So you want to be a traveling music producer but are worried about taking your home studio and music gear around. Is it possible to travel and make music? Will the quality of my mixes and masters suffer? I've personally been a traveling music producer and I've spent the last 3 years running a freelance business in the music industry. In this article, I'll share how you can do the same.
It's possible to produce music and be on the move – it's just a little more difficult than having a studio base.
Important Starting Note – Traveling Audio Engineering Isn't Really Logistically Possible
Being a traveling music producer, beat maker or composer is much easier to pull off than for those of you who want to be audio engineers. With audio engineering, you need a huge deal of equipment to get professional recordings, often need soundproofing setups to mix and master music, and these aren't really portable.
The one workaround to this would be to travel from location to location but to carefully plan your trip before, so you're always near a studio that you can rent out.
Although this makes mixing and mastering much more possible during your travels, it's still very difficult to plan and be mobile like this, because studios are commonly fully booked and find it hard to slot people in.
A great way to travel as an audio engineer would be to scout your studios first (5-6 months in advance of your travels), and contact them each to book long periods of use.
No studio is going to turn down an entire month's booking if they have the space, it's guaranteed money for them!
You'll have to do this for your entire travel and it holds you down to single locations for weeks and months at a time. If you're ok with this, then it's entirely possible, but realistically speaking – for a lot of audio engineers – being a traveling producer just isn't feasible.
Tips For Mixing and Mastering While You're on The Move
Although you will always get a better result in a studio environment, there are ways to mix and master audio, without needing the fancy setup.
To mix and master professionally while traveling, you'll need these things:
- A portable audio interface
- A set of flat-frequency response mixing and mastering headphones that you know well
- Mixing and mastering meter plugins that don't need hardware or online authorization
- Headphone flattening curve software like Sound ID Reference
- Studio emulation software such as Waves CLA NX
- Multiple reference devices – headphones, mobiles, portable speakers etc.
You want to ensure that you have a pair of headphones you know inside and out, because these will most of the time be your only reference source, apart from phone speakers and extra pairs of earbuds.
This knowledge, combined with studio emulation software can help you make more informed decisions in the process.
They will never be as good as the real thing, but if you are hell-bent on traveling as a mixing or mastering engineer there are many that do, using this software to pinpoint mixes and masters.
The most useful software I have used to get pristine mix and masters on my sample packs are:
- Sound ID Reference – flattening headphone response (even flat headphones aren't entirely flat)
- CLA NX – studio simulation software. This really helps to gauge bass especially and multiple times I've overdone the bass in headphones, this has been my saviour in hearing the problem
- Soothe 2 – combine with CLA NX, I use Soothe to reduce the bass, without ruining the thick boom that I want from sounds. It really helps to clean up the low end on mastering
- L3116 Limiter – fantastic multiband limiter for pushing tracks to the max without causing unwanted artifacts or distortion
Traveling As A Beatmaker, Music Producer, Sound Designer etc.
As a beatmaker, sound designer, or composer all you need is a laptop, your plugins, and a good set of headphones. I've personally made entire, professional sample packs on the move.
You can see the process I followed in this series I wrote for Pirate Studios:
I also have videos where I break down my melody writing and my sound design process, and my thoughts. I only use headphones, the MIDI roll, and plugins – that's it!
Your Portable Studio Setup
Personally, I would recommend traveling as light as you possibly can. We've been traveling the world using one bag to live out of for a while now, and while you're on the move, the heavier stuff is, the more cumbersome you are and it's going to bog you down.
I'd personally recommend dropping the MIDI Controller.
If you really need a MIDI controller the most portable one, with the most keys is the M-Audio Ministation 32. However, you should really consider how much bag space it's going to take up. Once you implement a good MIDI chord drawing workflow (full guide) it's much quicker to smash out melodies and chords too.
Here's what you should take for music production while traveling and what I've manged to survive with during my travels:
- Laptop (Macbook if possible) – Windows machines require laborius driver updates, while Mac is plug and play. Every audio application is optimized for Mac over PC. Short of it is, if you're scrimping on your budget, don't scrimp here. Get a Mac.
- Minimum specs:
- 16GB Ram (you can get by with 8, but it's annoying… trust me I know from experience)
- dual-core i5 or higher
- Minimum specs:
- Portable recorder – there are 3 recommended options (I chose the cheapy one H1n)
- Zoom H1n– cheap and works perfectly fine (I used this to design all my audio samples in my packs, from scratch), no mic inputs or anything special
- Zoom H2n – same as the H1n, but allows surround sound recordings
- Zoom H6 – 2 XLR inputs, stereo and surround recording, removable and replaceable mic heads
- Audio interface – for mic inputs and better sample rates inside your DAW
- Any of the Scarlett audio interface range is great and have good mic preamps
- ID44 is a fantastic audio interface too
- Audient Evo 4 is another great budget pick
- Good Mixing and Mastering Headphones
- Portable External HDD or SSD
- Seagate cheap HDD works fine. Got mine for £30-50 and I've used it for over 2 years now, no problems, dropped multiple times etc.
- USB Hub and adapters
- Battery pack for charging your laptop and other devices
- This 25000mah one works well, it's cheap and cheerful (don't expect it to last a long time, but it's £30
That's it! It's really all you need to be a traveling music producer. You can easily fit this in a 40L bag, and you can take your 40L bag as carry-on luggage to save money on flights.
Deciding on A Good Bag To Take Traveling
If you're backpacking and moving from place to place, do not take checked luggage with you. It will put the prices of the plane tickets up by a large amount, and you're not going to be able to be mobile with a load of bags.
I personally recommend (and use myself) a 40L bag, which is carry-on size and passes all airline requirements.
