Critical Role, the weekly D&D show helmed by veteran voice actor Matthew Mercer, has done tremendous work in making the tabletop game more mainstream than it has ever been before. When its first episode aired in March of 2015 on Twitch, certainly nobody could expect that it would grow to such great popularity, drawing in tens of thousands of viewers every Thursday night and hundreds of thousands more to the rebroadcasts and Youtube postings. What initially started with a handful of viewers and a group of friends essentially broadcasting a previously-standing tradition has evolved into a robust sub-culture of geekdom and the birth of a new demographic of nerd: Critters.
The talented cast make numerous references throughout the show, but it doesn’t take long before a common thread emerged: they are all huge fans of Hamilton. The revolutionary musical found itself being referenced on air multiple times per episode, and this sparked one of the most intensive fan-made projects I’ve ever encountered: Vox Machina – An Exandrian Musical.
This 47-track epic re-tells the principal story arc of Critical Role; that of the Chroma Conclave. In it, the heroic band known as Vox Machina battles a group of 4 ancient dragons.
Well, before I go much further, I had a chance to interview Will Crosswait, who was the driving force behind this project. This is his story, so I’ll let him tell it…
For those unfamiliar – briefly describe Vox Machina: An Exandrian Musical.
Vox Machina: An Exandrian Musical is a full length parody cover of the Hamilton soundtrack, which tells the story of Vox Machina during the Chroma Conclave arc of the DnD show Critical Role. We took the original Hamilton soundtrack and shoved the show Critical Role down its throat. It’s similar to Weird Al’s (or Scanlan Shorthalt’s) approach to music.
What inspired this project?
I’m a big fan of both Hamilton and Critical Role. In my free time, I finish writing and cover the songs Sam Riegel sings as Scanlan for fun. I consider it my way of participating in the wonderful fanart that this community creates. Some time ago, Sam covered the song My Shot, from the Hamilton soundtrack, on stream. When I went to finish writing it, I ended up writing parts for each member of Vox Machina. I gave the male voices a shot, but there was no way I was going to attempt to sound like Vex, Keyleth, or Pike. I had seen Danita’s work on reddit and had previously reached out to her about doing music together. This song seemed like the ideal time to work with her. She said yes and was a blast to work with.
After that, I started seeing Hamilton references all over the community. I knew that the cast enjoy Hamilton too (they make plenty of references to it on the show). I looked at what I was seeing and thought:
‘Wow, eventually this community will end up covering the whole Hamilton soundtrack… Wait… That sounds awesome. I want that to happen. And I think I might be able to do it.’
I reached out to Danita and asked her if I was crazy. She told me that she’d been thinking the exact same thing.
Did you know the singers/participants beforehand or was there an audition process?
I have never met any of the members of the Cantata Pansophical in real life. There are a couple personal friends of mine credited with backing tracks or ensemble work. However, those were ringers that I brought in when I needed some extra help. Some of the writers were given parts by virtue of their work on the project. We never thought it would end up getting this big, so I happily gave some people multiple roles. I thought I would end up having to do a dozen different voices myself just to make the songs work. However, we were overwhelmed with auditions in the best possible way, and we were able to find some incredibly talented people to join us. The audition process consisted of recordings sent in via email. Everyone rapped and sang an excerpt from Hamilton. Large roles required more extensive work.
What programs were used in putting the songs together?
I mixed this down in Logic 9 on an ancient Macbook laptop. I also used Waveburner to get the transitions right and aid the mastering process. The backing tracks that I made were also done in Logic.
Which song was the most challenging to put together?
There were many difficult issues that spanned multiple songs, the worst of which was our varying levels of microphone quality. Some people had great recording setups, while others were working on a shoestring budget. Still, we set out to do this on a budget of $0, so I’m pretty dang happy with the result. The most difficult one for me, personally, was doing the backing track for Satisfied. I wanted to get the “rewind” section to sound similar to the original, but I was working with default Logic plug-ins. Welcome to the life of a college kid trying to mix a musical.
Did you have any correspondence or coordination with the Critical Role staff in preparing the project?
There was no coordination with the CR folks. It’s fanart. This is a gift for them as much as it is a gift for the community. I reached out to someone who expressed an interest in possibly making a cameo, but that didn’t end up working out. I hear those guys are pretty busy.
The story seems to follow the Chroma Conclave arc exclusively – do you plan on adapting something for the climactic Vecna arc?
That sounds awesome. While I’m not opposed to it, it would have to be done in the right way. That arc is very different from the Conclave arc for numerous reasons. For one, it’s much shorter. Vecna, as an enemy, is fairly straightforward, without the meandering alliances that Raishan provides as a villain. There’s also the matter of the source material. Hamilton is special to this community for many reasons, and it’s a masterwork, literally written by a genius. To find another musical or album like that would be incredibly difficult. It would also have to be something that I love as much as Hamilton. And it would have to be something that at least one of my fellow writers likes too. That said, I don’t think this is the last piece of music you’ll hear from us. And I have heard whispers of other fans making original musicals for other CR arcs. I’m very excited to hear them.
Is there any way fans of your work can support your next project or recognize your work on this one?
There are three ways they can do so:
1) Donating to one of the charities we are “sponsoring”. Danita, Angela, and I have each picked out charities to signal boost, in the spirit of the community. As I’m writing this, we’ve raised over $800 for charity already. That says a lot about how great this community is.
2) Following up on our individual projects. There are literally a hundred people who worked on this project, so I won’t overwhelm you with all the details here. However, there is a lyrics pdf we’ve made available for free online (http://www.willcrosswait.com/cpan) that includes social media information and personal projects for our CPan members. You can find your favorite singer or favorite artist there and follow their socials or find out more about their other projects.
3) Leaving a comment or sending a tweet. We have been blessed with a lot of amazing feedback from critters, and it means so much that people are enjoying our work. When I finish making a song, I consider the work to be only 50% complete. It only truly becomes art, to me, once someone else listens to it and connects with it. When I read a comment that shows we were able to do that, it makes all of this insanity worth it. I have no doubt that others in CPan feel similarly.
Any last minute plugs or anything you’d like to say to your fans?
Thank you. Thank you for trusting us enough to give our musical a try. Thank you for giving us your feedback, good and bad. Thank you for donating to these amazing charities. Much love to all of you.
Many thanks to Will for answering our questions! You can find the project in full here.
Vox Macina: An Exandrian Musical
- The fact that the story of the Chroma Conclave works so well set to Hamilton is a wonder unto itself.
- Many of the central characters are voiced superbly
- Honestly a fantastic re-telling of a tale that would otherwise take over 180 hours to watch
- Not to take away from anyone's contribution to this project, but there is definitely a wide range of vocal talent on the album.
- Knowing how it was produced, you can only wonder how much better it could sound if made on current hardware!