You can produce music on a Chromebook, but you’ll face many limitations in the process. A talented producer can come up with a new beat using virtually any music-production tool. However, if your goal is to create a studio-quality track, then Chromebooks are not ideal.
However, Talented musicians can make high-quality records with almost anything. Gorillaz’s Damon Albarn, for instance, famously completed a 2010 chart-topping record using nothing but an iPad. Why couldn’t you do the same with a Chromebook?
How to Produce Music on a Chromebook
Chromebooks are even more limited than your typical tablet computer. They run on Chrome OS, a web-based operating system that is not compatible with most professional music-creation software.
So, the big question is: how do you make music with a Chromebook? To begin with, you’ll need to find compatible music software. Some digital audio workstations (DAWs) run on Chrome OS, but they can be very limited, incomplete, and frustratingly simple. Luckily, there is one exception: FL Studio mobile.
FL Studio Mobile is not the only DAW available for Chromebook, but it’s by far the most thorough. It runs comfortably on Chrome OS and allows you to create professional-sounding multi-track music projects using all of FL’s features, including its CPU-optimized virtual instruments and audio effects.
If you’re already familiar with FL Studio, you’ll probably find it very easy to create something interesting using FL Studio Mobile on your Chromebook. But first, you need to be aware of some issues you’ll face when producing music on this device.
Limitations of Producing Music on Chromebook
The most obvious limitation of producing music on a Chromebook device is that you will have to rely entirely on Android or web-based applications. Forget about your beloved VST folder, because most of your favorite external instruments and effects will simply not work. This will, of course, impact your workflow and restrict your ability to come up with banging new tracks.
Making the most of your sample packs can also be a challenge: after all, Chrome OS files are cloud-based, which means that keeping track of your DAW recordings alone can be quite confusing. If you want to make music with Chromebook, you need to be ready to change the way you organize your music projects within an operating system.
Performance can be an issue too. While some Chromebooks come with up to 16 GB of RAM, most models are limited to 4 GB and—if you’re lucky—8 GB. People tend to buy Chromebooks because they make for an affordable alternative to more advanced tablet computers. It makes no sense to waste a fortune on a high-performance Chromebook if you have the budget to get yourself an iPad or another high-quality tablet computer.
Most Music Production Software Doesn’t Work on Chromebook
Sadly, world-class DAWs such as Ableton Live and Pro Tools cannot run on Chrome OS. The same can be said of virtually any third-party plugin that you’re accustomed to using on your laptop: anything from professional VST bundles to fan-favorite virtual synthesizers such as Serum and Sylenth1.
Music software creators are still catching up with the needs of Chromebook users, who don’t make for a considerable percentage of their customers. However, there are some decent music-creation tools available for Chrome OS. I have mentioned FL Studio Mobile before, but what are the other alternatives?
Music Software that Works for Chromebook
One of the best available music production applications for chromebook is Soundtrap, a web-based DAW that comes loaded with several virtual instruments/audio loops and offers MIDI compatibility. And in case you’re wondering, yes, you can use MIDI instruments on Chromebook as long as they’re connected via USB. Described as an “online music studio for everyone,” Soundtrap runs smoothly on any Chrome OS device.
For producers who are trying to come up with some basic ideas, applications such as Music Maker, BandLab, and Song Maker are highly commendable. Don’t expect to produce the world’s next number-one record using one of these limited DAWs. But as a time-filler and amateur music creation tool, they work wonders.
If you’re a music student or composer, the sheet music application Flat.io is the perfect tool to have on your Chromebook. It allows you to share your compositions with friends in a collaborative model that resembles Google Docs. However, keep in mind Flat.io is a music-writing tool only, not a beat-making software.
Are Chromebooks Optimized for Audio?
Needless to say, Chromebook developers didn’t prioritize sound quality when engineering these affordable devices. For that reason, Chromebook audio specifications tend to be ignored, even by online reviewers.
Chromebooks come with built-in audio speakers. But don’t expect them to make an impression—at best, they can be compared to the speakers you’ll find on most smartphones and low-grade laptops.
Chromebooks also feature a built-in microphone. Don’t count on it to make quality recordings, though. It’s a mic that’s supposed to be used for online video chatting and other everyday functions, and its quality is dubious. It was criticized even by Chrome OS users who don’t have a clue about how a state-of-the-art microphone should sound like.
Do Audio Interfaces Work with Chromebook?
Thankfully, you can avoid using Chromebook’s limited built-in microphone by getting yourself a nice audio interface. Popular sound cards such as Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 are compatible with Chrome OS, and the same applies to Behringer and Tascam’s models. However, Reddit users have complained about finding issues when combining some of these audio interfaces with their Chromebook devices.
To be on the safe side, I would recommend getting a PreSonus audio interface. They highlight their Chrome OS compatibility on their website and offer seamless Chromebook integration.
Can You Use a USB Mic on a Chromebook?
Yes, you can use almost any USB microphone on Chromebook. Just connect the mic and set it as the input audio source in the ‘Audio Settings.’ Keep in mind that most USB microphones are not designed for recording music, but rather for recreational activities such as gaming, web chatting, and, at best, podcast recording.
To use a top-quality microphone for making music with your Chromebook, I would suggest getting an audio interface first.
Can You Install DAWs When Using Linux Mode on Chromebook?
Linux’s users love Chromebook for one simple reason: Chrome OS is based on desktop Linux, which means that getting a Chromebook can be an affordable alternative to buying a Linux laptop. According to multiple sources, Linux’s software will work great with Chromebook hardware. However, using Linux on these devices can further limit your ability to make music.
DAWs such as Ardour, Bitwig Studio, Reaper, and LMMS can run on Linux but cannot run on Chrome OS, even when linux mode enabled.
If you’re looking for an affordable piece of hardware that allows you to sketch some musical ideas on the go, you should consider getting a Chromebook. However, if you’re a music producer who’s trying to come up with professional tracks, you should avoid Chrome OS devices.
In the end, your ability to make music will always depend on how talented of a musician you are. But on a technical level, there are just too many limitations associated with Chromebook for it to make for a proper music-production tool.
I would recommend you to save some extra money and invest in a nice Windows/Mac laptop if you plan to cook up a new studio-quality banger.
However, if you’re truly committed to making music on your Chromebook, who am I to say you can’t? Just go crazy, let the inspiration flow, and show everyone you can come up with something great regardless of the resources you have available!