The Traveling Musician: 12 Items

This article is beneficial for musicians to enhance their creative output while traveling. I was overseas in the Middle East for a year and had to utilize minimalist music equipment in order to upkeep my music production and ghostwriting services. Taking a minimalist approach to constructiing music FORCES you to be resourceful with the materials you have. Being resourceful is one of the key components to set yourself apart from competition because it eliminates excuses, limiting beliefs about “substandard” equipment and gives you an opportunity to try different approaches. Here is my list of equipment and techniques for traveling musicians:

  1. Mobile Music Applications – This was huge when I traveled on trains, buses and public transportation. I needed to consistently come up with concepts to challenge my craft and enhance its veracity. Some IOS applications include: Garageband, Traktor DJ, DM1 etc. There are plenty of applications that you can search on the web to make your decision on which one suits your needs as a producer and most are touch screen sensitive. I generally utilized mobile devices for concepts but with the advent of application innovative technology you are able to produce full-fledged songs without the aid of an external DAW. Sounds, projects and loops can be easily exported on to your computer in WAV/AIFF files or imported into the DAW itself for further tweaking. It’s also a cost effective way to music production and there are plenty of free applications.
  2. Laptop - I have a Macbook Pro, a 1TB hard drive and a 5 TB external hard drive. Always back up your music to the cloud or an external hard drive in case your HD becomes damaged or your computer is stolen. Never have your external in the same bag as your computer in case of theft. You want to have a lot of RAM for processing power when using multiple plug-ins and VSTs for maximum functionality and to keep inefficiency to a minimum.
  3. Recording Interface - Purchase an audio interface with great analogue to digital conversion and preferably something small. I use theApogee Duet with a 192 Khz sample rate and 24 bit depth for maximum quality. The Apogee Duet also has 2 inputs and 4 outputs that can be linked to an IOS device if needed. Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is a good 2nd choice for those on a budget and has a great sound for a fraction of the price. You can record direct input with the interface rather than hauling around an amplifier and there are great plug-ins to add distortion and FX like Guitar Rig, Waves GTR 3 and IK Multimedia.
  4. TRS Cables and XLR Balanced Cables -  These will be important for plugging in microphones, guitars, synthesizers and other outboard pieces of music equipment. I recommend anything made by Mogami. Mogami’s products are durable, have fast conductors, superior metal components and a wide frequency spread. Double up in cables just in case – they take a hell of a beating when recording.
  5. Reference Headphones -  I bought AKG 702’s and I absolutely love them. They are affordable and have a very flat sound. Sennheiser makes the top open-can headphones HD 800 (Best) and 600. This will be different than mixing in a regular treated room ,so make sure you are cross referencing with speakers to be safe. *The ¼ TRS tip will be used to plug into your audio interface. Don’t make the mistake of forgetting this. Optional: You can buy a HS5 Yamaha speaker and listen in mono if need be for sound quality.
  6. Drum Pad/ MIDI Keyboard Hybrid- These are useful for full-fledged music production and can really replace a lot of outboard equipment when used with VSTs and production software that links up with your MIDI keyboards through USB or FireWire cables. -  http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/MPKmini2
  7. Audio Plug-Ins, DAWs and Virtual Instruments – These will be your bread and butter in terms of music production. Virtual instruments can be triggered by the MIDI devices for overall music creation. I tend to use Native Instruments as my go to for VSTs – they have a wide variety of different programs useful for production (Check out the whole package with their Komplete Series). Sounds can be altered in the DAW for structure, recording, production, mixing/mastering etc. I tend to focus on Pro Tools and Logic Pro as a reliable DAW. Enhancements and engineering are done through audio plug-ins often times resembling a piece of real life analogue equipment. My favorite plug-in companies are Waves, Sound Toys and Universal Audio that emulate real pieces of gear in the analogue world.
  8. Microphone, Portable Vocal Booth and Mic Stand – Collapsible. Most microphone stands are collapsible and don’t take up much room in a suitcase other than a rod you can put on the bottom of your luggage underneath. A condenser microphone is essential for recording vocals and any sort of tangible instrument. The best bang for your buck will be the SM7 Shure- Michael Jackson used this microphone for Thriller. This is industry standard and many great records were recorded with Shure equipment. The portable vocal booth functionality is to provide ample acoustics when recording and deaden sound minimizing reflections that could interfere with the recording process.
  9. Borrowing and/or Purchasing Equipment @ Destination – Ideally some equipment is not permissible to haul around everywhere you go. I bought a great used guitar at a discount price in Dubai (Around $100 US) and sold it before I left. It was a Stella Harmony guitar that Kurt Cobain used on Nirvana’s Nevermind album. There is always the option to rent out equipment as well at studios for music equipment and recording. Safety Note: Try to get most recording out of the way before departure. Focus on recording instruments that you can not bring with you on the trip and would be hard to find elsewhere when traveling. Don’t expect all the equipment to be at your disposal when you get to your destination.
  10. Internet Services - You can always find people to mix for you as well on freelance sites and/or other reputable sites from professionals - Make sure they are credible and have them provide previous work. Purchasing singers, ghostwriters, songwriters etc. can be found just a click away on websites such as elance.com, Fiverr.com, Freelancer.com etc. Here are some services I offer on Fiverr.com. Mixing and mastering services can be outsourced to recording studios but may be pricey.
  11. Original Packaging/Protective Cases to protect equipment from damage during traveling. I used to always throw my packaging away after I purchased a product until I started traveling. The Styrofoam and dimensions of the original packaging go a long way when transporting different pieces of equipment – Anything from protecting your buttons, knobs, screens etc. these are useful and free. I always put my most significant and fragile items in my carry - on.
  12. Multiple Universal Adapter Plugs – This is imperative if you are going to different countries with multiple wattage restrictions. You don’t want to blow out your assets and start from scratch or put yourself in a financial situation. Don’t worry as these are relatively cheap. Buy power chords with compound outlets.

Important: Two pieces of equipment you do not want to skimp on when traveling to get the best out of your recordings are Studio Headphones and a High Quality Audio Interface. The interface to produce a great analogue to digital conversion and studio headphones for accurate mixing/mastering. Always insure your equipment before departure for any mishaps that might take place overseas.

These are the pieces of equipment and tips that worked for me creating a seamless amount of music throughout my travels. If there are any techniques or pieces of advice you would like to give – Please reply in the comment section below. I would love to hear about keeping your music vision alive while traveling!