Monday, May 4, 2015

Kicking Ass with The Crayon

Okay, it's true: I'm posting a lot about my band They Stole My Crayon lately. The reason is easy to understand... I'm doing my solo shows in Second Life much less frequently, and in the meantime, each of my recent weekends has been filled stem to stern with making new music with The Crayon. So, unless you want posts about doing laundry, my rather mundane work, or much worse, politics and world events (no!), you're going to get some Crayon news here for awhile. I doubt it's a big problem for anyone. Also, I find that blogging about the process of creating music is very helpful. It's a big undertaking, writing and recording an album of good music, and having this reference is good for everyone involved. Hopefully you enjoy it too, my fine reader.

Life as a Typical Person Who Makes Records
I don't know what a typical person is, by the way, and don't really like to think of myself as such. But I do know that I am referring to a person who may have responsibilities outside of being a musician or audio engineer/producer. Things like a job, and a family. I imagine that if I was some lonely guy who just made music for a living, things would be much different (probably not for the better, by the way). But for a person like me, we're forced to limit our music-making times to not conflict with the other areas of their lives. That means that I am generally able to focus on creating our Crayon album on Friday evenings, Saturdays, and Sundays. Every once in awhile I find a little time during some weeknight, but more often than not I have these self-imposed limits, and that's okay.

The result is that I cram as much music as possible into those free moments, and I appreciate those times a lot. On many a recent Monday morning (like today), I bemoan the fact that I'd prefer continuing to work on music rather than work on... work. But as I referenced above, I choose to be the responsible person I am (though I sometimes wish I weren't). And I'd say that at least for the past six weeks or so, we've been doing excellent work during every minute of time we have available.

This is what I'm looking at while recording or mixing music. It's Apple's Logic Pro X software, and while it's super powerful (like most DAWs these days), it's not nearly as complicated or hard to understand as it might seem on the surface. You get multiple tracks (limited only by your computer's processing power and hard drive space) where you can choose to record audio sources (like a microphone or a guitar) or MIDI-based software instruments (like virtual pianos, keyboards, and other sounds). You can add effects internally or use them externally. And then, you can mix everything until it sounds like you want. Simple enough, eh? In the image above, you can see the waveforms of tracks for vocals that Christina and I did, along with some of my guitar tracks. Our use of software-based recording systems allows us to quickly record parts of songs in various physical locations, and then use the Internet to send files back and forth for our respective contributions to a song. Good times.

Friday May 1: "Disarmed"
I got to a point late Friday afternoon that none of my clients and colleagues seemed to be responding to my emails. That can be a frustrating thing for most people, but not me! It's my signal that it's time to get out of work mode and get into Crayon mode. I started by opening our song "Disarmed", which needed a new bass line and an outro guitar part to replace the earlier incarnation. Both improved the song tremendously.

Saturday May 2: "Carry Me Here and There", "Bag of Nothing"
Our song "Carry Me Here and There" had a problem: it was a little too smooth. There's nothing wrong with smooth. We like smooth. But our band isn't an easy listening band, and the first version of "CMHAT" was a little too streamy and organic to be part of the Crayon vibe. To be frank, I wasn't sure this song was going to end up making the cut, but during our band meeting the previous weekend, we identified areas where some changes could happen. I spent a good chunk of Saturday doing just that. I can't tell you how much better this song got after swapping out some instruments and adding new parts, and then doing a new mix. So stoked!

But later that day, we still had time to do another round of changes from our list. "Bag of Nothing" needed a new bass line as well as a keyboard part, and a new mix. We did that, and it went really well.

Sunday May 3: "River Shallows" and more mix additions
We started Sunday by continuing the stuff we'd done on Friday and Saturday, which now had some new contributions from Bunny. He'd done a new guitar line for the bridge in "Disarmed" which was very cool, so we added that. Then he sent over revised vocals for "CMHAT", and we plugged those into the mix. Each song kept getting better with each additional revision.

Then it came time to do work on another song that we already knew was cool, but was missing certain vibe aspects that we all wanted. "River Shallows" was just a little too predictable in its arrangement and style. We had also defined what changes we wanted, so it was just a matter of going in and doing them. I started by changing the rather boring drum part to something much cooler. Then we changed the guitar tones to be less macho; though we love heavy music, we're really not a metal band. Then we added a vocal part from Christina that she'd been patiently waiting to do, and then re-recorded my lead vocal to be better in line with the newer version of the song. After we shipped it off to Bunny, he got inspired to do some new guitar parts, which he sent over late Sunday night. Despite my disclaimer above about limiting my music creative time to the weekends, his new parts were too cool to wait and hear in the mix, so I opened the song file this morning at the crack of dawn, and did one final mix for the weekend before Monday got into high gear. I should add that this went from being kind of a mediocre tune to being one of our favorites via the weekend's work. Way to go, Crayon!

More to come...
We are continuing on a really good path to have the album recording completed in the next couple of months, after which it will be shipped off to mixing engineer Spencer Crewe in Canada. I have to say, each song keep getting better and better. And yes, next weekend will once again be full of work on this project. When it starts getting good like this, it can be all you think about for weeks on end. We're all highly anticipating the day when this whole thing is done and ready to show to the world... at which point we'll immediately be moving forward on the next one.

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