Reader Spotlight: Marco Bucci And His Campsite Recording

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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.

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27 Responses to “Reader Spotlight: Marco Bucci And His Campsite Recording”

  1. Jack

    Yeah, but where was the acoustic treatment at the camp site? WHERE WAS IT GRAHAM???
    The song sounds beautiful. You can hear and feel the live vibe. Energy and enthusiasm everywhere. I feel like I’m next to them and the crackling fire. Love it!

    Reply
    • Anthony Pero

      I know this comment was in jest, but honestly, if you can get it quiet enough, outside is the BEST sounding place to record. No reflections at all except off the ground. Sounds the most natural, no pun intended!

      Reply
  2. William

    sounds great! can feel the energy and looseness and fun in the music. thanks for sharing Marco! love it and can’t wait to get back in the woods with my guitar… we did a similar thing this past winter in upstate New York, although with both power AND heat. in a hunter’s cabin, sitting around a room mic + 1 vocal mic. dropped in some backing vocals after the live take, some light post eq.. but has a similar feel.. you can listen here… http://www.williamdoney.com/music/mp3s/BMWS/09-10000%20Reasons%20-%20BMWSLive.mp3

    Reply
  3. Araffath

    Not bad at all…. I love the weird and different approach to it all… Great work not just so much convinced by the vocals mixing tho

    Reply
  4. Peter Najdzin

    Great. When it comes to recording, we are our own worst enemies, and we put many of those limitations on ourselves. Got a great tune (and that is the most important thing here), then go and record it, however you can. It’s a growing and learning process, and we will only get better at it as we continue to do it. Nicely done Marco, and thank you Graham for sharing. I too am encouraged and a bit ashamed, but that will never stop me.

    Reply
    • Graham

      Encouraged and shamed at the same time. I know that feeling all to well and it’s always motivating.

      Reply
  5. Ben

    Great Job,
    It made me wish I was there singing along! Congratulations on a great mix, and showing everyone what you can do without letting excuses get in the way.

    Reply
  6. Juan Gabriel

    Thank You again, Graham!! I’m fromColombia and I’ve been folowing you for about seven months. I have you like my pofesional career… and from home!!

    Reply
  7. Rafael Chavez

    Awesome.

    How does he make it sound BIG? The voices sound full, the ensemble sounds punchy…HOW?!

    Reply
    • Marco

      Hi Rafael,
      Firstly, thanks for the compliment!
      I’m also on the constant quest for full, punchy sound. I’m glad you are hearing it in this mix. Good EQ will get you most of the way (this includes the natural EQ that the microphone hears when recording the actual sounds). You need to leave space for the things that are going to translate as “punch” (in this case, the hand drum and maybe some of the bottom end hits on the guitar). Find one or two tracks to provide that punch, rather than trying to get each track to contribute to it (it will just get muddy if you do that).
      Parallel processing is a (not so) secret weapon too, to bring that stuff out even more.

      Reply
      • Rafael Chavez

        Thank you for your advice.
        You’re right! I realise I tend to leave EQ mostly to solve problems and if a track sounds OK I dont use it, and use Pan to separate sounds in the stereo field instead.
        Parallel processing remains an unexplored territory to me, though!

        Reply
      • Rafael Chavez

        I spent a few hours stuck into parallel processing. Amazing. I knew about it, only that the learning process takes its time and you have to wait for the right moment to take the next step.
        Thank you again.

        Reply
    • Don

      Millions of people post covers of copyright songs daily on YouTube … Tom petty could care less …

      Reply
  8. Mario DeLaura

    Everything you need to know about recording was said here “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.”

    A rock solid preformance beats out multi cutting and pasting everytime.

    Reply
  9. Jim

    Maybe this raw, in context recording is a hint to the future of recording. No longer are the recordings sterile and over-processed, but rather natural, warm and from the heart. This is a good example of capturing music as perhaps it is ment to be, and not how corporations haver made it become.

    Reply
    • Jared

      I sure hope so. Can’t stand the Mcmusic that dominates the radio these days with its completely unnatural sounding overproduction, even in genre’s that shouldn’t have that problem like country music. This is an encouraging article because I have been seriously considering recording my next release all-outdoors, just for kicks.

      Reply
  10. Niklas J. Blixt

    Great! I’m really impressed about the vocals, the good arrangement really helps to shift the focus away from the things that doesn’t sound that great. That’s great, you pay more attention to the music instead of the music production part of it. And that’s what it’s all about. It’s about the music.

    Reply
  11. Steve

    Hi…I love the mix !
    I’m curious how you did the percussion track first.
    How did the musicians know where in the song they were and what parts to play when? Was there a ghost track playing so they could follow?
    cheers

    Reply

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