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My recent ethical dilemma


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i'm not sure if this applies in this case, but another suggestion i have is to keep it simple. i can jam all day on drums, but under the studio microscope my kickass fills and whatnot are abominable. however, when i focus on the groove, my drumming isn't half bad to listen to. maybe the drummer needs to spend a couple of weeks practicing with a click and distilling his parts down to make his beats as powerful, solid, and simple as possible. the best drum beat is often the easiest to play. not everyone needs to be danny carey back there.

 

"Cut the frills (fills)" approach. Yes!

 

The thing is, I don't want to be part of a forum where there is a dichotomy built of noobs with tech questions, and an old boys club of wizened, battle-hardened pro engineers who answer them.

 

The only real difference between those types of members is arrogance. You can either ask for book knowledge and get it quicker here, or you can ask philosophy and get a roundtable of opinions - or even vice-versa for both - and a lot of information comes back in how you ask and how they respond.

 

I've been at this a short while as well, but I focus more on areas not many do. Top-tier professionals would undoubtedly have more answers than I.

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ABSOLUTELY. The idea isn't for them to take "my" idea and ape it exactly - the idea is to fix whatever the problem is; to do something different that works better. If my suggestion / idea inspires them to come up with a different idea of their own that works better, then it has served its purpose - I'm not married to the idea of them having to use "my suggestion" exactly as it was presented - I just want to improve things, and I don't care about who comes up with the final solution that "works" - just as long as someone does.

 

 

This is good stuff Phil. And I agree. A project that I'm producing right now... there's one song that the lyrics are very cool... to a point, then they just sort of take a right turn. The music is really cool. Old school groove rockin' R & B. I wrote a hooky groovin' bass line per their request. And then, there's those lyrics. Such a cool idea that just falls short.

 

Not my territory? Hmmm.

 

I re-wrote what I didn't like and tactfully presented my ideas. The result? He dumped every single one of my changes but understood what problem I was addressing and out did me. He re-wrote the weak sections, tightened his focus thematically... and the song is going to be very cool. Anyone know John Hiatt's Alone in the Dark? Like that but with an opposite theme.

 

Like Phil said, I don't care if you use my idea. We're just trying to make it better. As a team.

 

BTW, you can bet I'd much rather him use his stuff than mine. I'm only there to help them be their best.

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The thing is, I don't want to be part of a forum where there is a dichotomy built of noobs with tech questions, and and old boys club of wizened, battle-hardened pro engineers who answer them.

 

Since day one, I've tried to promote the idea of the experienced helping the inexperienced around here. The whole "pay it forward" concept appeals to me, and since I was helped a lot when I was just getting started, and since I continue to receive useful advice and help from more experienced engineers and producers to this very day, I feel honor bound to reciprocate whenever the opportunity arises.

 

I want to encourage n00bs, and try to help them... what I'm not really interested in seeing is self-superiority from veteran folks "talking down" to those who are just getting started... or for that matter, those who are just getting started intentionally being disrespectful and :poke: those who have been there / done that and are just trying to help.

 

I much prefer when the questions are a bit more open ended, and the threads take more of a roundtable format. I think that's what's happened with this thread and I love it. I think it's very much in the spirit of this particular forum.

 

Well, the subject of the thread is a bit more conducive to opinion and discussion than a topic such as "how can I run VSTs in Pro Tools?" I personally don't have a problem with either type of thread, but it is nice to see this type of thread pop up, because subjects like this are certainly relevant to the forum's purview, and they do tend to generate more spirited discussions.

 

I am definitely cool with spirited discussions, and differences of opinion. I only ask that everyone treat the other forumites - both veterans and neophytes - with respect and dignity.

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I did run into a ripple effect problem though... picture for a moment a drummer rushing a fill. If your bass and guitar tracks have already been laid down, then they too are rushing around it. Now you have to edit 3 instruments because of the drummer's mistake. In a situation where there is a click, everyone is playing to a hard reference point. In a non click situation everyone is timing themselves off someone else's performance and this can get sticky.

