Happiness is a portable studio

The last couple of months I’ve been working super, super hard on building up enough of a back catalogue of music to be able to put a couple of releases out next year. I start my PhD in a few days and wanted to try and ensure I had a single and an EP completed by then, so that I can spend my soon-to-be-more-limited free time on slowly working out a live set and dealing with the logistics of actually getting the songs out in the world.

I live in a tiny, sometimes claustrophobic flat that gets really noisy sometimes (I live next door to a drummer!) and feels pretty isolated. I like to be able to move my workplace around easily – if I’m lacking inspiration or stuck on something, heading to a coffee shop, a friend’s house, or even the park sometimes solves it. Where I live, in Clapton, you see dozens of writers and designers and other creative people tapping away on their laptops in all kinds of public places. I wanted to see if I could transfer that work ethic to music.

So here’s my setup.

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Here we have:

  • An iPad Mini 2. I’ve had this for about two years but only started using it for music this summer. I pretty much exclusively use either Nanostudio (for soft synths and sequencing) or Beatmaker 2 (for audio tracks) for music-making. It’s absolutely not too small for production and I adore it.
  • A Teenage Engineering OP-1. I agonised over buying this because they are so expensive but I use it for everything, and I do mean everything. Sampling, modelling synths using the built-in engines, as a rompler, as a sequencer (it also gets used as a bass keytar in one of my other bands but that’s by the by). I find the tape interface too tricky to do anything more than sketch out ideas with since my songs are mostly not loop-based, so I usually plug in an old iRig and record straight into Beatmaker on the iPad with it. It’s absolutely my favourite synth.
  • An iUke. This doesn’t usually leave the house with me for day-to-day stuff but if I travel further afield I do take it – I use it entirely for working out chords before I start tracking, and don’t record with it. It’s about 2/3 the size of a regular ukulele.
  • A pair of Panasonic over-ear headphones. I’ve been using these for nearly a decade and they’re my second pair. Stick to what you know.

All the songs on my 2016 releases were completed just with this equipment – the combination of the iPad’s more visual soft synths and the OP-1’s more tactile hardware feels like everything I could possibly want at the moment. Currently, vocals and proper mixing happen at my friend Darren‘s (who is totally brilliant and I could not ask for a better producer, hire him to mix things for you because he’s amazing), but I’m hoping to take this over on my laptop (or even on the iPad) when I’ve got a better understanding of how to do it myself, and some money to spend on a microphone and interface.

I feel like this combination of gear has really fed my creativity and productivity – I can fit this stuff in a backpack, and it’s so much fun to take out the OP-1 under a tree in the park or make loops in Nanostudio on the bus. The result is that I get way more done than I would if I could only write and record in one place. I absolutely know this would be a really bizarre setup for a lot of people who make electronic music but I can’t imagine a better one for me.

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