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Recording in "free" tempo - no click track


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I remember reading an interview with the (excellent) ex-drummer from the Cure about the recording of their classic
Kiss Me Miss Me Kiss Me
double album. He mentioned that they'd done about half the record to a click and the other half without.


The fact that I had no idea which tracks might be which spoke a lot about was a super player he is.

 

 

Sure, and it's a good skill to be able to play in perfect time, obviously. However...

 

 

Speaking as a drummer, I'll have to admit that a lot of the time I actually prefer to play to a click. I actually find it kind of relaxing/re-assuring to play to something keeping perfect time.

 

 

Perfect time usually bugs me. Give me something that grooves perfectly. That may or may not (and often doesn't) involve perfect time.

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Instead, do this exercise: play along with a metronome at different tempos, then stop the metronome for 10 seconds, play on your own and see how much you've drifted when the metronome comes back in. Then increase the "off" time to 20 seconds, 30 seconds, etc.

 

Yes yes that's a GREAT excercise! :thu:

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I have been laying an acoustic guitar scratch track down with a drum machine track, then delete the drum machine and play along to just the acoustic guitar.

Like most guitarists I tend to speed up a bit even though I have practiced many hours to either a metronome and drum machine.

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Instead, do this exercise: play along with a metronome at different tempos, then stop the metronome for 10 seconds, play on your own and see how much you've drifted when the metronome comes back in. Then increase the "off" time to 20 seconds, 30 seconds, etc.

 

 

Absolutely. I like:

 

Putting the metronome on 2 and 4. This requires you slow the tempo down to half of what you're going for. 120 bmp is now 60 bpm and you hear the clicks as a snare backbeat.

 

Try doing the 2 and 4 thing mentioned above and just play the 8th note upbeats. Without pulling ahead.

 

Try doing the 2 and 4 thing mentioned above and play 8th note triplets. Now just on the 1 and 3 while the click is 2 and 4. 8th note triplets.

 

Try programing a beat and dropping it out every other bar. Did you come back in right on the one? Probably ahead? Keep doing it.

 

Try programing a beat and dropping it out every other bar + the one from the next bar.

 

Try playing without a metronome now. Hey! I sound great!

 

Now try slowing down and speeding up and see how much better you sound doing that. Not hacky but in control. That's a groove baby.

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I know I keep saying this over and over, but if one MUST have a perfectly steady time for whatever reason, why not do it to a loop (assuming that you don't want to create perfect time with tempo maps, Elastic Time, or other methods)?

 

Anyway, I rarely get bands that request clicks at my studio.

 

Of the ones that do, rarely do they ever like it. This is not because clicks are in themselves inherently evil, but more because no one in the band has practiced to a click, and when suddenly presented with one, they can't play to it and call it "soulless".

 

Why anyone would think that it's a good idea for a band to practice months without a click and suddenly play to one while recording is beyond me.

 

But my point in the first comment was simply to point out that if playing without a click (or any other steady tempo) or not using a tempo map or grid is now considered UNUSUAL, what a sad state of affairs music has become. Very sad times indeed.

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Why anyone would think that it's a good idea for a band to practice months without a click and suddenly play to one while recording is beyond me.


 

 

I agree with the spirit of this comment, Ken. I have in fact, though, been a part of many sessions where we (the band and I) were able to get a level of comfort going that surprised the strongest naysayers of the group.

 

Once again, I'm not preaching the way of the click. I hate it. But I enjoy helping a band pull together and do things they didn't think they could do. Sometimes that's getting the drummer to actually groove in a relaxed way with a click.

 

One weird, almost metaphysical, approach is to tell the drummer to not listen to the click. Feel it. Let it suggest and inform his own body clock. Don't focus on it. See it as a kick ass percussionist sitting in. And just ride along with that guy. He's on it...

 

It works.

 

And this is not to contradict anyone he is vehemently anti-click. I truly admire that sort of altruistic approach to art. Admittedly, A lot of the stuff I'm working on will never be confused with art.

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I agree with the spirit of this comment, Ken. I have in fact, though, been a part of many sessions where we (the band and I) were able to get a level of comfort going that surprised the strongest naysayers of the group.

 

 

Right. I have too. But that *still* doesn't make it a good idea to never practice with one, and then right when you are trying to get the greatest performances you can, suddenly introduce this new method.

 

If you want to maximize your chance of getting the greatest performances, you practice. And if you want to play to a click during the recording, you practice to a click beforehand. That's all I'm saying.

 

And because people tend to look at discussions as polarized and much like sporting events ("He's for it!" "He's against it!"), I want to say that I'm not "anti-click". I practiced with one for years. I'm pretty damn good at it.