 

And / or referencing their own "internal clock"... :idea:

 

True - it's very common to have to edit other things besides just the drums when you hit a spot like that... however, I've seen plenty of cases where the same held true even though we WERE using a click. Sometimes you'll have a player who holds fast to the click in spite of the fact that someone else, or a couple other players got off of it... but just as often, I've found players tend to move in packs - if the drummer drifts off and rushes a fill, it's not that UNcommon for other players to follow along, or to also get confused by the conflicting time references and fall apart a bit. My theory is that they're used to playing together and following the drummer, whereas playing to the click is a bit more out of their "norm".

 

Another part of it may be due to the players listening to each other as much or more than they're listening to the click. And IMO, that's not an entirely "bad" thing, at least from a "musicality" standpoint.

 

If I wanted people playing JUST to the click, I would stick cans on everyone and have the click and their instrument [and nothing else] in each individual's cue mix, or just overdub everyone one track at a time, with no cue reference except for the click. I'm not saying that's the "wrong" approach, and I know some people who do occasionally [or always] track that way... but to me, it's usually more "musical" when I have musicians playing together, listening to each other and playing off of / interacting with one another, and for that reason, I tend to track at least my rhythm section parts as a unit - drums, bass, rhythm instrument such as a guitar and / or keyboard player plus a scratch vocal. I may later decide to go back and punch in some spots on the bass or guitar, or edit or comp some drum parts, or even completely replace one of the instruments via an overdub later, but I generally prefer that musical interaction, and I think it's more "inspiring" for the drummer to play with other musicians instead of just the click.

 

If having to deal with a bit of "ripple effect" once in a while as I'm editing is the price I have to pay, I'm willing to accept that - regardless of whether or not we were tracking with a click.

 

YMMV. As much as I prefer my approach and believe in that way of working, there really is no "right or wrong" on this, and you should go with whatever works for you - and whatever works for the musicians - which is a big consideration in my personal recording philosophy. I try not to get too stuck on any one way of working, and believe that I should be adaptive and willing to vary my approach if it better suits the music and makes the musicians more comfortable and / or perform better.

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I usually don't want to track with a click - and most bands that I have don't usually want to do this either. This works out rather well! :D

 

If I must get a steady tempo and I must use something to aid in this, I'll use the alternative click methods that I outlined earlier in this thread (shakers, loops, etc.). I also record people playing together - and always, the drummer and bassist, recording together in the same room at the same time, which seems to be organic and, as Phil points out, how the band works together. You're trying to play to the musicians' strengths.

 

As previously discussed, with tools like Elastic Time and tempo maps, it's really not necessary to track with shakers, loops, or a click much anymore.

 

And of course, editing a few parts or whatever often works if it's necessary, and as pointed out, can be done without losing the organic feel of the players.

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i can jam all day on drums, but under the studio microscope my kickass fills and whatnot are abominable. however, when i focus on the groove, my drumming isn't half bad to listen to. .

 

Absolutely.

 

And this is why I often handle the situation the OP described by making a couple of quick work mixes for the band to take home, then cutting the initial session short. I ask them to have a listen to everything, including the sound, the performances, the feel, the groove, etc. and get back to me in a couple of days on whether we're good to go for the project, or if they wish to rehearse a bit more first or make any changes.

 

I'm a very kind engineer these days as I no longer make my living from doing this. If I see that a band is unprepared, I might tell them something like "I see that you guys are still working out some things with the parts, and I hate to have you pay studio rates for a rehearsal room, so if you want I can do some other stuff while you rehearse or you can come back another day if you prefer."

 

Sometimes they'll go "Huh?" but usually they just say "Thanks!"

 

Regarding the "why is THIS guy playing on the record" issue, I think some great points have been made that not all the benefits of a player are immediately visible to the studio owner who hasn't met them previously. You have just a few short minutes to figure out what the dynamic is in a tactful way.

 

Maybe the guy ordinarily plays much better and is just having a bad day for reasons completely external to the session, maybe something YOU are doing as engineer is making it hard for him to play (cans mix, recording rhythm tracks minus an instrument he keys off of, unfamiliar drumset, mike / stand in a bad spot, etc), maybe recording in a studio under time pressure makes him nervous, or maybe the guy just can't play very well and the band likes him for other reasons.

