17 Essentials for Your Music Production Bag
Whether you're traveling to your friend's place in the city, or attending a studio session on the other side of the world, realizing you forgot something at home sucks. It makes you look like an amateur at best, and could potentially sabotage an entire studio session at worst. This guide's goal is to save you any future hardships by clearly laying out what you should have in your bag of tricks at all times.
So first things first, what kind of bag should you have? You want something small and portable, but large enough to fit all your accessories in. You need two main compartments; one for your laptop, and one for your accessories. You don't need to spend a million dollars on a bag because you can get something great for around $30. This backpack looks nice and can hold all of the items on this list.
If style is a main concern of yours (and you're an artist, so of course it is), I'd recommend one of those Herschel backpacks. They're a little more pricey, but have nice large main compartments that are easy to get in and out of. They also come in all black, making them the perfect gift for that special Trap producer in your life.
This pretty much goes without saying. You need your bread and butter with you at all times. Before you leave your house, make sure your laptop has been updated, backed up on your external hard drive at home, backed up to cloud storage online, as well as charged. It's a good idea to find out which audio interface is being used in the session so that you can download the drivers ahead of time. One more thing to consider is making a recording template for your vocalist (if it's a recording session) so that you don't waste their time.
For some reason, my laptop charger was the one thing I would forget at home the most. To solve this issue I got an extra charger and I now leave it in my backpack at all times. You can save a ton of money on a charger by buying a knockoff brand like the one here. It costs around $24, so there's no need to spend well over double the price on a charger directly from Apple.
I have my external hard drive attached to the back of my laptop with a piece of velcro. This keeps it completely out of sight and clears up some valuable desk space. The setup you're walking into is often a mystery, so it's best to keep things as compact as possible.
Pro Tip: When you head through airport security with your external hard drive and a baffled security guard inevitably asks you what it is, don't say "it's a bomb." They don't think it's very funny for some reason.
This little MIDI keyboard lives in my backpack at all times. When I go out, it comes with me. I don't take it out at home because I have a main keyboard that I use. The MPK is durable and slim. It looks a little bit like a toy, but I've been tossing it around in my bag for years and it still works perfectly. It's definitely a massive upgrade from the piano roll on your laptop's keyboard.
I could write an entire article on which headphones to buy for certain situations, but what's important is that you just bring a pair. My favorite general purpose headphones are the ATH-M50x headphones from Audio Technica. They're closed back, clear enough to do a decent mix with, and comfortable to wear for long periods of time. If you're traveling, you'll be spending a lot of time sitting in a car, on a plane, etc. This is all time that you can be making the most of by producing!
The Zoom H4N is a great field recorder that also doubles as a portable audio interface. It runs on USB power and/or batteries. This is great for capturing samples out in the world, as well as for conducting things such as artist interviews. Having the ability to record high quality audio on-the-go is a complete game changer and turns the entire world around you into your personal sample library.
If you're looking for a high-grade interface that's also portable, Apollo just released one called the Apollo Arrow. Most of their interfaces are within the $1000-2500+ price range, but this one rings in at just $499. It uses the same technology as their other products to provide incredibly low latency and also allows you to run their coveted UAD plugins.
I used to just throw all the following items into the outside pocket of my backpack. The problem was that I would reach in to grab something and end up pulling out a rats nest of cables in search of the one I needed. The BUBM accessories organizer is perfect for keeping all your smaller accessories organized and easily accessible. It has two compartments with various different elastic bands and zippered compartments to hold everything in place.
If you expect to be able to access any of your software that requires an iLok, you'll need your iLok! I used to keep my iLok on the same key ring as all my keys, but it was really annoying trying to plug a handful of metal into my laptop. Now I just keep it in the BUBM organizer. I have it with me at all times and it's easy to access it.
I mostly use these USB sticks for transferring files between other producers and myself. It's not always guaranteed there will be an internet connection when I'm in a session with someone, so it's important to have a way to share files. Larger USB sticks take longer to transfer files, while smaller ones take less time. This isn't a huge deal if you aren't transferring a ton of files, but still, something to keep in mind.
Audio interface, MIDI keyboard, external hard drive, and maybe even a mouse. That's a lot to try and plugin to your laptop at once. You'll want to make sure you have a USB hub so that you can connect everything you need to your laptop.
You don't realize how convenient these are until you have them. Let's say you're meeting someone out in public and you want to share some music with them. Maybe you're out for lunch and it's inappropriate to be blasting music out of your laptop. If you both want to listen to music at the same time, you can each connect to the headphone splitter and listen to music together!
These are similar to guitar picks in the way that they magically vanish. It's almost like as they fall to the ground, they tear through an interdimensional rift, never to be seen again. Anyways, stock up on these so that you can make sure you're always able to connect your headphones to pro audio equipment.
Aux cords are like condoms. It's better to have one and not need one, then to need one and not have one. You know what? Bring a couple just in case.
I know a lot of artists that write full sets of lyrics on their phone. They'll even record vocals by reading right off of their phone. I'll keep session notes on my phone as well. Unless you plan on bringing a pen and paper to your session (which is actually a great idea), it's best to have a power block and charging cable.
A portable charger acts as a backup power supply if you can't find an outlet anywhere. If you have your own home studio, you'll know just how limited outlets can become. The backpack I recommended previously even allows you to connect your portable charger to it. This means you can plug your USB cable into a port on the bag and have access to power!
With so much pro audio equipment requiring power from an outlet, it's easy to forget that some products still require batteries (such as the Zoom H4N). Batteries are extremely cheap on Amazon and an absolute essential to have around:
You can download a checklist of all the items mentioned in this list here. If you come up with any more suggestions, make sure to leave a comment below so that I can add them to the list.
Keep up-to-date with more great articles like this one by following Black Ghost Audio on Facebook and Twitter. Additionally, join our private Facebook page to connect with other like-minded producers and industry professionals!