Does Mobile Music Making Matter?

Mobile Music Making

Ashley Elsdon – the writer and musician behind the blog Palm Sounds – has posted some interesting thoughts on why he thinks mobile music is important.

He mentions three main reasons why he thinks mobile music making matters. The first reason is immediacy and access:

Inspiration doesn’t appear on a schedule, and doesn’t recognise when you have time to set up your gear or access the right equipment.

We’ve all had times when you we have a great idea for a track but by the time you get to a computer, or whatever else you use to make music, the idea has gone, possibly never to return. It might have been an incredible idea for a track or song, or it might not, but you’ll never know, so what can you do?

Being able to capture your inspiration and ideas wherever you are and with just the tiny device that sits in your pocket can go a long way to solving that problem. Sure, it’s not going to replace an entire professional studio, at least not yet anyway, but there are now so many different applications that you can use. From synths to multitrack recorders to drum machines to sequencers to guitars and esoteric instruments and every combination in between.

Now you can have the option of turning your dull bus journey into something more productive. If that’s what you want, of course.

Miniaturization is an ongoing trend in electronics and it’s driving mobilization – making everything portable. This means that it’s inevitable that the computing power of your desktop or laptop DAW is going to fit in your pocket within a few years.

It’s an interesting trend to see happening – and it’s surprising to see how some musicians embrace the trend and others resist it. Some, like Elsdon, relish the idea of putting their otherwise wasted time to better use, making beats on the bus and tracks on the train.

This sort of thing annoys the crap out of a lot of musicians, though. If you’re making music on a phone on a bus, is it going to be anything like the music forged out of the interactions between musicians and physical gear in the ‘real world’?

Here’s an example of what one musician, Detroit Underground artist Exillon (Jay Fields), is doing with the mobile virtual studio app TableTop:

While mobile music making has been one of the more divisive subject we’ve covered, it’s here to stay, just as digital synths followed analog synths, DAWs followed tape, virtual synths followed digital synths and laptops followed desktops.

You can read Elsdon’s full essay  as a guest post at Music 4.5.

What do you think about the mobile music making trend?

Image via oldzooey_WPiS

46 thoughts on “Does Mobile Music Making Matter?

  1. I think in another 20 years all this stuff will seem super kitschy. Remember in the 80s how everything was going to be digital and you'd see phil collins playing an electronic drum kit or something and be like "woah man, we're like, living in the future!" but now that stuff seems kind of cheesy. I mean listen to some of Chic Correa's albums from the 80s. It's not horrible but it has a high cheese factor which can be cool in a "retro" or "ironic" way. But I think most of this "mobile craze" stuff is going to end up like that. OK, sure, some of the cheesiest gear of the 80s like those Roland drum machines are beloved classics now but they in no way ever threatened live drummers using real drums. You just know most of this mobile crap is going to look so corny in another 10 or 20 years. If you wanted to make beats on the bus so bad you could've been using a laptop for like the last ten years already. I just find these stories about "omg i had an inspiration on the bus and made a hit on the way to work!" to be a bit of fantasy, that's just not a realistic view of the creative process.

  2. I agree, in fact I'm surprised to see this article so long after the "1 man + 1 laptop + Starbucks" fad had died. As far as i'm concerned, it was a marketing craze to try and cash in on the laptops and ipods that suddenly became affordable about 10 years ago.

    I agree, there's a certainty cheezyness to it. I can someone who once felt so cutting edge and important to be carrying around a laptop and 25 key controller just for "when the moment strikes" feels about as dumb as all those virgins that used to carry condoms around in their wallets in the 80's just to look cool.

