Tip # 1 - Make it convenient
Setting up and tearing down a rig every time will eventually make you not want to go through the trouble. The less steps toward recording the better. Get a simple interface so you can record guitar DIs (the Apogee Jam is tiny, sounds great and is USB-powered), and set up a writing template in your DAW so you don’t have to spend time fiddling with software when inspiration strikes. Have plugins for virtual drums, bass, and synths all set up and ready to go (I like EZdrummer, Trilian, and Massive respectively). Purchase length appropriate cables. You don’t need 100ft guitar cables. I’ll repeat this later but put as much as you can in a rack. The less you have to plug in, the better.
Tip # 2 - Make it rugged
Shit will break. Shit will come apart. Get roadworthy gear. Put as much as you can in a rack. This will protect the gear and also see Tip No. 1. The build quality of a MacBook is hard to beat, but there are quality PC laptops out there too. Spend a little more to get something that can survive the harsh conditions of van life (like when your fat ass bassist sits on it by mistake).
Tip # 3 - Plan ahead
Rather than trying to force yourself to write in subpar conditions, plan ahead and work on your recordings when you know the conditions will be right. For example, on your off days when you’re crashing at a friend’s place, when you’re playing a big show with plenty of room backstage, etc. Block out some time and get it done then.
Tip # 4 - Have rock solid reference material
Monitoring on the road will suck, period. Your best option is to get some good headphones (I like Beyerdynamic DT 880). Before you hit the road, get familiar with them in your home studio so you know how they translate.
Tip # 5 - Set realistic goals
With all the downtime that comes with being on the road, it’s easy to think that you’ll have plenty of time to be productive. But in practice, recording on the road is really tough and you’re probably going to accomplish less than you expect due to the noise, fatigue, distractions, and discomfort. Set small, attainable goals and go from there.
For more recording tips from Eyal Levi, be sure to tune into his upcoming CreativeLive course “Mastering Metal Mixing,” broadcasting for free from September 29 – October 1. Or, for a more hands-on recording experience, see if Eyal will be stopping in a city near you on his “Unstoppable Recording Machine” audio ‘boot camp’ tour, beginning October 3 in Cleveland, OH.