 

Hell, maybe the guy is the BANDLEADER. As I used to joke with a pretty famous country guy, "You're the one who sells these records, you shouldn't have ANY sideman who doesn't play better than you do." (he was feeling insecure about his own playing)

 

As another note on this subject, I was once IN a band where one of my bandmates came up with this stunningly brilliant idea:

 

"Let's make it a rule that whenever we meet someone who is better on an instrument than we are, we replace the weaker person with the new guy. That way, we'll eventually have a completely kickass band!"

 

Umm.... :facepalm:

 

Terry D.

 

P.S. Great thread and lots of great posts! One of my favorite of all time, would read again, etc. etc. ;)

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Man, that is right at the core of what is probably the biggest mistake I made. I knew from the earliest takes that the drummer was having issues. We did futz with the headphone mix quite a bit.


I think I feared that I lacked the people skills to really tactfully approach the subject then and there. I knew it was going to be touchy and I guess I needed to take time to collect my words and figure out how to keep things positive. A lesson learned for sure. Great post.

 

 

way to just agree with everything phil says:p

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The thing is, I don't want to be part of a forum where there is a dichotomy built of noobs with tech questions, and and old boys club of wizened, battle-hardened pro engineers who answer them. I much prefer when the questions are a bit more open ended, and the threads take more of a roundtable format. I think that's what's happened with this thread and I love it. I think it's very much in the spirit of this particular forum.

 

 

That's interesting that you should mention that, because i'm alot the same way. It is difficult to find places that are experienced without being condescending and intolerant of things that aren't high end Neumann, Neve and a bunch of other stuff that most of us would never be able to afford. On the other hand, it is also difficult to find places that blend some affordable old ways and affordable old gear, with new methods of doing things....that aren't just exclusively new. I respect both ways, because the old guard appreciates the old way of doing things; and the new guard appreciates that not everything has to cost a ton of money to do.

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That's interesting that you should mention that, because i'm alot the same way. It is difficult to find places that are experienced without being condescending and intolerant of things that aren't high end Neumann, Neve and a bunch of other stuff that most of us would never be able to afford. On the other hand, it is also difficult to find places that blend some affordable old ways and affordable old gear, with new methods of doing things....that aren't just exclusively new. I respect both ways, because the old guard appreciates the old way of doing things; and the new guard appreciates that not everything has to cost a ton of money to do.


Or the new guard could appreciate everything as it is. This is why I remain neutral.

Regardless, if you really wanna see some assholes bark at each other, go to Gearslutz. :lol:

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As a musician, I take pride in my performances. I take pride in the long hours of practice I've put in on all the instruments I play. I have been in situations where my performances weren't up to snuff for a gig... and in my case, they sparked a new determination to practice even harder. But I know that not everyone reacts that way. I'm worried that at best, I'll have wounded another musician's pride, and at worst, damaged my relationship with the client. Did I do the right thing? I can't even tell anymore.
:confused:




It is quite a situation, but I think you did the right thing.

{censored} pride... if people aren't willing to admit defeat when faced with an opportunity to better the cause its their own problem. I've done a lot of work on the world tour scene, and I've come across some people who are so arrogant they won't even take a simple work related suggestion despite it making common sense to most of the crew. They end up learning the hard way when 20 blokes are staring that one arrogant guy down because his ego added 4 hours of work onto an already 20 hour shift for everyone!

Would you rather do right by the band? or just right by one band member? ...all you could do is ask and you did. Good call. :thu:

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That's interesting that you should mention that, because i'm alot the same way. It is difficult to find places that are experienced without being condescending and intolerant of things that aren't high end Neumann, Neve and a bunch of other stuff that most of us would never be able to afford. On the other hand, it is also difficult to find places that blend some affordable old ways and affordable old gear, with new methods of doing things....that aren't just exclusively new. I respect both ways, because the old guard appreciates the old way of doing things; and the new guard appreciates that not everything has to cost a ton of money to do.

 

So to you, the new / old guard issue is more about the gear used? I'd never considered it quite in that way... :idk:

 

I suppose that's part of it... but it seems to me like, who WOULDN'T want to use the high end stuff that they liked if it was within their means or available to them? The really good stuff really IS Really Good Stuff, and yeah, it does make a difference if you know what you're doing with it and have something decent to record...

 

Not that I would ever let the lack of the Really Good Stuff prevent me from recording with whatever I could lay my hands on...