  3. give me a couple of traynor tdm-50 battery powered amps, some kaos pads, effects pedals, yamaha csl-1's, montrons and whatever other battery powered droids you can get your hands on… and some friends, out in nature, or on a boat, or where ever… can make for the best camping trip ever. and granted the sounds may not be the best, but sometimes it's not about the best sound, or virtuosity or who's the biggest gear s/knob.

    and if I had an OP-1… damn straight I'd rock that shit too. =p

  4. we find ourselves here, hoff! because we are cut from the same cloth.
    listen guys, music technology is about trends. period. in the last few years some of the trends have gotten cheaper.
    electronic music has a way of coming around and making fools of us all.
    i remember the day i turned down a 303 and 808 for 300 bucks for the two of them,
    yeah, i'm old. but i was also convinced at the time that i really needed the next rectangular piece of shit the rolandkogyamaha-poop made.
    i regret it.
    it's all good.
    live and learn.
    this time tomorrow night a group of us will be standing on the bank of the river playing our brains out with iphones, mini korg devices, guitars and effects on battery powered speakers for no good reason at all except that this shit is fun.
    i have leaned in the past with the hoff above ( we live across the country from each other now… awesome random) that you can play anywhere now. awesomepossum.


  5. As the guy who wrote the article I would disagree that this is all a fad. In fact the chiptuners have been going for a very long time now and are not what I would refer to as a fad.

    Perhaps it is just about what you deem to be a fad. I've been using mobile music tech for about 10 years now. Does that make it a fad? How long does something need to be around to cease being a fad?

    As for the last point on inspiration / the creative process, this is just your view. The creative process is not the same for everyone, and if you think that having inspiration on the bus isn't part of the creative process then I'd respectfully suggest that it just isn't part of your creative process, but may be part of someone else's.

    Also, being able to have access to music making tools anywhere is quite useful. I for one wouldn't take a laptop up Snowdon or any other mountain for that matter, but I might still want to make some music when I'm up there and an iPhone is a little bit lighter.

  6. I honestly don't know what's supposed to be new about mobile music making. There have been mobile music gadgets at least since the 80s with sequencers you can carry along to capture ideas at least since the 90s and laptops powerful enough to run a lot of music stuff since about the same time, mid to late 90s. I've used train rides to compose using Logic on my PowerBook years ago. It's not a craze, it's not a hype, it's not new, but one thing is for sure: It matters. Just like being able to do other technology heavy things on the road. And if you travel (as part of your job) you usually can't take your studio with you, but you'll have a laptop with you. Although I'd miss having a decent keyboard with me. Entering notes by clicking or typing has mostly lost its appeal for me and mobile music gear will never be a substitute for a real keyboard or a bass guitar, a drum kit, or other instrument you can actually play in a traditional way.

  7. It’s about computers, and theyre getting smaller and better, that’s all. Apps are a fad sure, like amplified music was a fad. But me and the old timers still get together for a nice hootenanny and fuck those stupid kids, my validity depends on them remaining invalid. Sure things will seem cheesy in the future, a comment board might seem like it’s for old retards one day. Who cares, more people are making music and much of it’s mediocre but guess what? The golden age of rock and pop is over. What’s next? Don’t know but the leaders probably won’t be exclusionists.

  8. tiny little things, for tiny little people with tiny little hands…….

    and boring as can be, please next fad hurry hurry

  9. I see mobile music apps more as musical sketchbooks than actual production environments. Since the size still gives at least a bit of an impression regarding the flexibility and power of an electronic device, it seems quite obvious to me that mobile devices will always be less powerful than their non-mobile counterparts.

    But again, I think that mobile devices can be great inspirational help. I produce all of my music with a DAW, plugins and hardware synths. But many of my patterns and melodies were first sketched with Korg DS-10. Where even booting up my "real" production environment takes quite a long time, I just turn on the Nintendo DS, draw some notes and maybe there's something that I like and then I transfer that melody to my more professional devices.

    The funny thing is – I have already tried a lot of similar software tools for iOS (e.g. BeatMaker 2) and still keep coming back to Korg DS-10. It has few tweaking possiblities, just 2 synth tracks (+ drums) but maybe I get inspired by exactly these limitations…

  10. For me mobile apps started as just a new way to interact with the process. I switched over to software only about 2 years ago, so when I got the iMS-20 app the ability to touch the patch points was the big draw. It wasn't until I had completed my first song on the iMS-20, and got the idea to start the mastering on my car's audio, that I really "got it"!

