Monday, September 14, 2015

Random Crayon Notes

This is what most of our band meetings look like. Bunny, holed up in his den in the Valley, with Christina and I here at the beach. We hold these meetings (or, as we call them, "scribbles") as often as needed to keep the ball rolling on our album's development. Some musical concepts are just much easier to communicate verbally than in writing back and forth to each other (as we do daily anyway).

Oh, hi there! I have a blog, don't I? I should probably use it and stuff.

I guess you could say I have good reasons to being an absent blogger. As most of you know, I usually write little reports of my live music shows in Second Life and elsewhere, and 100% of my musical focus lately has been on my band, They Stole My Crayon, which I'll tell you about in a moment. The lack of regular updates is also due to a weather phenomenon that I call "August Sucks and September Sucks Too". I don't know if global climate change is directly involved, but I will say that it's been a crappy, high temperature, unusually humid number of weeks here. Fortunately (and not wanting to jinx it by mentioning this), this Monday morning is overcast, and there's even a small chance of rain, with highs only in the mid-70s. If that is true, it will be heavenly today in comparison to recent days, and so it's high time to tell you what's been going on.

Meet Spencer Crewe, the Crayon Sharpener
I've mentioned Spencer a good number of times previously. But Spencer has always seemed more of a concept than a genuine person, at least in terms of his interaction with The Crayon. He's been a friend of ours for a long time; like Bunny and Christina, I originally met Spencer back in the early 2000s via online forums focused on our common interests in music and audio engineering. I've known him for close to 15 years, and have always enjoyed his personality and obvious wide-ranging knowledge about capturing sound in creative ways.

As we progressed through writing songs and recording demos, it became clear that for a plethora of reasons, it would serve our music better to have it mixed by an outside source. Spencer had mixed Bunny's last solo album, which sounded excellent. Spencer's other recording projects -- he's done many of them in and around his home town of St. John's, NL (that's in Canada, folks) -- all showed that his skills as an engineer were more than sufficient to work on our music.

Spencer has great taste in music and audio gear. Trust me, if your mixing engineer isn't insane, you may have picked the wrong one.

In April of 2014, we first approached Spencer to see if there was any possibility he'd be interested in working on our music, and he emphatically accepted. But since then, there's been very little action for him in regard to The Crayon. It really wasn't until the start of this year that we put the Crayon Car into high gear. As you know from recent posts, we did a couple of sessions at Phil O'Keefe's Sound Sanctuary Studio in Hesperia that essentially wrapped up the last of the recordings for the album... or did it? More on that shortly. In any case, we finally had tracks that we could ship off to Spencer and let him do his thing. Well, a couple of days later, we got back our first mix from Spencer. It was for our song "Underwater Underground". Spencer just wanted to see if he was on the right track in terms of our expectations. Let me say, on behalf of the entire band, that he fucking nailed it. His very first mix showed us that he was going to add something to the band that we could never have done on our own.

Spencer has now received a second batch of tracks, this time for our acoustic/vocal-oriented song "Got Guilt". I'm sure that it's going to be insanely great when we get it back. Working with Spencer has already made a huge impact on The Crayon, and we're now even more excited and committed to getting the album wrapped up and ready for prime time.

Good Stuff Gets Better
One thing that happens when you're getting ready to hand off your tracks to a mixing engineer: you get super focused on making sure that everything is 100% perfect, or at least as good as it's ever going to be. Sure, you can keep making additions and changes to a song after a mix is done... but it starts becoming a waste of several people's time and money. You're much better off thinking through every detail before handing off tracks for mixing in the first place.

Up early and ready to record. When I have a specific musical thing in mind that I want to capture, it's often difficult to focus on anything else until it's done.

We knew our song "River Shallows" had a couple of things that needed to improve before we started getting ready to give it to Spencer. For example, the original bass part was recorded hurriedly, before we'd fully absorbed the song itself, and had some sonic glitches that we didn't love. Also, the rhythm guitar part wasn't doing it for us. On Saturday morning, I opened up the song file on my Logic Pro X system. My intention was to re-do the guitar and bass, but then something else kept popping into my brain. It was the song's intro, and it really was rather pedestrian and boring. We'd done a couple of passes at it, but the phrase "polishing a turd" kept coming to mind. So before I even started on the new guitar part, I threw away the old intro and started fresh. We all agree that the new version is infinitely more in line with the sound we intend to project as a band, and that was inspirational to then go in and revise the guitar and bass parts to our liking. By Sunday afternoon, I had all these revisions complete, and it will almost certainly be the next song we ship off to Spencer for his mixing talents.

Christina and I take a break from recording (and to get out of my sweaty room on this muggy late summer day).

Much like "River Shallows", I find it likely that every song we'll be sending to Spencer still requires some small tweaks here and there. We have a list of our tunes and what remains to be done on them before mixing. It would seem that the most likely candidates that will next go through the "fine tooth comb" treatment will be "Again", "Bag of Nothing", and "Disarmed". I have no words to tell you how much I'm looking forward to this. No one but my fellow recording musicians will know the thrill of hearing your own music after it's been honed and polished by someone with the skill of a guy like Spencer. It's going to be an exciting couple of months while we wrap these things up and Spencer does his thing. After that... well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

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