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Mix Blog Studio: Be Ready to Record—Wherever and Whenever

You never know when a song idea or a guitar riff is going to pop into your head, so it helps if you have a simple one-button recording setup of some kind to capture the idea before it disappears.

If you’re a songwriter or composer, your brilliant inspirations don’t always come at a convenient time. I’ve come up with some of my best ideas while taking a shower or driving.

Research has found that creative ideas are more likely to pop out of your brain when you’re doing a mindless activity. Once your conscious mind can relax, apparently, the creativity bubbles to the top. The only problem is that such epiphanies often happen when you have no way to record or write down an idea.

A case in point: Many years ago, while driving home from a gig, a song idea popped into my head. There weren’t any smartphones back then, so I couldn’t simply open a recording app and capture myself singing the idea. I had to try to remember it until I got home, which was about an hour away. My only option was to sing it over and over until I arrived and could put it down on tape.

I had a similar situation occur while sitting in my studio. I was mindlessly noodling on an acoustic guitar, with no intent to write music or record anything, when an idea for a cool chord progression and riff popped into my head. My first thought was, “I need to record this before I forget.” But I hadn’t yet launched my DAW and didn’t have a microphone set up.

I knew that by the time I put up a mic, opened my DAW, created a new session, added a track and set the input correctly, that idea might have retreated into the recesses of my mind. So, as a stopgap, I recorded it to the Voice Memos app on my iPhone.

The app and iPhone mic offered sufficient quality for documenting the idea, but the irony was notable: Here I was, in a studio full of gear, recording into my phone.

Read more Mix Blog Studio: Track Organization.

The dilemma of being able to capture ideas before they go away is not new. Back in the 1990s, Sony introduced a very high-end portable stereo recorder that delivered hi-res audio. It was quickly followed by a lower-cost version from Zoom, the H6, then H8. Each was designed primarily for musicians to capture an idea on the go. But you still needed to have it on hand and ready to record.

Then at the NAMM show in 2008, I remember attending a press conference where Line 6 introduced a product called BackTrack.

Smaller than a cell phone and designed to clip to your belt, you plugged the electric guitar’s output into the BackTrack and used its pass-through output to connect to your amp. As soon as it detected signal at its input, it would automatically capture anything that you played to flash memory, holding up to 12 hours of recordings.

If you played something you wanted to keep, you just tapped a button on the unit, and it placed a marker in the recording. Like Alexa, it was always on in the background, but instead of listening for your voice commands (or spying on you), it was listening for your music.

A more expensive version, BackTrack+Mic, added a built-in microphone so that you could also use it for acoustic instruments or voice. I remember thinking that it was an excellent idea for a product. But for whatever reason, it never really caught on with the public, and Line 6 eventually discontinued both BackTrack models.

So, until someone comes up with a better idea, I guess my iPhone will just have to suffice as my inspiration recorder. Now, if I could only figure out a way to build a shower mount…