    We all know that a part of the mastering process should include listening to your work on multiple setups, but having the ability to actually tweak it on multiple setups is mind blowing. It went from, "Ah, I need to remember to pan that hat a bit" to "I just panned that hat a bit, then I got the snare EQed a little better to cut through, and now the kick is thumping the shit out of my sub, and the bass is sitting right at the sweet spot above it." All of this done in a matter of minutes; so when I brought it in on my Mackies there was very little left to do.

    If this is a fad, this is the best time to enjoy it. We're seeing innovation in iPad apps that rivals Reaktor ensembles. It probably is a fad, but more likely a precursor; now is the time to start thinking outside of the virtual analog box.

  11. I think this type of article speaks to a larger trend that goes beyond music-making.

    We live in a society of instantaneous gratification. We need results NOW. We can't wait. We are really lazy but can't sit still… Everything needs to be always available…

    On the surface, the idea of mobile music-making is cool… but there are some issues.

    Without the ritual aspect of learning, there are less virtuosos, and less high art in music.

    It does matter, negatively.

    Musicians have always worked hard and sacrificed for their skills:
    making it a priority to sit in one spot
    at a designated time
    to give all your attention
    to one instrument.

    This trend is creating more options for musicians. That's great. BUT human beings are weak and sometimes the option of least resistance will be taken to their own detriment. In human history, we went from classical, opera, and German art songs… to Justin Beiber and dubstep. WTF people. It's making us stupid.

  12. I wish someone would scribe this article with quill and ink on a nice hemp scroll and send it by horseback so I could truly enjoy 'the reading' of it – this damn new-fangled computer screen is really cheapening the experience.

  13. Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads was once asked what he thought the next big trend would be. He said "Competence." I'm not sure if it ever happened or not. Too many people clearly don't want to put in the time required to really reach that point. Kaoss pads are too immediate and shiny. How can a real guitar or piano stand up to such nuclear marketing?

    1. That’s the beauty however, The immediacy to have impact on a young mind is a great way to kick start a beginning music maker on their musical learning path and can result in some great experiences.

  14. THANK YOU! Well said. Its awkward to champion the idea of real sweat and investment of time n' effort when the toys are so immediate. I have played synths for years, so I'm all for the basic field, but lately, the drive to have More and Louder has taken the humanity out of it too often. I don't hear enough evidence of real personal investment in a lot of electro-music. Its like a cake minus that vital, balancing pinch of salt. As Bill Hicks once said "I want my rock musicians to play from the f**king HEART!!" That's what's bothering me, because that incredible pinch of heart is why Bob Moog is revered… and what I DON'T hear often enough. I've heard people play music whose STYLE bugged me, but whose PLAYING was so much from the heart that I was still engaged by what they DID. At that point, they Got Over and became Fun. 'Zat make any sense?

  15. your thoughts are extremely Eurocentric and narrow minded. I agree there is tremendous value in practicing an instrument, but doing so over and over does not necessarily lead to truth in music. To site things like classical composition and Justin Bieber is very narrow sighted. If you think that Justin Bieber has anything to do with electronic music and mobile music than you have missed the point of this discussion. What about ancient tribes who used nothing but their voices, and hand percussion for music. Is that not mobile? Why can't modern society use electronic instruements in the same way? And what about all the insanely innovative music that is being created and you sight Justin Bieber. You don't think there were false musical prophets in the Classical period of music? Every noise, every invention, every device, matters! Why? Because you can use it, just like you can you use your voice, but they each have their own sound and characteristics. It's this kind of mind set that turns off young people. We need to forge ahead and create with the tools we have. That's all we can ever do.

  16. There is quite a difference between "making a hit on the bus" and having immediate access to a scratch pad when inspiration strikes. Some people like to be creative and could care less about the money

  17. Some people want to make music for fun and could care less about getting in-depth on a real instrument. These people having fun won't encroach on your narrow realm of competence.

