You can produce music on a laptop due to the technological advancements of plugins, analog to digital converters, audio interfaces, and VST (virtual software instrument) technology, however, you need a powerful enough laptop and there are a few reasons why desktop is better.
The progress of digital technology, particularly the development of analog to digital converters in devices like audio interfaces, has allowed music producers to create home studios that have posed enough legitimate competition to traditional recording studios that many of them are shutting down.
Laptops like the MacBook Pro are definitely a great option for making music, but as your needs become more sophisticated and nuanced, you’ll find that laptops aren’t enough after just a couple of years.
Pros of Using a Laptop for Music Production
1) VSTS, Improving Software, and Plug-Ins
As I noted in passing above, there have been massive changes in computer technology over the last two decades, to the point that there are literally thousands of VSTs, dynamics processor plug-ins, and other software suites.
A great example of one of these plug-ins is Celemony’s Melodyne, which is easily downloadable on a MacBook Pro or any other laptop that meets the required specifications to run the software.
Melodyne – an audio editing tool that allows an engineer to spot-correct errors in vocal or instrumental performances among a host of other amazing functions – is available for purchase and it’s easy to download.
This software works just fine on a standard MacBook Pro and even on a MacBook Air, which is the much smaller version of the MacBook Pro and with less power as well.
And Melodyne – whose free trial you can access here – isn’t the only software that’s available on a MacBook Pro.
MacBook Pros even come with the free software Garageband, which doesn’t cost a penny and has a plethora of functions that make it incredibly useful for music producers and other musicians. I’ve written a whole other article about its many functions here.
In fact, artists such as Grimes, Justice, and more have completed entire albums using just Garageband.
Garageband is free software that can also be downloaded on one’s iPhone, and it includes dynamics processors like channel EQ, compressors, automated drummer tracks, time quantization, pitch correction, unlimited editing, as well as the ability to record as many takes as one needs and edit the performances after the fact.
More importantly, DAWs such as Garageband, Fl Studio, and Logic Pro X, allows one to use MIDI, Musical Instrument Digital Device, which permits after-the-fact editing in a way that’s so useful that it’s almost impossible to explain.
At one point in time, plug-ins were actually quite rudimentary and they didn’t always sound that good.
It’s one of the most common complaints about compressors and other plug-ins, notably, that they don’t sound as good as the real thing.
And while it’s certainly the case that plug-ins don’t sound as good as the analog equipment they’re imitating, the sound quality is improving year after year.
Eventually, there will come a time when analog equipment and digital software will be neck-in-neck in terms of quality.
We can see this effect already in software such as Amplitube 4, from Native Instruments, which is a virtual amp simulator plug-in that is used by guitar players.
Amp simulators are plug-ins that literally simulate the sound of the most common amplifiers on the market. Garageband features its own version of an amp simulator with their Amp Designer, which I’ve explored in-depth here.
What’s amazing about them is not only do they sound fantastic, but they allow guitar players to imitate legendary amp-cab combinations without having to actually go out and purchase the real equipment that typically costs thousands of dollars and takes up a ton of space.
The vast majority of these plug-ins are available on laptops as well. As long as your computer meets the requirements of the software, there should be no issues.
2) Laptops are Small
I’ve been using a laptop for music production for years, and while there are some limitations to using a MacBook Pro or a similar device, the pros greatly outweigh the cons.
Because of how small and convenient a laptop is, I can take it anywhere I go and produce music on the fly with it, whether it’s on the plane or in a coffee shop in between breaks from my work.
Obviously, the same thing cannot be said for a desktop computer, which is much heavier and bigger and isn’t meant to be carried around with you in the same way that a laptop is.
3) Laptops, iPads, and Other Portable Devices Are Improving With Time
On account of the increasing technological advancements which I’ve already touched on a number of times in this article, devices such as iPad Pros and iPhones are becoming increasingly adept at handling music production software such as Garageband.
One such example is the use of Garageband on devices like the iPad Pro. At one point, an iPad was just a cool little device that was meant for surfing the internet, reading books, and watching the odd episode of your favorite television show.
However, due to the fact, Apple and other companies are releasing new models all of the time with upgraded hardware and specifications, these handheld devices are becoming even more powerful than previous laptops on the market.
In fact, the latest edition of the iPad Pro is actually more powerful than the 2018 MacBook Pro that I own, and it’s one of the reasons why I recommended getting an iPad Pro in this article.
This means that it has more RAM and better core performance than the Laptop that I use, making it better, rather than inferior, to laptops that are just a couple of years old.
Put simply, the question you have to ask yourself is that if an iPad Pro is becoming a more powerful device to the point that it can be used for music production, then why can’t you use just a laptop?
Premium versions of the MacBook Pro with upgraded specifications and hardware are extremely powerful as well, and as time passes, these devices are only going to get more powerful, include more memory and RAM, and become easier to use.
