How to Compose, Record and Mix Music on a Train

How to Compose, Record and Mix Music on a Train
I’m always rushing to create a show file, or to meet a deadline for a music commission. Here is the gear I use to get it done “on the road” – says Shlomo.

The other day I was on the train, bashing away on a set of pads to create drum patterns for a track – I was having a great time.

Suddenly, this lady turned around and says, “Excuse me. Please stop banging on the back of my chair!”

I hadn’t noticed that the table in front me was connected to the back of her seat.

“Oh! So sorry, that must be incredibly annoying!” I apologized profusely, placed the pads on the seat next to me and got back to work.

We are really lucky that tech is cheap and light enough to carry it around –you can do a huge amount of production on the road.

My Portable Gear

I use Ableton Live – this is a DAW (digital audio workstation) for Mac or PC that you can use for live performance and also for composing, arranging, mixing and mastering.

I have never found clicking with a mouse a particularly intuitive way to create music, so I have some gadgets to help – and they slot into any bag which I can carry on a plane or train.

The main piece of hardware is Ableton Push: a controller for Ableton Live. It’s basically a studio in a box; you barely need to look at the screen of your computer.

Sometimes I use Novation Music’s LaunchPad – a little 64-button controller. It is simpler in nature than the Ableton Push, but is also a lot lighter and more portable.

I also use Akai LPD8s; these are small controllers, a set of 8 pads and 8 knobs you can assign to anything in the software: play drums, trigger clips, adjust mixes —whatever you want.

I often carry a tiny little keyboard: the – AKAI LPK25. This mini keyboard plugs directly into my computer via USB.

You can power all of these devices directly from the laptop’s USB port, and they’ll work with any audio software – GarageBand, Logic, Cubase, etc.

Why Carry a Portable Recording Studio?

I am almost always on the move, on trains, planes or staying in hotels. As a busy composer, I’m always rushing to meet a deadline writing and scoring music for my latest commission.

Hotel room

You can compose anywhere – even on public transport, or in a hotel.

Meanwhile, I’m always performing solo shows so I might be travelling and need to create a show file, setting up the software I use on stage for looping, synths and effects.

If I am trying out a new song then I might be mixing and EQ-ing and if I’ve just had a recording session then I will be editing.

Or if I’ve finally finished all of these urgent tasks and I’m on a long train journey, or have a few hours to kill in a hotel room, then I might have a song idea pop into my head. Time to make something new, just for fun!

Those times when there is no pressure to create can actually be the times when the greatest ideas emerge. With my portable gear, I’m ready to start jamming straight away, and am more likely to capture that creative moment.


My Reaction to This Week's Singing Competition Entry

Gio Chacón Gio Chacón - Somebody to Love (Cover)

Love your energy and the power in your voice. I love the dynamic with your band mates. You could improve the sound of your videos no end by recording the direct stereo signal from the sound engineer’s mixing desk. You can buy a small recorder to do this for very little.

Vocal Coach in Residence January – ShlomoShlomo gave up astrophysics to perform his amazing vocal pyrotechnics. It was a good move. Since then he has won global acclaim and worked with some of the biggest names in music; he’s also won the World Loopstation Championships in LA.


  • Thanks Shlomo, this is the sort of directly pertinent and useful information composers really appreciate, as I now confirm I very much do also.

    I will be travelling around in my Campervan most of the time very soon and anything I can learn about as to how I can efficiently and expediently produce a recording of what I have composed, in that circumstance, is pure gold for me !

    So thanks a million!