Think you have limitations in your home studio? Try recording around a campfire in the woods with no power source! That’s what one TRR reader, Marco Bucci did with his buddies and the result is incredible. Armed with nothing more than a couple of mics, a battery powered interface, Garageband and his Macbook Air’s internal battery, Marco tracked an entire song that just sounds great. Take a listen for yourself.
The “Studio” Setup
Marco is a rock start in my book. Here’s a guy embodies everything that’s great about this recording revolution we are living through. His setup is simple, affordable, but effective. On this recording he used Apple’s Garageband, a Macbook Air, a Roland Duo Capture Ex interface (running on AAA batteries!!!), a Rode NT4 stereo mic, and one Shure SM57.
I knew that I only had one full-charge of battery life in my macbook, so I had to work smart. This meant lots of practice, and minimal amount of takes. – Marco Bucci
What a concept: lots of practice and minimal amount of takes! He knew both his time and gear was limited so he had to prepare in order to capture solid performances that would turn into a great sounding recording. We all should learn from his actions and apply them to our own situations.
How It All Went Down
I love this idea so much that I want you to hear in Marco’s own words how he approached his campsite recording. Take notice of his decision making being big picture. He had a goal and vision and worked backwards with this limitations to create concrete action steps:
“The obvious challenge throughout the whole thing was getting all the instruments tracked without running out of battery. To do this, I decided ahead of time to track each section of the band live, which was the motivating reason for bringing my Rode NT4 stereo mic.
The percussion section was first. It was 5 players with various shakers/hand drums around a campfire. I arranged them spatially around the mic to get a built-in mix (as I monitored on headphones). The stereo mic gave me built-in panning also. We did two takes through the song, I chose the best take to use all the way through, with no editing or punching. This was partly due to not having enough battery time to worry about setting up punch-ins, but also because I wanted to capture the energy of the live group, including any minor mess ups we may have made.
I guess this falls into what you always talk about, about limiting your options
The rhythm guitar section was next, and was also tracked live (there’s even a photo of it in the slideshow). I played the guitelele and my cousin played 6-string acoustic. I used the NT4 again to mic us up in stereo, and just played with mic placement until the two instruments sounded balanced. We recorded three takes, and I used the best take all the way through the song with no punching.
Lead guitar was tracked by itself, using the sm57. There is a photo of that in the slideshow too. We did about 4 takes all the way through the song, with each take having various strong-points. I could edit that one together later.
I also recorded some hand-clap samples on-site, which I edited into the track later.”
Finishing Things Back Home
Can you believe this guy? He just went for it and did the best he could with what he had. Love it. In the end it wasn’t a perfect scenario as he ran out of juice to finish. In his own words:
I dearly wanted to do vocals on the campsite, but my battery was at 10% and there was just no way. I did them at home, but using the same setup as I had on the campsite. - Marco Bucci
Once he had the performances captured it was time to mix. Can you guess how hard it was to mix a recording that was done practically live with minimal takes?
The mix actually came together really easily back in my studio.
I exported the tracks from garage band into Cubase, and since each section was live, there wasn’t much to do besides gentle EQ shaping, and a bit of compression, and a touch of reverb (I just bussed each section and had the waves SSL channel on each one). There’s virtually no editing, except for comping the lead guitar master track, and putting the hand-claps in. A couple slip-edits on the percussion track for pocketing.
That was it! A quick self-mastering job and that’s what you hear in the final. - Marco Bucci
Encouraging And Shaming At The Same Time
I’ll be honest, when I learned of Marco’s campsite recording experiment I felt two emotions simultatneously: encouragement and shame. I was encouraged out of my mind because it fires me up when people make great recordings with simple low cost stuff. Proof again that it’s not the wand it’s the wizard.
But I also felt shame that I can all too easily put of recording something because I don’t have everything I need or things aren’t setup just quite right. What a lame excuse. If you have music you want to share (or even a great cover of a Tom Petty tune), just grab some stuff and go. Don’t wait for things to line up perfectly or fall into place. Simply go make some music!
Thanks Marco for sharing your campsite challenge with us. I’m good and fired up to make a killer recording on the Florida beaches now!
For more great music from Marco and his gang of merry men check out his Bandcamp page.