity VS Portability
This one should be regardless of whether you plan to travel or not. It’s important to have connectivity options like USB, Firewire, etc. on your laptop, to connect to your MIDI controllers, analog synths, audio interface and portable hard drives. Many lighter laptops don’t have much connectivity options and isn’t really built for the music producer, so you might have to forget the ultrabooks for more connectivity.
The Macbook Air would be alright for this but I’ll never go for a laptop/tablet like the Macbook. Bottom line, I’ll rather carry heavier than to lose my connectivity options.
Some people look to the iPad to make music when traveling. While the iPad has many great music apps like Morphwiz & SampleWiz by JordanRudesss, I still don’t think the iPad is ready for serious music making. You can scratch up great ideas on the iPad and record with apps like Garageband iOs, but you definitely can’t finish a mix on the iPad.
2 – Mobile MIDI Controller
Depending on the type of music production work you do, a MIDI controller is a must. If you write music and compose a lot with VSTs, I recommend you get a mobile MIDI controller for the road. I’m not a fan of clicking in MIDI notes as I feel it takes too much time. Not only a MIDI controller will help you work faster and write more music, it’ll help you to program music more naturally. (Try clicking in notes for a piano riff. It’s not impossible, but it definitely will take a lot of time!)
Here are 4 mobile MIDI controllers that are worth buying as part of your music production equipment, and I’ll tell you why.
The CME Xkey comes in two variants the XKey which connects to your laptop via a USB cable and the Xkey Air that connects with Bluetooth.
Why the CME Xkey? It’s seriously portable and playable. Unlike some mobile MIDI controllers that sacrifice playability for portability, you’ll be delighted to find that the CME Xkey, although made ultra slim is very playable. This means you’ll be able to actually control velocities very well on this MIDI controller. The latency on the XKey is also very low. Best of all it’ll fit in your backpack or luggage pretty easily without adding too much weight.
Read a review on the CME Xkey here: CME Xkey Review
Korg Microkey Air
The Korg microKey Air is a mobile MIDI controller with USB and Bluetooth connectivity. The latency is pretty amazing (even when on Bluetooth) and it has a very nice touch response with keyboard like keys. There are a few keyboard sizes to choose from, but the 25-key or 37-key variant would appeal more for the traveling music producer.
Why the Korg microKey Air? Although the keys are smaller than standard size keyboards, it’s still a nice experience to play on the Korg microKey. The 37-key variant allows you to plug-in a sustain pedal or keyswitch which is a godsend for producers whose primary instrument is the piano.
When traveling, you also want to minimize the number of cables you carry and the Korg microKey’s Bluetooth connection allows you to go wireless. The microKey Air is powered by two AA batteries and you can get AA batteries from literally anywhere in the world.
Read a full review on the Korg microKey Air here: The Korg microKey Air review
Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII
Designed to fit backpacks and studio production desks, the MPK mini is a mobile MIDI controller with drum pads, assignable knobs, and buttons for octave up and down.
Why Akai MPK Mini MKII? I don’t have the need for drum pads, but I know many music producers who need them. The Akai comes with 8 velocity-sensitive drum pads, so you don’t have to sacrifice your creativity juice when you travel. The MPK Mini is also really small and light. You can basically use the MPK Mini anywhere from a cramped up seat during your flight or in a small cafe.
Line 6 Mobile Keys
A straightforward mobile MIDI controller, that comes with inputs for sustain & expression pedals, along a USB input which can be powered by a laptop or even an iPad.
Why the Line 6 Mobile Keys? This is one of the most affordable mobile MIDI controller out there in the market. The keys have a nice feel to them and is very lightweight, making it ideal for traveling.
4 -Monitor Headphones
Monitor headphones would be your best friend when composing or mixing music on the road. While it’s almost ideal that you mix and master with studio monitors in a treated studio, with trained ears, it’s also possible to finish a music mix on a pair of headphones.
When traveling you’ll want headphones that are durable. Avoid buying headphones that have plastic made bands. Those will snap after some use and even faster if you constantly have them in your backpack or squashed in your luggage as you travel.