Important note: don't scrimp on a cheap Amazon bag. This bag is going to be your life for however long you are traveling, it's good to invest in one that is high quality and will last.
I can't stress that last point enough – go to the store to try on your bag and to try different brands. Treat it as you're shopping for clothes or shoes. The online process for finding fit and feel is a nightmare.
Making Your Money Go Further While Traveling
Book Month Stays on AirBnB
Hosts discount monthly stays on Airbnb by a huge amount. And, if you're staying monthly, it's still legal to rent an Airbnb in most countries (it's illegal in some places to rent on AirBnB for less than a month… really)
For instance, in Thailand, it's illegal to rent out unless it's for a month. I've personally rented for less than a month and had no issues doing so, but it doesn't mean you'll be fine.
Let's take a look at the exact same stay for 3 days vs the exact same stay for an entire month. We are staying in this place in the future, so I have blurred the images for obvious reasons.
3 days costs you almost a quarter of what an entire month does!
It's important to look at the terms and conditions of each stay you book because some will charge extra for electricity and water per month, but it's usually not much at all.
Airbnb is your best bet when traveling because you don't need a proper visa to be able to rent, sign papers or get into some kind of mortgage contract. However, if you do have the proper Visa (in Bali for instance), you could get the same place for £200-300 rent per month instead of the £400 asking price on Airbnb.
Limit Drinking and Eating Out (Unless You're Somewhere Really Cheap)
Drinking alcohol is fun and all until you wake up the next day and realize how much you spent and how many stupid decisions you made the night before. I know as musicians, we love to go out and party, but honestly, when you stop screwing with your body, your mind becomes so much clearer.
Drinking also costs an absolute bomb no matter where you go.
It might be cheaper in certain countries, but if you're going out 4 times per month, you're still going to be spending quite a bit on drinking alone.
The other big cost is eating out. If you're in South East Asia it's really cheap to eat street food in the non-touristy areas.
If you want to save money and eat out do this:
- Don't eat in the mall (Starbucks, KFC, McDs all charge premium – why would you want them anyway?)
- Don't eat in touristy areas (look for locals, it's the sign of good food and good value – even in touristy areas you can find cheaper, better food)
- Don't eat in many sit-down restaurants (these charge a premium for the atmosphere and the admittedly better food)
Avoid Touristy Areas
Like we mentioned above in the food section, touristy areas are much more expensive, and you're much more likely to get ripped off or scammed here.
For example, for the same street food in Thailand in KhaoSan road, you're paying triple, and you're getting the exact same thing. Just go a little out of the tourist trap areas, and get the same food 3x cheaper – it really is that simple.
The same goes for drinking – drink at local bars! It's more fun anyway. You're here to travel and experience other culture, get involved in it! People love to share their culture in my experience and the places that “look” bad are usually the ones you have the best time in and find the most friendly people in.
It's Not A Holiday Don't Treat It As Such
It can be easy to think because you're abroad, in the sun, with a pool or by the beach that it's a holiday. Don't let your mind break its routine. Keep up your exercise, keep waking up early and getting your daily tasks done.
I like to keep Mon-Fri workdays 9am – 5pm. After 5pm I can do what I like, but I often work later than this, because that's just the nature of owning a business.
Make sure you keep your healthy eating in check too. Eating like cr*p makes you feel like cr*p and you're more likely to be a lazy slob if you kill your diet. Staying physical, and keeping your diet and routine are key to having a sharp, productive mind.
Generally, I like to have a more relaxed Friday. Then on the weekend I go do whatever I like! Explore wherever, rent a motorbike, ride around, go to the markets, travel somewhere local, and meet new people!
Take Public Transport
Getting public transport is completely safe in most countries, even if the buses are a little bit rougher around the edges. You will save so much getting the public transport the locals get.
The stuff with AC that looks a bit more pristine will cost a lot more and it really does mount up.
Digital Nomad Visa Options for Travelling Music Producers
Ok, so you've figured everything out. How you're going to get there, where you're going to stay etc. But what about Visas for long stays? Can you work on a tourist Visa in your desired country? What requirements do you need to access Visas that open the doors to renting properties, getting an official bank account etc?
I've personally been to South East Asia (for now) so can only speak on the Asian Visas.
Most Asian countries offer 30 days Visas on arrival (depending on where you're from). There are different rules for each country on what is considered work and if you're actually allowed to work in the country while on a tourism Visa. We recommend checking out this digital nomad Visa guide for Asia to help you understand further.
In Thailand, you can still manage a Shopify store, blog, or other forms of business during your stay, as long as you are not offering services to Thai people, or taking work from Thai citizens, that could be done by Thai citizens.
You can't get a job or offer mixing and mastering services to a Thai person. It's better to work remotely because remote work is difficult to track and it's very unlikely you'll get pulled up for it.
However, we always advise you to get the proper Visa for where you're going.
If you're a freelancer, you'll want to look into Business Visas, and the different nomad Visa options available. You will have to meet some requirements for different countries, so check your individual country and see what you need to qualify.
Some are much easier than others. For instance, Indonesia is offering a 5-year residency, tax-free if you can prove an income of $1500/month. This is insane, and if you already make this from remote studio work, you can relocate pretty quickly and easily.
For the most part, as long as you do not take work from someone in the country, offer services to anyone in the country, and are making money outside of the country's borders – you'll be fine.
But, we always recommend getting the correct Visa for your travels to be sure.
With over 8 years of hands-on experience in the music industry, Harry has run successful raves, played alongside industry heavyweights such as Max Chapman, DJ EZ, DJ Zinc and more (pictured below), had music played on national radio, DJ'd on live radio, produced until he hated every song, mixed until his ears bled, created sample packs from scratch using just a Zoom H1n and some sound design skills… and pretty much anything related to music production – he's done it, tested it, tried it.