Doin’ it on the Cheap with CHEECH

by | Aug 16, 2011 | Music Promotion

An Inside Look at DIY Recording and Packaging

The question CHEECH hears most often from other bands is, “Where do you guys record?” For over 10 years the answer has been, “We do it ourselves.” No recording is ever free, but instead of paying a studio, we (as in our drummer, Dave) invested time and money into buying recording gear and learning how to use it. For Radical, CHEECH’s new 8-song EP, we used an Mbox 2 with Pro Tools 8 powered by a MacBook Pro. A Digidesign 001 interface with a Yahama 01V96 console as a slave was essential for tracking drums because of its multiple inputs, and an assortment of microphones and cables were also necessary. It wasn’t cheap, but it beat paying an engineer who couldn’t have cared less if we finished on time or under budget.

In order to capture a raw live sound, CHEECH typically tracks guitars and drums in the same room at the same time. When Kevin (guitars) and myself (Josh, guitars) play side-by-side with Dave (drums), it feels like a regular practice and keeps the vibe natural and loose, unlike commercial studios where everyone is separated by glass. The guitar volumes are loud enough for Dave to hear without them blasting into the drums mics. A little bleed is inevitable, so mistakes stand out. Perfection is a must.

Next we overdub the bass, recording directly into Pro Tools through an Avalon VT-737sp tube pre-amp, which warms the sound before it’s digitized. Harry (bass) just jams until everything is locked in. We refrain from tracking bass live with drums, because the instrument’s waveforms are so much larger than a guitar’s, it makes it harder to control the bleed into the room microphones. Overdubbing has always been the best option.

We always keep the original “scratch” guitar tracks to mix underneath new overdubbed “lead” tracks. That way they have a doubled feel. The volume is cranked considerably on the new takes. We close-mic the guitar cabinets (one Mesa, one Marshall) with a Shure SM57, but we also use a room mic (Shure KSM44) to capture the guitar’s low end. A little air goes a long way. I ripped through all the cuts in a few hours, and Kevin did the same the next session day.

Brad (vox) then stepped up to a pop filter protected KSM44 and went to work screaming. CHEECH is fairly devoid of vocal melody. Instead of burning out his throat by singing each song in its entirety, he tracks in small sections, sometimes line by line, to maximize the impact and longevity of his throat. This is a formula we have used for years and it suits us well. For the background vocals we grouped in pairs, shouting the choruses and key phrases to add more punch.

Mixing is where some software knowledge really comes in handy. Learning the plug-ins, noise gates, effects, and keyboard shortcuts can be taxing, but it pays off in the end. Equalization is often more important than volume. Compression is a band’s best friend.

Lastly, I typed all the lyrics over the best band pic we had, used one of our t-shirt designs as a cover and pieced it all together in Photoshop using a template found online. Razor blades, a ruler, some jewel cases, CD-Rs, CD labels, and a quick visit to the Staples Copy Center is all CHEECH needs for some DIY album packaging. Cutting out covers and printing CD labels isn’t glamorous, in fact it’s tedious, but cheap(er) than the alternative and still looks better than those Xeroxed cassette demos from the ’90s.

DIY recording and duplication is an investment in software, gear and learning how to use them, but each time you record, the results should improve. CHEECH hasn’t paid a tracking studio yet this millennium. For better or worse, we have more money to spend on beer. And I think that’s radical.