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A Do-It-Ourselves Journey
We’re a Garage Band
“We’re a garage band – we come from Garageland!” – The Clash
Campfire Chants was produced low-tech and on a limited budget that we hope inspires others to follow suit.
Our goal was to capture the ragged-edged sound and spirit of a bunch of people gathered around a late-night witchcamp fire.
Of course, these songs weren’t actually recorded around a campfire. But neither are they studio recordings. They were done in a converted garage in South Berkeley.
Home recording eliminated studio costs – essential for a do-it-ourselves project with endless weekends of recording.
Of course, it also meant that we had to teach ourselves how to record and mix an album.
Tip Number One – watch youtube!
There are hundreds of how-to videos on every aspect of recording and mixing. Dave Pensado’s Into the Lair episodes are a textbook.
The garage space had lots of harsh echoes, so we got some quilted moving blankets and hung them from the rafters to create a 6-foot-square recording booth.
We used Shure 57 mics for instruments and Shure 58s for voices ($99 dynamic mics – in the future we might spend more on a condenser mic for vocals).
Mics ran through a Presonus bluetube preamp and then into an antique Tascam digital 8-track with real sliders and knobs (quaint, but in the future it would be simpler to skip this hardware and use a $300 Digital Audio Workstation to record direct to computer).
Total equipment cost, assuming you already own a Mac computer – around $1000.
The Guild guitar had a built-in pickup that doubled the Shure 57 mic on all tracks – the built-in pickup added body and reduced mic-hum.
The electric bass was recorded direct. We used EQ and compression to give it a more acoustic sound.
All other instruments are recorded live using a Shure 57. We augmented lead instruments with a Countryman mini-condenser mic that adds a bit of body to the bright Shures. (Several fiddle tracks by Mark Simos were recorded separately – see album notes).
Recording the Album
A shifting group of adults and kids rehearsed once a month for a year. Eventually a small chorus settled in. This group chose the songs, keys, and tempos.
Using a metronome and tuner, we recorded the conga and a simple guitar part. Voices and other instruments were recorded with these parts playing through headphones.
Most chants went through several versions. Over a six-month period, we re-recorded most parts, looking for the best sound we could get from a bunch of people with jobs, kids, and an occasional need for sleep.
We mixed the album on GarageBand, an almost-free and fairly intuitive Mac program that allows remarkably detailed editing and splicing.
Amidst all the cutting and pasting, we tried to keep the sound natural. A touch of faerie delay and natural redwood reverb can be heard on a few songs. Otherwise they are all-acoustic (although rumors abound of electronic remixes!).
We alloted a year for the production process, and used all of it. Recording began in March 2015 and was complete by mid-Fall. Although we’d been doing test-mixes all along, re-mixing took until February.
Final Steps – with community support!
This was pretty much the limit of our DIY capabilities. We could have released the music digitally at this point. However, thanks to advance orders and donations, we engaged professionals to do three final steps.
Mastering: Once recording and mixing were complete, we turned it over to Winter at EMB Studios for mastering – this didn’t change the mixes, but gives the album a smoother and more consistent final sound.
CDs: We wanted physical CDs, which we got replicated at CDBaby, who also handles digital distribution for us.
Album Art: Michael Starkman, who has produced many promo cards and other designs for Bay Area Reclaiming, created the CD cover. See more of his art and photography at michaelstarkman.com