When you’re in the middle of a great vocal or instrumental take, one of the most frustrating “vibe killers” is walking away from the microphone to hit rewind, move to another spot in the song, or punch in a recording. While these tasks are all basic functions of your DAW, having a way to control them remotely can drastically improve your workflow.
For most users, having remote control of basic transport functions is enough to keep session running smoothly without taking the focus off performance. There are, however, many cases that will require a more advanced remote control setup or studio configuration to get the job done. I will outline a few scenarios and suggest some low cost and free solutions to make your recording life even better!
The first consideration while setting up your remote control configuration is why you’re actually doing it. Are you recording in the same room as your computer, or do you have a separate room or vocal booth for performing? One of the largest benefits of having a separate space for recording is that you won’t have to worry about fan or mechanical hard drive noises from your computer bleeding into your recordings. If moving to the far side of the room, building a vocal booth, or converting a closet into a tracking space is an option, then you’ll definitely find remote control to be useful. In some situations it is cheaper and easier just to purchase or modify your computer so that it is completely silent (hit me up if you need help with this).
Now that you’ve determined remote control is the solution for you, there are a plethora of options available. I’ll highlight pros and cons of some popular methods:
– Using a hardware DAW remote
Many manufacturers make hardware controls specifically for transport and basic DAW functions. They include mapping for all the common softwares and can be purchased for as little as $50, though most of the mid-range options are around $150-$200. These are easy to use in a dark vocal booth because some of them light up, your fingers can feel the physical buttons, and they tend to be very easy to set up.
– Getting a 2nd keyboard and display
If you’re in the same room, a USB extension on a second keyboard can be enough for you to hit stop, play, rec, etc. from across the room. In other scenarios, installing a second computer display and putting a wireless (or wired) keyboard inside your vocal booth can provide incredible control while tracking. The big advantage to these methods is that you can access all DAW functions quickly. For people doing audiobooks who edit on the fly, this is the only real option for remote control. Most computers have additional VGA or HDMI output ports to support a 2nd monitor, and wireless keyboards & mice can utilize an empty USB port.
– Controlling your DAW from a mobile app
There are a number of free and low cost mobile apps on Android and IOS that provide transport control. The functionality, compatibility, and configuration of these apps varies greatly. Some apps are designed for specific DAW software, others are universal and will work like a standard MIDI controller. The level of setup required can be advanced if you’re unfamiliar with installing the control apps client software and assigning MIDI control in your DAW, but the difficulty depends on which app you choose. Search your app store for “DAW remote” to find what options are available.
– Controlling your computer from a mobile device
Sometimes the remote functions of DAW control apps don’t provide a large enough feature set, and it may not be feasible to install a computer monitor in your booth. This is where using a remote desktop app to take control of your computer can be handy. Once connected, you can view your computer desktop on your phone or tablet and swipe the screen to move and control your mouse cursor, a pop-up keyboard functions just like you’d expect, and you can even drag and drop with left and right click functionality. This allows you to operate all features of your DAW remotely. The drawback is that it can be a little clunky. On small devices, you’ll have to pinch and zoom your view in and out to click the smaller buttons in your DAW, and there can be a small amount of latency inherit in this control type. The latency doesn’t really affect performance, it’s just enough to be noticeable and make it feel less “snappy”. Aside from those drawbacks this is pretty awesome and free over WIFI. Another benefit is that you can use the app from your cell while traveling. Very helpful if you need to log in and upload some files for duplication or send a mix to a collaborator while away from home. In 2014 my app of choice for this is SPLASHTOP.
I hope you found these ideas helpful and can find ways to integrate them in your studio workflow. Contact me anytime with questions.