10 tips for making music on the go

It’s possible to replace or replicate almost every item in your recording studio with devices that will work on the bus, train or in a hotel room. With them, you need never be shackled to your home studio ever again!

Mobile music Bandlab

Mobile music Bandlab

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Want to produce music on the move? Do you have a long commute that is wasted each day? Then these 10 tips will help you out next time you’re making music on the go.

Choose your playback system

JBL One Series 104
The JBL One Series 104 monitors are portable, but getting them out on public transport will not endear you to your fellow passengers

No, monitors aren’t much use on the bus, but your playback system is a critical part of any studio – whether it’s a desktop home studio or a mobile one. If you are not listening to a true representation of your music, then you might as well be listening to it through a pair of tin cans.

For making music on the move, the most obvious option is to use headphones. On a mid-budget level, consider models from Yamaha (MT series) or Audio Technica (MTH series). At the higher end consider Adam Audio’s Studio Pro SP-5, AKG’s K812 or Beyerdynamic’s DT 1990 Pro.

If you’re looking for something compact but a little less mobile, there are several monitors that you can carry around in a case. If you have the opportunity to set up on a desk, speakers like the IK Multimedia iLoud MTM or JBL One Series 104 can deliver true results in a small package.

Use a mobile DAW that shares

Korg Gadget
Korg’s Gadget 2 is an able and fun mobile DAW that can export Ableton Live sessions

If you’re using a mobile device to capture new ideas and want to develop them further on desktop, you’ll have to choose your mobile DAW carefully. You may want a mobile DAW that can save files to a format that can be read by your desktop DAW, for example. Happily, some of the big guns of desktop music-making are making DAWs for mobile devices, which means the two formats will often talk to one another, so you can readily swap projects between your two setups.

Korg’s Gadget 2, for instance, can export files to Ableton Live, and Steinberg’s Cubasis 2 can export in a variety of formats. For FL Studio users, FL Studio Mobile is worth checking out, and Logic users can lean on Garageband to an extent, too. That’s before we even mention BandLab which works across iOS, Android and Chrome. Even just making sure you can export to Dropbox or iCloud will help get your mobile work into your home setup.

Don’t be put off by Bluetooth

Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT
Bluetooth needn’t be a problem, just avoid trying to play anything in time

Bluetooth has a bit of a bad rep when it comes to music-making, and with good reason. Latency is a gold-plated pain in the proverbial when you’re trying to play virtual instruments or record audio. Latency, of course, is the delay between pressing a note and hearing a sound, and Bluetooth’s wireless protocol is famously laggy.

However, if you’re 100% dedicated to a cable-free existence, and only intend to mix and trigger loops, then Bluetooth could be an option. In fact, we’ve tested some decent mobile Bluetooth setups recently such as the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT headphones and – if you have space to crack them out – the Thonet & Vander Kurbis BT Bluetooth monitors.

It’s a stick up

Patriot Supersonic Rage 2 (256BG)
Storage and backup needn’t be cumbersome with affordable (and fast) USB sticks

We always recommend lightning-fast external drives for backing up and making music, but if you are out and about you don’t really want lots of cables and black boxes hanging out of your laptop. Well, the solution is a better one than you might realise. USB drives have not only plummeted in price, but they’ve vastly increased in capacity and the USB 3 format delivers read and write speeds that are fantastic for music-making. The Patriot 512GB Supersonic Rage 2 promises up to 400MB/second read speed and 300MB/second write and will give you a massive 512GB for around £150. If you don’t need that capacity, there are plenty of USB 3.1 drives with a similar performance, but less space, starting at just £10.

Mirror, mirror, on the DAW

The AUv3 format is an affordable way of using your favourite plug-in on iOS

We’ve mentioned desktop and mobile DAWs that talk to one another but, where possible, think about the rest of your desktop studio and how you can mirror it on your mobile device. Having the same or similar tools in your desktop and mobile worlds will speed up your workflow through familiarity, and it will help with file exchange between platforms. You can buy some synths, for example, that have both mobile and desktop equivalents (stand up Korg again) and recently we reviewed a brilliant set of Fabfilter plug-ins that mirror their desktop cousins to perfection.

One-box wonders

iZoptope Spire
Having a device that’s designed solely for recording (and not scrolling through social media) is no bad thing

One of the other big trends in music production at the moment is the return of the hardware all-in-one device. It’s not so much the return of the groovebox or cassette multitracker, more their evolution into cool, battery-powered devices that will handle a vast number of studio tasks that you can take anywhere. For mobile recording, for example, consider iZotope’s marvellous Spire multitracker. For composition – and a lot more – try the incredible Teenage Engineering OP-Z. Also, investigate the Synthstrom Deluge and MPC Live, both of which offer up a lot of portable fun.

Interface your worlds

iRig 2
Mobile interfaces such as IK Multimedia’s iRig 2, let you get audio in and out cleanly

If you want to record audio, a good interface will be key to your mobile setup. Fortunately, there are plenty of options, no matter your needs. IK Multimedia has a major presence in this market with its iRig range, starting at under £100. Focusrite also has the excellent iTrack One Pre, which is a great way to record from any microphone into your iPhone or iPad.

Mobile your mic

Shure MV88
Virtually any external microphone will be an upgrade over your phone’s built-in mic

Lots of tablets and mobile devices come with built-in microphones so, really, recording audio couldn’t be any simpler, but if you want better quality then a decent microphone is key. There are two options here. To use a professional microphone you’ll need an interface like the aforementioned Focusrite iTrack One Pre that will allow you to plug a professional condenser microphone into your iPhone or iPad without needing any external power. The second option is a dedicated mobile microphone of which there are many out there. The Shure MV88 has long been one of our favourites, but IK, Rode and Zoom also have great ranges of mics, with models starting at around £50.

Get a decent keyboard

Korg Keyboard
If you’re not keen on playing instruments on the glass of your tablet or phone, then a controller keyboard is a good place to start

Yes, many synth apps and iOS DAWs come with their own touch keyboards, but nothing beats a good keyboard with real buttons or keys to press. You just need it to be mobile. Korg’s microKEY-25 is not only a great little keyboard for iPad but can also be bus-powered; M-Audio’s Keystation Mini 32 II offers a larger keyboard feel but is slightly less portable; and it almost goes without saying that IK has a number of mobile keys options with its iRig Keys range.

Finally… mobile control

Novation LaunchKey Mini Mk3
And if you’re not a keyboardist, look for alternative controllers

If you’re a drummer or non-keyboard player, there are plenty of are mobile options for you. Again, IK Multimedia has a strong offering in iRig Pads, which is ideal for mobile devices. Or, how about a controller that combines pads and a keyboard? Here, Novation’s recently reviewed Launchkey Mini Mk3 is a good option to combine your desktop and mobile music worlds.

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