 

I'm probably getting old enough now that some would consider me more "old guard", but I don't think of myself that way. I would call myself no-guard, or maybe mid-guard. I started recording in the late 70s - all analog, all the time, and with whatever cheap stuff I could cobble together - bouncing between cassette decks and all the lofi stuff; cheap dynamic mikes, Rat Shack "Reverb" units, guitar pedals - that was all we had. Or all I had - and I would have died back then to have access to a half way decent LDC for a couple hundred bucks, or any of a dozen other modern low budget things I could think of that just didn't exist back then.

 

As I got more experienced, started learning new techniques, and embraced new technologies as they came along, I started wanting better gear... and once it was available, I darned well wanted to use it when it was appropriate.

 

That hasn't changed.

 

Thirty plus years of recording and I still am wanting to get better at my craft. I'm still trying to learn new things - new technologies, new methods and techniques - and still wanting to use the best gear I can get my paws on. Sometimes that gear is appropriate and performs acceptably for the time, or exceeds my abilities to utilize it competently at a particular point in my development as an engineer, but then I move on - IOW, I was darned happy to get my first TASCAM 80-8, but it wouldn't really serve my needs today. But if that was all I had, I'd still be recording, and I'd still be doing my best to make it musical and make it work for the band, for me, and for the listeners.

 

You can do a lot with inexpensive gear, and there's certainly a heck of a lot more options available today - some of it pretty darned good - than what we had when I was starting out. And I think that's great. But when it comes to really nice gear, if you have the means, I highly recommend picking some up. Not all of it costs a fortune, although some does... but the idea, IMO, is to get what WORKS for you; get the stuff that you can utilize and that sounds good. Sometimes that might be a two hundred dollar mic pre... and while it may serve you well for awhile, or even later on for a particular task, I don't recommend being forever "satisfied" with gear. Who knows? You just might like a API or a Neve better... or not. :idk: But usually, the more people record, and the more their skills and ears develop, the more they tend to want, and the more they tend to appreciate what the Really Good Stuff can do.

 

I think a lot of the new / old guard thing is not just about the "class" or price of the gear - it is methods and approaches, as well as technologies. Click / no click. Analog vs digital. Edit or punch, or no corrections at all. Play together or overdub everything. MIDI and samples, or real mikes in real rooms on real instruments. Grid it or leave it loose. Amps or sims. Racks vs pedals vs plugins.

 

Yes please. :D

 

Seriously, if it serves my needs, or works in a given situation, dang near anything is fair game. Embrace it all, and learn as much of all of it as you can. Use what works for YOU, and set aside the rest - until such a time as you think it may be helpful or useful, then pull it out of the bag of tricks, throw it at the wall and see if it sticks.

 

I'm not sure I really "get" the whole new guard / old guard thing. There are people who are younger than me who only record to analog with a single mic - now THAT'S old school. And then there are engineers who are older than me who still make it a point to stay current with what's new - in terms of techniques, technology and gear. Phil Ramone comes to mind. The guy's recorded Sinatra, but I just can't bring myself to think of him as "old guard". He doesn't approach things that way. But he's not locked into either just the old ways of doing things or what's happening now - he's been there and done that and the man dang well deserves my respect... and if someone like that talks, I'd be a fool to not at least carefully consider what he has to say.

 

But while I'm sure he's aware of his "status" and accomplishments, he isn't disrespectful to those who are in the next generation. He gives back, and offers his experience and knowledge... but I've also seen him with a small group of much younger engineers [no offense Phil, if you happen to see this :o:D ], just sitting around talking - and asking THEM what they thought was cool in terms of new gear, techniques and music.

 

I greatly admire that attitude. It's not about us vs them... it's all "us", and we can all share and learn from each other if we're willing to give it a shot, ask questions, share what we think, and listen...

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Click tracks kill the energy of songs anyway.

 

Is there some specific reason you need a click? Are there sequenced or sampled parts that need to be in time and the band has no way to play them live?

 

It's just a demo in a home studio. Just record the drums and have the rest of the band track to it, not a click. Obviously they're used to playing with that drummer so it shouldn't be a problem.

 

Sounds like you're trying to make things far more complicated then they have to be.

 

All that said, I don't think you were out of line in how you approached the band, just in how you approached the project.