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Right. I have too. But that *still* doesn't make it a
good idea
to never practice with one, and then right when you are trying to get the greatest performances you can, suddenly introduce this new method.


If you want to maximize your chance of getting the greatest performances, you practice. And if you want to play to a click during the recording, you practice to a click beforehand. That's all I'm saying.


And because people tend to look at discussions as polarized and much like sporting events ("He's for it!" "He's against it!"), I want to say that I'm not "anti-click". I practiced with one for years. I'm pretty damn good at it.

 

I agree with everything you just said. My problem is I can't seem to get bands to do anything on their own. This seems to be a real trend. Unfortunately I get guys who say they'll practice this or that and show up so under prepared. No woodsheding... forgetting essential bits of gear. Just insanely irresponsible with regard to what they say the want to do.

 

So given that, I do find myself in a position frequently where I choose to try and get a less than stellar band sounding great a the end of the project. This, for me means:

 

Facing the reality they won't woodshed with a metronome after me pleading that they do and...

 

...figuring out how to get them to play with a click come tracking day because they will sound crap at the end of the day without all underhanded tricks (AT, Elastic Audio, extensive comping, etc.) I'm forced* to use, in the hopes of having their playing match their good concepts and songwriting. (gasp... long sentence)

 

* OK not forced. I'm a willing but increasingly bitter participant. ;)

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By the way, just to reiterate this, I've found that I tend to get better results from a lot of musicians here if I put something else on besides a click, such as a shaker, high-hat, kick drum, or something else that seems more organic to them.

 

 

When I make clicks for my demos, I usually have a shaker playing eight notes, a side-stick doing quarter notes, and a tambourine on the backbeat. Occasionally I'll even put a quiet kick drum on the one.

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If I'm recording my own stuff I'll use a drum machine over a metronome anyday. I dont do alot of midi stuff so its a non issue. If I do solo stuff like I did the other day with a singer I can tap the beats in afterwards with touch sensitive pads.

 

Recording live with the band they're definately not needed. They would also be useless on some of the slow down type song endings and pauses we use during the songs. We been playing together long enough where we can follow a pause intuitively without even having to do a mental count. Its not something amatures or new bands can do easily. The mind reading thing or simple glance for a break or ending takes thousands of hours playing together to develop.

 

I have put in the hours using beat machines though. First a primative keyboard beat box for an organ back in the 70s, then I bought a radio Shack beat box back in the earley 80s and modified the hell out of it to get different beats to record with. Later I used Yamaha and Casio keyboards for drums. Its amaxing how much they have improved over time. Now I have a littel Zoom123 that has like 200 sets and beats built in that sound as real as they need to be.

 

I have real drums but they are alot of work for song writing purposes. I can say the 10 years I did only solo stuff with machines improved my playing ability. There again if I was playing in a band at that time I guess I would have still improved.

 

You can get sloppy playing to canned beats because you know you can go back and do it again. Theres alot to be said about having your {censored} wrapped tight and having the pressure to do it right the first time. Without that and only relying on self motivation can be a downward spiral if you dont give yourself constant reality checks.

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drum pattern only here - which I consider a click track, even though by definition is it not. to me, a pattern adds some extra oomph to the sound and I feel the groove better to play a part. certain tempoless songs, well, the answer to that speaks for itself.

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I know. And I'm not blasting you for this. It's just a sad time when someone simply playing a guitar in front of a mic is considered aberrant.

 

playing a guitar... in front of a mic :confused: what do you mean... you actually play a guitar..? Without a midi remote controller connected to a DAW with a guitar sampling trigering device!? .. :confused:

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No, they don't. And that is a sad thing. They don't because they use phrases like, "I'm trying to let my flow happen" or "I want it to
groove"
as excuses to avoid the hard work. And the obstacle of discovering their bad time.


"Dude, I
tried that
... but the metronome
I got
must be whacked though cause it was all over the place." Or the infamous, "Hey bro, your clicks broken I think. It keeps slowing way down."


Practice with one and you won't have to record with one.


I love slowing down and speeding up and going where ever you
want
to go, groove and tempo-wise. I HATE when if happens without the knowledge and control of the performers though.


It's hack and sounds slack, Jack.


There is nothing,
nothing,
recording wise I'd rather do than get a group of hot young players in a room and let them
go...


I'm still looking. They're there, I know, I just haven't had the opportunity yet to record them. Till then it's...


"How's this for the tempo? And you like shakers or rimshots n' cowbells?"

 

 

dis man has spoken da truth

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Anyway, I rarely get bands that request clicks at my studio.


Of the ones that do, rarely do they ever like it. This is not because clicks are in themselves inherently evil, but more because no one in the band has practiced to a click, and when suddenly presented with one, they can't play to it and call it "soulless".