One of the reasons for this is the upgraded hardware, but also the fact that plug-in developers are figuring out ways to run their software without taking up as much power and memory.
With all that in mind, laptops are still not the best option for music production for a couple of reasons.
Why Laptops Aren’t the Best Option for Music Production
1) Not Enough Power and Memory
Even though I’ve just spent the last 1000 words explaining how laptops are getting more powerful all of the time, a desktop computer still has a lot more memory and RAM at the end of the day.
Furthermore, a premium desktop computer with optimal specifications has better core performance which means it’s better suited for the needs that audio plug-ins and software require.
One of the reasons that a desktop computer is wholly superior to a laptop is the way audio production works. Audio engineering and music production tend to use all of one core at the same time.
Contrast this to things like video games, which tend to spread the burden of operation on all of the cores at once, because it’s engaging different parts of the computer to run the visuals, the sound, and the playable interface at the same time.
Music production tends to demand more single-core performance because everything has to be completed in one core before the computer can move on to the next task.
In other words, when you load up a MIDI instrument, one core handles all of the tasks, including the instrument itself, and then the plug-ins and effects on top of it.
All of this is completed in one core and in one part of the computer, so single-core performance is incredibly important.
This means that if your laptop doesn’t have sufficient single-core performance, your computer could crash whenever you’ve loaded too many tracks at once.
2) Laptops Can Only Handle So Much
As I just explained, a laptop computer can only handle so many demands at once. A lot of tasks have to be completed in one core, one after another, to the point that if there isn’t enough power, RAM, and memory, the laptop will simply crash.
This is something that won’t happen to the laptop’s more powerful counterpart. I’ve run into this issue on my MacBook Pro a number of times.
If I’m running too many plug-ins and software at once, including on more than 2 dozen tracks, which you’ll often need when creating music, the computer may just crash.
This is incredibly annoying when it happens, and FL Studio users often complain about this phenomenon. In fact, social media users regularly talk about the ills that come with forgetting to save one’s project before their computer crashes, thus, losing everything.
This is why it’s important to always save your projects, not only on a desktop computer but especially on a laptop. Frankly, I’ve found that my MacBook Pro can only handle so many sophisticated tasks at once.
For instance, if I’m running screen sharing software like ScreenFlow Editor, Garageband, and a USB Microphone at the same time, this is about the maximum the computer can take. Add iMovie or some other editing program on top of it and you have a recipe for slower performance.
At this point, my needs have become sophisticated enough where I definitely need to get my hands on a desktop computer with enough power and RAM to handle everything that I need.
3) Not Enough Storage Space
In my personal experience, this is the biggest issue when it comes to producing music on something like the MacBook Pro. There are only 120 GBs of space on my computer, and much of that space is taken up by the computer’s system on its own.
You can take a look at my computer’s specifications here, and you’ll notice that I’m already running out of space.
I only have around 13 GB left, which means that if I want to download 20GB of instruments from a company like Steven Slate or Native Instruments, I won’t be able to do it, plain and simple.
This has proven to be a problem for me because as time has passed, and my demand for more instruments and software has increased, I’ve realized that I simply don’t have a powerful enough computer with enough storage space to house libraries of instruments.
For instance, I’m seriously considering buying Native Instruments Komplete Ultimate, which is a batch of VSTs and software that is fantastic for music production.
I already wrote an article about Native Instruments Komplete Control, which I think is one of the best batches of free plug-ins I’ve ever found.
However, I can’t get my hands on Komplete Ultimate because I simply don’t have enough space.
This has led me to use an external hard drive on a regular basis. However, it’s a best practice to use one for a desktop computer as well, especially if you want to keep your computer clean.
But I must admit, exporting all of my videos and recordings to an external hard drive has become a bit annoying.
4) Not Enough Ports
Another big issue with using a laptop computer, especially my 2017 MacBook Pro, is the fact there are only TWO ports on it.
This has proven to be a nuisance, especially if I want to plug my microphone into my computer with my iPhone at the same time for screen sharing videos in which I’m recording my iPhone interface and from my computer’s webcam.
This necessitates things like multi-port adaptors which are often expensive, and many of them don’t last as long as they should, even if you’ve purchased them from a reputable location.
It’s also an issue if I want to plug in a number of other instruments at once. For instance, if I want to plug in my MIDI Keyboard, my USB microphone, and my audio interface at once, the MacBook Pro may struggle to handle all of this equipment without latency issues.
Moreover, it can’t handle any of these tasks without the appropriate multi-port adaptor right from the beginning.
YouTube Video Tutorial
While laptops are a fantastic option for a music producer due to their portability and convenience, rapidly advancing technology, and their versatility, desktop computers have a lot more power and space and they will be able to handle your needs as they become more sophisticated as time passes.