Chromebooks. Love ’em or hate ’em, there is no denying that they are handy to have around. If you are looking for an affordable and convenient way to use cloud-based apps and find tablets and smartphones too limited, a Chromebook might be the ideal solution.
But, what about music making? Is a Chromebook a useful purchase as a standalone music production system or a complement to your existing music setup? Let’s find out!
Can you produce music on a Chromebook?
The quick answer is: Yes, it is entirely possible to make music on a Chromebook. In terms of hardware, the best Chromebooks are capable of running a wide range of music creation apps, some of which we list below.
That being said, a Chromebook won’t exactly replace your laptop and DAW setup, much less a fully-equipped music studio. There are some limitations to a Chrome-based setup, as you will see later on.
Even so, a newer Chromebook is more than enough to create beats, simple songs, and sketches. You can later transfer these to your main music computer for adding instruments, doing more extensive editing, and completing the project.
Perhaps it is best to think of a Chromebook as a supplement to your main music production rig. Whether you are looking for a quick and simple solution for music making on-the-go or a cloud-based system, it might be worth considering purchasing a Chromebook.
Chromebooks vs. iPads: which is the better choice for recording?
Now that we’ve settled the question of whether or not Chromebooks can be used for recording, let’s turn our attention to iPads. With so many DAWs and apps available for iOS devices nowadays, it is worth considering buying an iPad if you need a mobile recording system.
Even so, Chromebooks present some pretty stiff competition. Here’s a rundown of some specific characteristics of each to help you make your choice:
- Portability. One area where iPads have the advantage is portability. Because they are smaller, lighter, and self-contained, they are much easier to carry and pack than Chromebooks. They won’t take up much space in a backpack or overnight bag, and you can even slip them into a jacket pocket.
Of course, you will have to bring along some peripherals if you intend to do some recording on-the-go, such as a camera kit, an audio interface, and a mic. But this is the case with a Chromebook as well, so that factor is sort of canceled out of the equation.
- Price. Chromebook has the edge when it comes to affordability. The most basic models come in at just under $150, and even the most powerful machines won’t cost much more than $300. IPads can easily cost more than that, and they are much more expensive to repair as well.
- App availability. Chromebooks and iPads are pretty even on this score. Although iOS isn’t open-source (as the Chrome operating system is), there are many music creation apps available for the iPad.
There are a good number of browser-based DAWs and music apps for the Chrome OS as well. Furthermore, many of these are based on professional music software, so both platforms are comparable as far as app availability is concerned.
- Accessibility. The touchscreen interface of the iPad may or may not be an advantage depending on how you like to work. On the one hand, it is a multi-touch interface that most find intuitive and quick to use.
On the other hand, DAW power users may lament the absence of a mouse and physical keyboard for intensive editing and arranging work. If you would like to work the same way you would in a traditional DAW, a Chromebook is a much better choice than an iPad.
Can you run standard computer DAWs on a Chromebook?
Now would probably be a good time to discuss DAWs, specifically, in relation to their use with Chromebooks.
Now, you might think that you can purchase a Chromebook and slap on your favorite DAW and have a cheap and powerful music production system that you can take on the road. Unfortunately, most professional DAWs can’t be installed on a Chromebook. This includes Ableton Live, Audacity, Cubase, Logic Pro, Reason, Sonar, and Studio One.
So, what can you run on a Chromebook?
The good news is that there are many music production options available for Chromebook users. These include browser-based apps (which are tailor-made for these devices), Android apps, and even some Linux apps.
When Chromebooks first hit the market, users were pretty much limited to browser-based apps. But every Chromebook released since 2019 supports Android and Linux, which makes many more options available to music producers.
Of course, Android apps in general aren’t nearly as powerful and fully-featured as DAWs that run on Macs and PCs. But some of them can be quite impressive, and a handful will even let you create full compositions just as you would on a standard DAW.
A quick note on running Linux on a Chromebook
As I mentioned previously, Chromebooks produced after 2019 let you install Linux and run Linux-based apps. However, you still can’t run professional DAWs on such a system, even if the software in question works under Linux.
Why? Remember that these “big” DAWs are designed to run on Windows PCs and Macs. Chromebooks aren’t nearly as powerful as even the base models of commercial personal computers. So while it may seem that you could run your DAW under a Linux shell, the hardware components of the Chromebook simply won’t support the software you wish to run.
Music production apps that work with Chromebooks
With all that out of the way, let’s turn our attention to music production apps that will work on Chromebooks. Since most home recording hobbyists probably won’t want to go through the hassle of installing Linux and finding apps that work with it, the options are Android apps and browser-based software.
If you’ve played around with Android apps on your phone, you already know how powerful they can be. There is a bewildering array of music production apps available on Google Play Store, ranging from simple recorders and drum machines to software that could almost measure up to the bigger DAWs.
One of the best things about Android apps is that you can use them even without an internet connection. Even if you are out in the middle of nowhere or on vacation, you don’t have to deal with lags and lost connections. Simply turn on your Chromebook and you are ready to record or edit audio, arrange your latest track, or put the finishing touches on your song.