Here are some monitor headphones that I recommend for traveling. Again I’ll tell you why:
Samson SR850 Studio Headphones
This headphone is literally indestructible. You can twist the headphones as much as you want to and it won’t break that easily. The Samson SR850 headphones will take a lot of beating before it snaps.
But really, why the Samson SR850? Super affordable and it really sounds good as well! You might find the lacking bass on this headphone, but the details are pretty accurate. I’ve mixed few commercial productions on this headphones and didn’t have to do many alterations to my mix when back at the studio.
One thing to note is that the Samson SR850 is a semi-open headphones, which means the sound you get is more natural but people next to you will hear what you’re listening to if you are monitoring at a loud level. If you want a closed back version, consider the Samson SR950 headphones.
Check out the Samson SR850 review post
Sony MDRV6 Studio Monitor Headphones
The Sony MDRV6 is a very comfortable studio monitor headphone and you’ll be able to find replacement parts for the headphones.
Why the Sony MDRV6? You get a quite good sound isolation on this headphones because of its closed back design. Background noise will be blocked out and you can focus on your music, making the headphones a great companion when making music in a noisy place like a cafe. Soundwise, the headphones are excellent and uncolored. In fact, this headphone has been around for some time and that just shows that it’s indeed a great headphone.
5 – Portable Recorder
The last thing to add on before you hit the roads is a microphone or a portable recorder. Again depending on the music you create, you can go without a microphone but being able to record as you travel is a huge advantage.
You probably won’t be able to get a high-end studio quality, but having a microphone at your disposal is great when you meet people that would love to collaborate with you. I’ve done vocal & voice over recordings in hotel rooms. And for music, I’ve recorded some outdoor sounds which I then used them in my film score or music piece.
Here are microphones you can consider when traveling:
Zoom Portable Recorder (Zoom H5, Zoom H6, Zoom H1)
The Zoom product lineup is amazing not only because they are pretty affordable, but you get a lot features all packed into one. If you want a portable recorder that acts as an audio interface, the Zoom H6 would be ideal for you. Able to record up to 6 inputs, it’s like carrying a portable studio with you.
If you’re just looking for something small, the Zoom H1 is a great handy recorder that you can use for quick instrument or vocal recordings and even recording outdoor sounds.
Shure SM57 Microphone
The industry standard for recording and performance, you’ll the Shure SM57 in almost any studio around the world. The SM57 would be a suitable all-rounder microphone for any musical recording from recording guitars, bass amps, strings, vocals & more. Being a multipurpose microphone, it makes it ideal to bring one of this when you travel.
The Shure SM57 is a dynamic microphone though so it won’t be too ideal to use it for voice over projects that require a rich frequency range. You’d want a condenser microphone to achieve full-bodied recordings.
Lewitt LCT240 Condenser Microphone
Another great all-rounder microphone, just that the Lewitt is a condenser microphone. The frequency range on the Lewitt LCT-240 is wide and it sounds seriously good.
You might not be able to record in an outdoor environment with the Lewitt LCT-240, but you’ll definitely be able to record great sounding recordings in a hotel room or apartment, just as long you’re in a quiet indoor environment. The high-pass filter on the Lewitt will also help you to filter away low rumbles and boom when recording in non-treated rooms.
What other recording studio equipment did I miss out in this post? Let me know in the comment section below as I love to learn from you as well.
Through the years of producing music, I slowly got rid of the GAS syndrome (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) and became quite minimal in music making, whether writing, composing, mixing or mastering. I mainly do all my work in the box right now.
Because of that producing music while traveling seems to be working well for me and I hope it will for you too, as making music out the studio is definitely a nice experience.
Don’t stay in a room, go out and get creative!
What about an audio interface for the mics? Or are the USB-connected mics you recommend?
Not only for mics, but connecting headphones through the audio interface is mandatory to monitor what you’re doing with greater accuracy..
I’d add that in order to make creative possibilities wider, it worth to take 1-2 hardware synths along (there are lots of great sounding portable ones around). At least I can’t imagine production completely in the box. Mixing in the box is fine, but not the production.