Why anyone would think that it's a good idea for a band to practice months without a click and suddenly play to one while recording is beyond me.

 

Yeah, dumb idea! If the band is planning to play to a click they need to practice with it. Duh. :lol:

 

I on the other hand CAN play to a click perfectly well, but I still hate it. :D

 

But my point in the first comment was simply to point out that if playing without a click (or any other steady tempo) or not using a tempo map or grid is now considered
UNUSUAL
, what a sad state of affairs music has become. Very sad times indeed.

 

Agreed. People also think it's unusual not to use pitch correction. :(

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My problem is I can't seem to get bands to do
anything
on their own. This seems to be a real trend. Unfortunately I get guys who say they'll practice this or that and show up so under prepared. No woodsheding... forgetting essential bits of gear. Just insanely irresponsible with regard to what they say the
want
to do.

 

 

Yeah, it does seem to be a real trend, and I actually just tell people I won't work with them if they don't show up prepared. Life's too short to deal with people who are too lazy to make decent music.

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People also think it's unusual not to use pitch correction.
:(

They do? :eek:

 

I plead guilty to using a click track ever since I got my first copy of Cubase back in ... wow I think it's around 10 years ago now I come to think of it ... but if the artist I'm recording (especially if it's me :lol:) screws up I get them to try again until it's right. If they kept constantly screwing up on pitch I think I'd have to find a way to get them to go to another producer!

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I get asked if I have AutoTune by about 75% of the people who record here. When I say that I don't have it, they seem surprised. "Oh, I thought everyone who has Pro Tools has this," a couple have replied.

 

"AutoTune" has become like "Kleenex" or "Xerox"; I'm never asked if I have "pitch correction" or "Melodyne", for example.

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It depends on the song. I find that some of my songs sound much better when they stick right to a click track, make's them sound tighter and more professional. On the other hand, there are those that I come across that just sound better when played free of a solid timing source. Sometimes even certain parts within a song (a rock verse, for instance) sound better played to a click track, while softer, quieter parts of the same song that rely more on feel and emotion sound better with the click turned off. Like others have said before, there's also considerations of whether drum software will be used, how many instrument parts there are (too many parts all played at slightly different times can get muddy real fast, although a couple can actually sound very good), and even things like timed delay effects, etc. I just play it by ear.

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The problem is overdub multitracking.

 

A band playing together gets its time from within, from listening to each other in the moment. But as you've found, it's incredibly difficult to synch tracks added later unless there's a solid time reference - and that problem is far worse if you've not spent sufficient metronome practice to develop your own solid internal time.

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I do both, but often without.

All solo stuff here mostly - I will play acoustic, go back and add vocals. add drums, then redo the acoustic, add bass, add lead, redo the vocals, add shakers, add keys, go back and redo lead..... ad infinitum.

eventually I get sick of it and call it done.

click is ok, but it tends to make my music sound a little sterile to my ears... forced, for lack of a better description. much better vibes in "freetime".

Then again, I have pretty low standards about what passes for music.

cheers

C.

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Yeah, it does seem to be a real trend, and I actually just tell people I won't work with them if they don't show up prepared. Life's too short to deal with people who are too lazy to make decent music.

 

Oh I wish! Life may be too short, but those lazy bozos pay the bills around here!;)

 

Just kidding- but I had to deal with this very thing today- eventually the band's slower songs were click-tracked, and the faster ones weren't. They sounded fine regardless...

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Click tracks don't have to be static. For those of you who record one instrument at a time, or are primarily using softsynths, you can create quite a bit of movement and interest by laying out a varying tempo map first, before recording the bulk of your parts; just bumping up the tempo a BPM or three can often bring extra life to a chorus, etc... Or, you can play one part completely "free", and use that as a grid and / or "feel" template for the follow on tracks.

 

While some people can play "around" a click to good effect, and while heavily quantized parts are de rigueur in some genres, it doesn't mean they're always musically appropriate. :idea:

 

All of the Zak Claxton stuff I've been working on recently has been tracked sans click. I've done plenty of stuff with a click too. :)

 

Whatever works... and as far as it being easier on the engineer later with a click - waah - get over it folks. :p:cry::lol: It's what makes the musicians happy and gets you the musical end result that everyone's shooting for that matters. Suck it up and do what you have to do to get it done.

 

It may be harder to edit without a click, but it's certainly not impossible. But it DOES require more from the engineer. You've got to be more musically aware of the groove and able to "feel" things, and then translate that to your editing, so that any edits you perform don't disrupt that groove, and / or go against the intention of the artist / musician / producer/ etc.

 

It requires that you be more aware; more involved. It may take a few more physical steps and (the real drag) more time to accomplish, but again, the goal is musicality, not "whatever's easiest".

 

IMHO of course. :)

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