Some of the best Android apps for music production are:
- FL Studio
- Magix Music Maker
Image Line has been around for more than 20 years, and FL Studio is still one of the most popular DAWs in the music production world. It has a wealth of features that make it ideally suited for everything from crafting beats to recording, mixing, and even mastering full songs. It has a fast and intuitive workflow, plenty of built-in samples and instruments, and is generally a joy to work with. If you are looking for a comprehensive music production solution for your Chromebook, FL Studio is pretty hard to beat.
JAMBL has made quite an impression with mobile music producers with its wide array of features that let you compose, mix, and play tracks without getting bogged down by the technicalities of a bigger DAW. It essentially lets you choose from more than a hundred “jam packs”, each created by professional musicians and sound designers, which greatly simplifies the music creation process.
Among its best features are a looper system, smart-note, in-game jamming, and last creative check. Along with the volume, tempo, and impact controls, JAMBL gives you a comprehensive set of tools to create your own music.
Magix is another company that has been around since the dawn of computer-based music production. It has a wide range of respected music tech products including Samplitude, Acid Pro, and Sound Forge, and Music Maker.
While the company’s other products are meant for professional users, Music Maker is aimed squarely at the beginner, semi-pro, and advanced consumer markets. It comes in four versions, each of which makes it extremely easy to produce professional-sounding music: Music Maker Free, Music Maker Plus, Music Maker Live, and Music Maker Premium.
One of Music Maker’s handiest features is the MAGIX Audio Remote, which opens up in a second screen to give you a quick and intuitive interface for controlling the app’s various features. It also has a Live Pad mode that comes with 30 Live Sets in different genres.
Android apps are convenient, simple, and easy to use. But if you want to make full use of your Chromebook for music production, you might want to check out a browser-based music solution instead. These are generally more powerful than Android apps, with features sets that are almost on par with full-blown professional DAWs.
Because Chrome apps are cloud-based, you aren’t necessarily tied to a single device either. You can put the bones of a track together on your Chromebook, for example, and then open the project on your laptop or computer for more extensive editing, arrangement, and mixing.
Some of the most notable browser-based DAWs for Chromebook are:
- Song Maker
Soundtrap is one of the most popular Chrome-based DAWs around, due to its slick, efficient, and user-friendly interface. A limited version is free to use after signing up for an account, but you also have the option to upgrade to the premium version for more features.
Soundtrap comes with an extensive selection of instruments and loops that you can use to create your own original music. It also supports MIDI, so you can connect a controller to your Chromebook to record melodies and chords. Even better, Soundtrap has networking and collaboration features that let you work with other musicians online.
Flat.io is another popular option that is equally suited to beginning and experienced music makers. Unlike other apps, this one actually lets you create sheet music, which should make it appealing to musicians that can read and write standard notation. And like the best Chrome-based apps, it has networking and collaboration features that make sharing projects with other musicians a breeze.
As with Google Docs, Flat.io allows multiple users to edit projects. You can set permissions to limit users to reading or reading/writing scores, so you have the flexibility to share music and collaborate on projects as you wish. It even integrates smoothly with Google Hangouts, so you can take advantage of video conferencing features while working on a project.
BandLab shares some DNA with Cakewalk, which is yet another well-respected DAW from the earliest days of computer-based music production. But while Cakewalk‒and its later iteration Sonar‒were intended for the professional markets, BandLab is unabashedly designed for casual and novice users. Even so, it has a wealth of features that allow you to create impressive musical productions.
Some of these are pretty well-thought-out. Tap-tempo, magnetic timeline, and tracking are features that you would expect only in a high-priced DAW. BandLab also has a lyric editor and an extensive range of built-in instruments.
Splash is a browser-based program that also comes in an Android version so you can choose the flavor you like based on how you like to work. It is totally free to use, with no ads or restrictions typical of a “cut-down” version.
Splash is equally suitable for crafting quick beats or creating full songs. It is also updated frequently, giving you an almost unlimited source of sounds and inspiration.
5. Song Maker
Finally, check out Song Maker Google, which is a free sequencer created by Chrome Music Laboratory. It comes with easy to use tools that you can use to create loops that other users can edit and add to as you see fit.
Song Maker is one of the simplest music creation apps in this lineup, but it is capable of some pretty amazing results. It even has built-in midi trigger and machine keyboard functions that make music creation fast and intuitive.
Is a Chromebook the right choice for you?
Now that you know what a Chromebook is capable of and what music creation software is available, the question you have to ask yourself is this: “Is a Chromebook the right choice for me?”
Perhaps the first thing you have to decide is whether any of the available DAWs and recording software meets your needs. Remember that there is a wealth of options available in music creation apps, so you might find everything you need within the Chromebook OS and Android platforms.
The second consideration is whether a Chromebook provides sufficient processing power for everything you need to do. Let’s face it: a Chromebook will never be as powerful as a laptop or desktop computer. Even so, they might be more than adequate if your needs are fairly modest.
Ultimately, only you can decide if a Chromebook is a useful addition to your music recording setup. While you might run into its limitations soon enough if it is your only music production device, it makes a great addition to a more comprehensive studio rig. Whether you use it as a tool for casual music making or a portable solution for mobile recording, I think you will find a Chromebook a worthy purchase.