 

-W

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Also, in click-land I have always appreciated the comfort of being able to snip similar parts from anywhere else in the song where it was played better... IMO this is a much more natural style of editing and will most likely be my first line of defense before I try doing any note-by-note stuff.

 

 

I'm not sure why you feel that there has to be "deep-editing" to make a project successful. I've got no problem w/fixing a few things here and there, but if the band has anything going for it, it shouldn't be necessary.

 

W/the ability to punch-in endlessly, any "artist" that can't get an acceptable performance on a 3-minute song, should really try to find another hobby, IMHO. If you're depending on them to "get lucky" and actually record a part that is acceptable, and then fly it around to the other parts of the song, once again, you need to find some better artists...

 

Once again, we've all had projects where the artist was awful. You just get it done to their satisfaction, and then move on.

 

As a professional, you're going to put maybe 5% of your projects on your demo reel. The others will pay your rent, and allow you to continue working in the field. This isn't a bad thing, nor does it imply that you should lowball those clients. Always do the best you can, give them a great experience and they'll come back and tell their friends.

 

MG

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As far as click tracks go, I leave that to the musicians. I for one hate them, and to tell a client they have to use one is wrong. Some people cant play to one. I wonder if Deep Purples "Machine Head" or Pink Floyd "Dark Side of the Moon" was done to a click :) If I was in your shoes, I would have mixed up the worst tune first. Called in all of the band and said "listen to this and tell me if you like it". Let them figure out the drummer is out of time. Dont tell them. If they like it, then move on. If they say "Hey the drummers out of time", then give them the options to fix it with another take (and more money) You get paid to record and mix the tunes. Not to tell them "your drummer sucks" Get the best sound you can, forget if they cant play. I have recorded several bands that, well, sucked. But the quality of the recordings was great !!!! I did what I was paid to do, make a good recording of a bad band :)

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, just sitting around talking - and asking THEM what they thought was cool in terms of new gear, techniques and music.


I greatly admire that attitude. It's not about us vs them... it's all "us", and we can all share and learn from each other if we're willing to give it a shot, ask questions, share what we think, and listen...

 

 

Heh, I remember those Realistic Radio Hut reverbs....man, were they terrible!

 

All true. I think that I was referring more to someone that can make everything work, regardless of what it is--they can take most audio tools and get the most out of them, and really, I think that getting the most out of something is not always the most apparent--alot of people reject gear whether it's old or new, just because it's foreign to them.

 

There's alot of people that only use digital, or only analog. A guy like Dave Fridmann uses both---i've always been of the frame of mind that it's in the ears of who's working the equipment.....

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As a professional, you're going to put maybe 5% of your projects on your demo reel. The others will pay your rent, and allow you to continue working in the field. This isn't a bad thing, nor does it imply that you should lowball those clients. Always do the best you can, give them a great experience and they'll come back and tell their friends.


MG

 

 

This was a brave statement and it rang very true for me. I'm in that stage now where I'm thinking that everything has to be great demo reel material. I guess not everything has to be, especially when it involves doing a "total band makeover.":lol:

 

 

As far as click tracks go, I leave that to the musicians. I for one hate them, and to tell a client they have to use one is wrong. Some people cant play to one. I wonder if Deep Purples "Machine Head" or Pink Floyd "Dark Side of the Moon" was done to a click

 

 

But... I'm not recording Machine Head or Dark Side of the Moon. I understand what you're getting at, I really do. But I must respectfully ask if you've tracked a great player that knows how to work with a click -- and I mean really work with it... when to play behind it, when to push it, what a ballad calls for, what a punk song calls for, how to drag a verse but push a chorus, how to drag a snare but keep the kick in the pocket... I could go on forever. When you take a player like that, solo out their tracks and listen with the click muted... it can really be surprising how much "feel" is conveyed. Feel is a really esoteric concept and I'm not convinced that a click facilitates it OR harms it. And one man's feel is another man's sloppy take. I feel like SO many of the wrinkles that happen when a player is left to his or her own internal time, can be reproduced when playing to a click. The catch is that you need a great player. And if you don't have a great player, you are still better off using a click IMO, because the editing possibilities that are opened up to you, and overall increase in work effeciency (another thing to think about when there are deadlines involved) are unequalled when using a click. Also, most players can adjust to one and internalize the tempo in a matter of half an hour. If they can't get it at that point, they probably have some serious issues with how they hear and feel time... and once that becomes apparent, I highly doubt that turning the click off will do anything but make YOUR job harder in the editing stage. Again, this is simply my opinion. I'm pretty set in my ways and I realize this debate is a never-ending can of worms.

