Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Three-Day Crayon Weekend

Despite the fact that I often seem to whine about not having enough time to lounge about and do nothing at all, I really do prefer to keep busy. This actually explains a lot about my life, but I digress; it was another fantastic weekend here in Crayonland, and I want to tell you about it.

Sunday May 24: "Longing On" and "Take The Ride"
Some bands have the luxury of going into a commercial recording studio and recording everything for a song (or an entire album) in a short time frame. That would not be us. We are forced to build our songs slowly, due to both time and money constraints. What results is that often, we have to record a part knowing that it will need to be later replaced by a better version. In the case of "Longing On", a song that Bunny had originated and that we last worked on in March 2014, we knew that the original drums left a lot to be desired. We started Sunday's Crayonisms by putting together a new mix of that, and it sounds terrific.

Later that evening, we revisited one of the oldest songs in the Crayon repertoire: "Take The Ride", which we began in December 2012 and have, for the most part, set aside since early 2013. The song is an epic monster of a tune that had originally been clocking in at eight minutes and thirty-six seconds. That's a long song. There's nothing wrong with long songs, but they need a reason to be long. If listening becomes a tedious chore, you need to recognize that and fix it. So, that's what we did. The newer mix of "Take The Ride" certainly isn't short, but at 5:51, it's much more of a reasonable listen without losing any of the intense vibe of the earlier demo. Another note on this song: even without discrete drum sources, it weighs in at a mighty 44 tracks. That's a lot for us. However, I must say I found that working on the song within my Logic Pro X software was pretty straightforward.

Most of our songs have maybe 10-12 tracks. "Take the Ride" has over 40. We apologize in advance to our mixing engineer.

Monday May 25: "Again" and "Vendetta"
Ah, Memorial Day. Some American people reflect in quiet contemplation and gratitude for the military service members who died in the line of duty. That's about 1% of people. Another 98% of them put meat on grills and beer in their stomachs, or go shopping for discounted crap they probably don't need. And then, there are people like me, who are appreciative to have an extra weekend day to make music.

For our Crayon work on Monday, there was a similar situation on "Again" as there was with "Longing On". Some of the sounds of the first version just weren't up to our standards, so we replaced the drums with a newer version, and it really added a lot to this ballad. But there was more: this song also has a pretty cool string part which also got improved, and Bunny provided a guitar solo that we like very much.

"Vendetta" is an interesting case. It's another tune that Bunny had initiated as a solo song. Sparse and haunting, I always liked his original version, but it was simply lacking some of the vibe of our band as a whole. I started by adding some more distinct drums to the song. Also, the previous attempts at doing the backing vocals that Christina and I were singing had fallen flat (literally and figuratively), so we re-recorded those entirely. I also had a new guitar part to record, and then finally a new mix to make. It's particularly exciting, since this tune had sat mostly dormant since June 2013. Yeah, two years. But it's a lot closer to being finished now.

Finish Line Getting Closer
It would be silly for me to give you a firm date as to when this album will be completely done and available for listening. As per above, we still have plenty of crucial tracks like vocals and drums that will need replacing before the songs are ready to hand off to our talented (and patient) mix engineer, Spencer Crewe. But it's our current goal to at least start getting him songs to mix around the end of June. It seems crazy, but we're finally on the cusp of having They Stole My Crayon music you can actually hear. Yeah!


KwaiSpock Tammas said...

I'm not sure if my comment came through before, so forgive me if this is a repeat. I can certainly relate to what you're saying with regard to the home recording process. Do you have a plan for the mastering process?
Do you have a particular way you handle recording vocals or other microphone dependent sources?

Zak Claxton said...

Kwai/Quai... I've done pretty much every conceivable mode of recording, from doing it completely on my own to working without outside engineers and producers in big studios. For the Crayon, we're taking a middle approach. We are handling all of the tracking and initial mix ideas, but then handing off the songs to a mix engineer so his fresh and objective ears can add their benefit. It's likely that the same person will be handling mastering, though I've also worked with dedicated mastering houses in the past.

The main challenge here for vocals and other things that are live-miked is that I do not live in a quiet area, and outside sounds (car alarms, tire/engine noise, sirens, kids yelling, etc.) are always an issue. For some things that are close-miked (like a guitar amp), it's not a big deal. For vocals and the like, it's more of an issue. We'll be doing replacement of some final tracks in that regard at a better studio before handing off the final tracks for mixing. In any case, with some experience, even a rather consumer-level system at home is capable of producing very good recordings. Perfect? Probably not. But good enough for our kind of music? Definitely.