  18. It will be fun watching the dinosaurs fade away. You have it twisted. Real instruments are the fad. They propagate through statements like "it's not like analog" or "gimme a real guitar and real drums." We've had DECADES of guitar, drums, bass, piano. Before that it was orchestral instruments. Moving forward…

  19. All of this is about generalization, which is one of Evil's handiest weapons. If you want to fight some War of the Trends, go to YouTube's new music page and lobby for your musical interests to overtake all of the crap about which you complain. ..or do something other than rage about how gimmicky you feel something may or may not be.. snobbishness about some really weird shit, guys.

    also I agree with the last Dave.

  20. For me it doesn't really matter; I feel most comfortable behind my computer and music keys.

    But obviously mobile music matters in general. Why? Because there's money to be made, and that matters. To a lot of people.

  21. Eurocentric? The majority of people in the global south cannot afford an iPad and rarely have reliable access to the internet. When you buy a guitar you can use it for your whole life, maybe even pass it on to your children. When you buy an iPad it's good for about 18 months until the battery dies then you throw it away and buy some new disposable consumer trash. Forcing cheap tech junk down the throat of the world is what's Eurocentric!

  22. Part1

    Wow awesome discussion – finally.!:)

    I think its very important to remember that every part in a good sounding production should receive its sonic spot in the mix based on what role it must play in the track and knowing how to pick, match and mix phrases no matter what device they came from or what technique was used to achieve it is crucial to any good sound tracksong.
    only practice, passion and precision will determine ones ability to utilize a certain or an array of instruments given the user knows his way around his gear and his place as producer and song rack composer.

    furthermore i would say that by reading manuals carefully and researching and practicing one has the ability to create his own style in the machine world we live in.
    Take for example the korg electribe series:
    those units such as the first electribe-r drum machines have long ago come out and flooded the market like a virus and i would bet that most of the people owning them are hardly aware of the immense potential and grit these machines are up to in the right hands . (it might be fun to do a contest here on synthtopia rating user electribe-r patterns to further prove my point.)

  23. part2

    Regarding embracing and rejecting new trends, technology costs money even if an app only costs a dollar and nothing more, investing in a device is a crucial expense and from my own mac hater experience i can honestly tell you it took quite some time for me to embrace my own need of the ipad2 (which boasts tons of useful audio goodies), much more time than actually perfecting my skills with the apps i later got for it, and am now using on daily basis, (sunrizer, sample and morphwiz, nanostudio with the "edens", DM4, those stupid (dumb
    andom)and "free" circles, korgs ielectribe and ms20, touchable and, rebirth which i was glad to pay for as i was using the cracked version ever since it came out as a teenager experimanting with electronic instruments and loved it more than my hottest girlfriend at the time) but, after crossing that unfortunate discriminative gap both in mind and in $$ i have come to find that my infantile hatred towards macs was holding me back from creating various parts and grooves on the go, sampling and sketching ideas that would later be polished in my full fledged studio and recorded into various projects in respect to their sonic place within the mix.

    there are so many posts (here to say the least) of people who find it hard to embrace new tech that it sometime reminds me of the way "old" (even my own folks ten years ago) people find email and internet mind boggling and difficult to swallow..
    That's pretty amusing in some waysense and pathetic in another.

    then again i truly believe that as a relatively young electronic community and one which still tends to indulge in substance abuse for pleasure and creativity, most of us sport a super duper addictive persona's and knowing what to pick, pay for, utilize and endorse from the ever growing piles of apps out there without waiting time, money and effort can be daunting, frightening, and is a crucial and not at all a simple task for the everyday synthtopian.

    with Warm regards and respect to all the synth lovers, drummachine addicts and substance abusers out there and I quote Kurt Lorenz's post — "Make music. That is all. " (kudos)


  24. The majority of people in the Global north cannot afford an ipad either. Is the IPAD a Eurocentric device? Are you excluding the Eastern part of the world using and benefitting from it's use? Not sure what your saying here sorry. Your attitude is very negative yet you use a computer to post here so you come across as very hypocritical in terms of technology and it's value. I have a guitar and an Iphone and love them both for different reasons musically. Consumerism is something we are all a part of in all parts of the world.

