I find it pretty funny. After years of spending a lot of time and money to get nice monitors for the studio, proper acoustic treatment, a really nice chair, and generally making things as comfortable as possible, as soon as the weather turns nice all I want to do is get out of there. 🙂
As most people can probably tell by looking at any of my album or song covers, I love being out in nature. Sitting inside when the weather is nice (heck, even when it isn’t sometimes) can be torture, and one of the last things I can focus on is writing music. I think that’s one reason I love Seattle so much, so much incredible scenery close by, but also a lot of rainy days where I’m forced to stay in the studio and get things done.
Needless to say, I was pretty happy a few years ago when I got my first laptop, and realized I could make music while out and about. I’d often grab that, my DJ headphones, and a small midi controller (a Edirol PCR-m1 at first) and head to a local park to make music. Even for a portable set up it was a little overkill I think, kind of heavy, and honestly not very discrete. I’d often get people coming up to me wanting to see what I was doing, and the last thing I want to do in that kind of situation is talk to strangers while trying to write music.
Overtime I slowly stopped bringing the midi keyboard, and started just using the QWERTY keys to enter notes. A handy function that I first started using with Ableton Live, and sometimes Logic too. After the keyboard started staying home, eventually I stopped bringing the large DJ headphones, and switched to smaller earbuds (Shure E2c’s then, now E3c’s). Now I no longer looked like some weird musician in the park, and instead like some loser doing office work at the park instead of enjoying nature 🙂 Plus, it’s not like I need perfect audio in a situation like that, I’m not doing a final mixdown. I just need to hear basically what I’m doing, any critical listening is going to be done back in the studio.
But, while it was a huge improvement in portability over my first attempts, it still was kind of bulky to bring a backpack padded enough for my laptop. And truth be told, I was always nervous about something happening to the laptop, which by then was my main production machine too. I’d ride my bikes to parks a lot, and you never know when you might crash, or some stranger decides they want your laptop.
So I was really interested when a friend told me about the program called “Bhajis Loops” that you could run on a Palm Pilot. Finally, something I could put in my pocket and make music on! I quickly bought a Palm TX1 just to use for Bhajis, and suddenly my options for locations to make music on the go increased greatly. At the time, Bhajis was one of the best options for music making with such a small form-factor, it was loads of fun. There were a lot of limitations, you couldn’t do a lot before running out of CPU power, or killing the battery, but it still was pretty powerful in what you could do.
It was a great improvement in portability, and meant I could now bring my music making tools with me further out into the woods. I wasn’t lugging a large and heavy laptop around, so I no longer was confined to local parks that often had a lot of other people there too. I’d toss the Palm in my Camelbak and hit the trails on my mountain bike looking for nice spots to spend the day writing music. Or I’d just go to a local forest and pick a direction, and just start walking in the woods until I found somewhere comfortable to work for awhile. Finally, beautiful locations AND solitude!
As great as Bhajis was then, there were still some things that made me always on the look out for a new tool to fill the same role. For one, syncing with the laptop was always kind of hit and miss, especially once I got my MacBook Pro. More a fault of Palm than Bhajis, but still something that could cause you to pull some hair out when you were trying to get data back and forth in the studio.
Today things are of course a lot easier, with an iPhone/iPad and NanoStudio or Garageband, I have exponentially more power and options at my finger tips. Syncing and data transfer is dead simple, and the tools are just plain easier to use. Sound quality is better too, the Palm TX1 always had a slight whine in the headphones that could get to you. 🙂
There’s still a lot of times these days I’ll just grab my iPhone and head out into the woods to work on music. In a bit of irony, now that I have devices more capable of creating finished songs on them, I no longer really focus on that. I find that I’m much more productive just working on melodies, maybe mangling a sample, or just playing around with random ideas looking for a new hook. Or even sampling sounds to mangle later, or taking pictures for new album covers. Then I can transfer all that to the laptop back in the studio and I’ve got the hard part of coming up with new song ideas already done. I feel less pressure to ‘finish the song’ and I can just enjoy music making in scenic places. After all, ultimately that’s what getting out of the studio is all about.
A lot of people seemed to like the Production Q&A I did last week, so it looks like it’s something I’ll continue to do. So, if you’ve got any questions you’d like me to tackle, please send them my way. Haven’t gotten many questions yet for round two yet!
Also, check back in a couple days, the new downtempo DJ set I did for the RK2 Podcast 5 Year Anniversary will be going live on June 19th.