Some Personal Thoughts

I expect that one of the real advantages of using the world-wide web is that artists can communicate directly with their audience whether that audience is huge, or a few friends and aquaintences.

Doing an entire album by one's self is an interesting project. It is a lot of work, but when things are working right, it's also a lot of fun. The biggest advantage of doing everything is that there is a single vision of what the album should be. The problem is a lack synergy which is a very powerful tool, when it works. Luckily, I was able to get a lot of very good feedback from friends who I knew well and whose musical judgement I trusted.

But there was synergy. In early fall of 1994, I decided I really could finish the album by Christmas. By setting a deadline, I became more focused - surprise. But at that same time, Dale Holod agreed to do the cover art. We both loved the wrap-around covers of the early seventies LPs and after some discussion he started sketching out some ideas. He continued to work on the cover art, putting in a tremendous amount of time just as I was trying to fix up all the problems with the album, song by song. As the music started getting better, Dale was inspired to do even more with the art. As I saw how the art was coming along, I was inspired to try to bring the album up to a higher level. What I ended up with was not perfect by any stretch, but it was better than it would have been without the motivation of the cover art.

Why It Was Done?

I think the main reason for doing this was just that more than anything else, the entire process of creating an album from nothing was what captured my imagination. I'd been writing songs since high school, though luckily none of those are here. In college my buddies Dan and John and I spent much of one summer producing a double album of our own music. With Radio Shack microphones and a home made mixer that doubled as a CB receiver we managed to get it all put together and were pretty proud of it all.

I continued to play with electronics and music both. An occasional weekend was spent building, modifying, and debugging boxes that would let me do cool things with the sound. But it wound up being just playing and the equipment I bought were toys. I think a tool is even better than a toy, especially if it has lots of blinky lights. For me the best tool is toy that is put to good use. I finally came to the realization, that it was becoming a bit embarrasing to have a room full of toys and nothing to show for it.

So - I decided to start telling friends that I was working on an album and that I should have something that a I could play for them in about a year. I nearly did - but it was nearly another year before I had finished the CD. In that time I learned a lot about recording and more importantly, how hard it can be to stay objective with music that one has heard maybe a hundred times.

How It Was Done

The process of writing is probably the hardest to describe. There is certainly art involved in song writing, but it is also a craft and that means you're not likely to just sit down and write a great song. The time must be spent and I've never had the patience to write as much as I should. It's too easy to believe that the song I've just written is good enough. The fact is, when I write three or four songs in a row, it's always the latest one that is best. At least it seems that way to me. The problem is, if I stop for a while, it slides back down and I'm struggling with the song, and that often comes through.

As for the mechanics of writing, I have no set way. I usually just kick around with some music, maybe a riff I stumble across while playing something. The lyrics I generally try to sketch out in advance: what's the song about, what are the metaphors, how will the bridge sound different from the verse. But as often as not, that doesn't work. Once in a great while most of a song will just come out all at once, or nearly so. This is great, but I haven't found the phone number of this particular muse, so I just keep at it.

Keeping at it is the key. Sitting around imagining what a cool song I could write, doesn't get it done. At some point, the pencil has to get into the hand, and the funny little marks have to go on the paper. Making the time is often the hardest.

Once a song is written, it's got to be recorded and arranged. For the arrangement, I generally use a combination of multitrack recording and a computer synchronized to the tape. This way I can simply score out the part and the computer and music modules make it happen. I generally start out with just the guitar and the computer, and try to get the right tempo. I often have the tempo vary a bit in a song from section to section. I think it makes the song feel more real (reel?). Once that's set up, I set up the tape deck, hit record, and play my guitar part with a metronome playing over the headphones. In some cases, like on Fragments, I worked my way through the song over the course of several months, working on each section as I got to it. For some pieces, like Serenade and Evil Tempered, all of the composition was done directly on the computer.

Once there is something on the tape or in the computer for the whole song, I start working on individual parts. The bass and drums are probably the hardest to get right and I often keep coming back to them. The one, major exception to this process was Stay if You Care. I had started out with a synchronized drum part, but later found a bug in my music software. The company that wrote the software was able to fix it, but the audio tracks of the song would no longer synchronize with the computer after the software was fixed. The choice was to start over, or to manually play a drum part that matched up with the guitar and bass tracks I already had recorded. I chose the manual route, but the song shows that this boy is no drummer.

As the arrangement is being finalized, it's time for tweaking. I usually try to fix every note - make sure that it sounds the way I want, at least within my ability to do so. This can of course get out of hand and I have to make sure the music keeps some feeling. While the arranging and tweaking are going on, I'm mixing the songs to stereo. I've got up to sixteen channels of audio: typically seven audio tracks and stereo signals from various synths, samplers and drum machines. The mixing itself can get pretty complicated and for the final mixes, it can take days to get all of the fades and adjustments done at just the right time. One small mistake and it's time to start over. The good part is that once the song is mixed to digital tape, I've got it. I know that this music can be copied, as it, to CDs or other tapes with out loss. This is a luxury that I really appreciate.

Once all of the songs have been mastered to digital audio tape (DAT) the songs can be copied to another tape, in the right order, with the proper sound level and with the right spacing between songs. Once that's all done, a copy of the tape can be sent off to a disk manufacturer, along with the liner notes and artwork, and out comes a final project. In case you're interested, 1,000 CDs with artwork in cases and shrink wrapped was $3,500 (this was in late 1994). Three-fifty for each. I understand that CDs manufactured in the quantities of commercial releases are more like a dollar manufacturing cost - and about 18 cents of that for the actual CD itself. Hmmm...

On my next project, I'll likely be able to cut tracks directly to recordable CD from my computer. I won't have to go to cassette in order to be able to listen to tracks in progress away from home (like in the car). That will be too cool.

What I Think of It

Probably my favorite lyric is the last one written, Moments. There are some spots that seem painfully awkward in the lyrics, but the song seems to express what I wanted it to and there are a couple of turns of phrase that I'm pretty proud of.

Musically it's tougher to have a favorite. Serenade is a completely composed piece. By that I mean that I did not perform it - all the notes were entered and adjusted in the computer, and the performing was done on the synthesizers. Still, I'm pretty happy with the piece, it came out close to what I had in mind for it. Of the pieces that I performed, I guess I'd say that Shades of Gray is my overall favorite. The writing is above average, the performance has a couple of nice moments and the arrangement and recording turned out, I think better than I expected.

Overall I think the album can be said to cover more musical ground than most albums I've heard. This could be a plus, or it could be that others have decided for good reason not to attempt this. I've heard from friends that one feature of this album is that it takes three or four listenings to figure out "where it's coming from". I guess I could see that. For me, it seemed that since there was only me, a range of musical styles could help counterbalance that.

Personally, I wound up spending so much time listening to it, it's nearly impossible for me to have an objective opinion about it. I'm happy enough with it to try again and I have a few works in progress now. This time however, there will be other musicians involved. I felt that one reason for doing Unfinished Dreams on my own was that I didn't feel confident asking others to play my music, before I and they had some idea of just what I could do - some sort of credibility. Things are starting to shape up for the future.

I'm always interested in hearing what others think of the album. You can contact me via my e-mail

I hope you enjoyed these somewhat random scribblings. If you have the album, I hope they helped to add to your enjoyment of the album, if you don't have the album, well, I hope this encouraged you to get a copy. Let me know if you're interested.

Updated June 23, 2000

© 1996 Johnny Klonaris

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