An audio producer’s travelling nightmare

My work leading Ignite Jingles means that I travel a fair bit. Having an American wife also adds to the international travel, and the result of all this is that I consider myself a bit of an expert at airports. I pack efficiently, I have an adapter for all occasions, I can edit audio in any seat or café, and find power supplies and wifi pretty much anywhere.

I’m also well disciplined at protecting my data and at planning for the worst – although a recent journey made me reconsider that!

Working with external drives means that I backup regularly, and I also have audio, phone contacts and essential files in the cloud. Should a drive go down, I can pull the files from elsewhere and lose at most a day’s work.

One of my favourite places to work – Drugstore Cowboy in Deep Ellum, Dallas

But recently, I managed to almost cause a disaster that I’d never planned for… I picked up the wrong laptop when collecting my baggage through security.

It was still a shiny silver MacBook, but it wasn’t until I got settled in the lounge that I realized something was amiss. My thoughts were something like this…

– Hmm… my laptop feels lighter than usual.
– Hold on, this is a MacBook Air.
– Why did I bring our MacBook Air instead of my laptop?
– Hold on, this isn’t even our MacBook Air.
– Where did I get this from?
– And where’s my laptop?!?

Very quickly I realised that I picked up someone else’s laptop from security after our bags were scanned, put it in my rucksack, and headed off.

Panic. Major panic. I was about to be 5000 miles from home, and my laptop is the centre of all my work – editing, admin, communication and more.

Luckily for me, the owner the laptop I’d collected didn’t have a password on it, so I was able to discover his name, and the fantastic team at Manchester Airport tracked him down after searching the lounges and gates. Panic over, after an extremely stressful hour or so., which I don’t want to go through again. Phew! But, I’ve learnt some lessons…

Editing audio in Newark Airport, New Jersey.

Stuff I’m going to do differently now:

Firstly, I’m going to put some contact details on my laptop. As in, physical details on a sticker. If he’d had a password on his laptop, I’d have no idea whose I had, and he’d have no clue from mine. My laptop would have been heading to Amsterdam while I was on my way to Dallas.

Action Point: Basic contact details on base of laptop

Secondly, it begs a bigger question. What if I’m traveling and my laptop breaks down, or I accidentally pour coffee in it, or it gets stolen? Reality is, I’d need to buy a new one, which then leads to how I’d get all my software reinstalled to allow me to do the basics until returning home. In my case, email and Pro Tools are the essentials (including various PlugIns).

Action Point: Copy install files to the cloud so I can download them onto a new machine if possible.

Thirdly: More items than ever are cloud-based, but what files on this computer wouldn’t be stored there? I ran a full backup last night, but that drive would be sitting in the office until I’d get back and could run a Time Machine install.

Action point: Make sure that someone back at the office could plug that backup into a server for me to access.

Fouth and finally: In a world of shiny silver Macs, it pays to make yours look different. If I had Ignite stickers on it, I’d have looked for them when collecting my laptop.

Action point: My laptop now looks like this:

This episode has a happy ending, but the panic made me think about all those “what ifs”, which I’ll also be applying to my iLok, external drives, and everything else that are essential for me to keep working on the road.

And hopefully this article will help other people avoid the situation I got in!

PS – Back in the lounge, the rum and coke tasted all the sweeter once I was reunited with my laptop!


Thanks to Ricki Lee for sharing a little-known MacBook tip… you can actually have a message displayed on the lock screen, such as contact details. This only works if you laptop is switched on and asleep – not if it’s powered down and then switched on. Info here.

Chris Stevens is the founder and creative director of Ignite Jingles. Based in Manchester UK, Ignite’s jingles are heard every minute of every day, from Mexico to Muscat, and Austin to Australia! If you’re looking to refresh your station sound, email him or call +161 883 2200.

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