 

I also realize that I am very new-school, and to some, very heavy handed in my approach to editing. It's something a lot of people disagree with and I'm respectful of their opinions. I do have a lot of reverence for the days when "fix it in the mix" wasn't an option, for one take session pros, and the many heydays of session musicians... motown in the 60's, L.A. in the 80's, etc. As an "on-call" session guy for a few studios around here I strive to make sure that everything is right the first time... as Lee said, if I'm going to step anywhere near a mic, the performance needs to be in my back pocket. But the all too real truth is that our clients often don't have the same standards we do. One of the big differences between "old guard" and "new guard" is what we do when those clients come to us. And neither approach is right or wrong. I might listen to a very experienced but very anti-click engineer's work, and think "the mix is great, but I'm hearing performance errors that I personally would never have let leave my studio." That engineer could listen to my work and think "He's sterilized it. He's edited the life out it." We're both right.

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locust tree

If your bass and guitar tracks have already been laid down, then they too are rushing around it. Now you have to edit 3 instruments because of the drummer's mistake.

 

 

Mistake #1: Never cut OD's to a bad drum track. A project has 0% chance of succes w/o solid rhythm tracks.

 

Agreed Mark, but OTOH, if you tracked the rhythm section as a "unit", and your "best" take [or, "the best take they could give you"] had a drum flaw, then you may indeed have to do some editing to all of the parts... but I definitely agree with you that you should normally fix those things before continuing with overdubs whenever possible.

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But I must respectfully ask if you've tracked a great player that knows how to work with a click -- and I mean really work with it... when to play behind it, when to push it, what a ballad calls for, what a punk song calls for, how to drag a verse but push a chorus, how to drag a snare but keep the kick in the pocket...

 

 

I have. It's wonderful. It's exactly what you describe.

 

Of course, most people are not great players. If everyone were great, then that would be considered average.

 

 

And if you don't have a great player, you are still better off using a click IMO, because the editing possibilities that are opened up to you, and overall increase in work effeciency (another thing to think about when there are deadlines involved) are unequalled when using a click.
I'm pretty set in my ways and I realize this debate is a never-ending can of worms.

 

 

Again, I completely disagree. There are many alternatives to a click, which I've discussed above. Then, failing that, there's tempo and click maps.

 

If a player can play much better without a click than with one, then using a click is counterproductive and makes someone feel bad. There are so many alternatives to a click that can get great results, often better than a click. Also, you can easily compensate for slightly off time by creating tempo and click maps and editing, all of which can be done quickly, often while the band is taking 30 minutes for lunch. I am talking about not only efficiency here, but better overall performances, and creating a situation that is positive for the performer.

 

 

 

I also realize that I am very new-school, and to some, very heavy handed in my approach to editing. It's something a lot of people disagree with and I'm respectful of their opinions. I do have a lot of reverence for the days when "fix it in the mix" wasn't an option, for one take session pros, and the many heydays of session musicians... motown in the 60's, L.A. in the 80's, etc.

 

 

I don't see this as a new-school/old school thing at all. I see it as a common sense thing. You play to a musician's strengths. If the person cannot play to a click, then you as an engineer need to find the best way to get the best performance out of that musician, either by alternative clicks (shakers, loops, etc.) or by click/tempo maps/editing.

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So to you, the new / old guard issue is more about the gear used? I'd never considered it quite in that way...
:idk:

I suppose that's part of it... but it seems to me like, who WOULDN'T want to use the high end stuff that they liked if it was within their means or available to them? The really good stuff really IS Really Good Stuff, and yeah, it does make a difference if you know what you're doing with it and have something decent to record...



Well, yeah, absolutely. Obviously, younger people in general want to use the best stuff they can get their hands on. Everyone at some point wants to jack up their sound once in a while or get lo-fi sounds, but in general, doesn't everyone want to get the best sound they can and use the best stuff they can regardless of age?

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