  25. toys for big boys…

    pocket gameboys with music games for hipsters…

    dj hero for the common folk…

    expensive digital recorder…

    over priced gadget with the highest quality nintendo sounds available…

    desktops with quad cores and limitless ram and almost 0 latency is hard to give up for an idea jotter downer… seriously grow up and buy real musical equipment and stop messing around with these kids toys…

  26. Nice article Ashley, I totally agree that inspiration doesn’t come on schedule and it’s great that new portable tools are being developed that we can use anywhere, anytime and then even playback immediately on a boombox. Total portability also lends to portable performance and creating new sounds for an audience on the fly, in the moment. iluv it!

  27. Nice article Ashley, I totally agree that inspiration doesn't come on schedule and it's great that new portable tools are being developed that we can use anywhere, anytime and then even playback immediately on a boombox. Total portability also lends to portable performance and creating new sounds for an audience on the fly, in the moment. iluv it!

  28. Nice article Ashley, I totally agree that inspiration doesn't come on schedule and it's great that new portable tools are being developed that we can use anywhere, anytime and then even playback immediately on a boombox. Total portability also lends to portable performance and creating new sounds for an audience on the fly, in the moment. iluv it!

  29. Nice article Ashley, I totally agree that inspiration doesn't come on schedule and it's great that new portable tools are being developed that we can use anywhere, anytime and then even playback immediately on a boombox. Total portability also lends to portable performance and creating new sounds for an audience on the fly, in the moment. iluv it!

  30. Nice article Ashley, I totally agree that inspiration doesn't come on schedule and it's great that new portable tools are being developed that we can use anywhere, anytime and then even playback immediately on a boombox. Total portability also lends to portable performance and creating new sounds for an audience on the fly, in the moment. iluv it!

  31. Nice article Ashley, I totally agree that inspiration doesn't come on schedule and it's great that new portable tools are being developed that we can use anywhere, anytime and then even playback immediately on a boombox. Total portability also lends to portable performance and creating new sounds for an audience on the fly, in the moment. iluv it!

  32. Nice article Ashley, I totally agree that inspiration doesn't come on schedule and it's great that new portable tools are being developed that we can use anywhere, anytime and then even playback immediately on a boombox. Total portability also lends to portable performance and creating new sounds for an audience on the fly, in the moment. iluv it!

  33. Every era of music, and every musical technology, has spawned a little bit of great music and mountains of shit. The great music sticks around, whether it's created with pen and paper or a laptop and iPad, and the rest doesn't. Justin Beiber will be forgotten in a few years, but if you look beneath the surface with an open mind, you'll find plenty of great music still being created today, and new virtuosos performing it.

  34. In the eighties I spent a lot of time running the individual outputs of my TR 707 through different guitar fx pedals, then as soon as I found out about mc 303 I got one. Three days ago, on my way out for a bus ride across town, I dumped a set of Arabic percussion hits into electrum on my phone, and fleshed out some decent rhythms. The result made me think of the mixing artist Muslimgauze, so I did a quick remix with extra distortion, and dubbed it 'occupation mix'. So I would say ya positive on mobile music haha.

    I think music is in the musician, and by hook or by crook, an inspired person can find a way to make any object sound good. A tone deaf person can find a way to the most elegant piano (or say, guitar) sound good.

  35. Interesting comments – but it's important to remember that 99% of classical music is garbage that never gets played.

    Wouldn't you expect 99% of the music being made on mobile devices to be garbage? And that it would take the same effort that it's traditionally taken musicians to learn their craft in order for mobile musicians to move beyond this?

  36. The Electribe-R is pretty wicked!

    I never had much love for the Electribe EA-1, though. To 'fake analog', when 'nasty digital' would have been fine.

  37. is writing by pen and pencil in a notebook a fad?

    mobile tools are just that – tools. whatever works for you. trends, fads… the “big picture” so often has so little to do with what any individual person is actually doing. workflows are such an individual, specific thing.

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