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Recording WITHOUT a click track

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Recording WITHOUT a click track

Postby DaveGerard » Sun Jan 22, 2012 11:14 am

Ok so for the most part I've always used a click track because I do most the parts myself and its just easier to me really, I have good timing etc.

But I tend to find that stuff sounds a bit flat, dead, predictable really and wanted some advice recording without the click.

I gather most people record the song say guitar and vocals at the same time as a demo, and then will play over what they have done with the tracks separately?

Any other advice?

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Re: Recording WITHOUT a click track

Postby Jack Ruston » Sun Jan 22, 2012 11:31 am

It's not often easy to overdub to stuff that's recorded in free time with no drums. It's especially hard to overdub something like drums onto say an acoustic guitar that's recorded in free time. You tend to get the best results when a band play together. But it might be that because it's all you, you're able to follow your own natural timing swings. Its certainly worth trying. Perhaps try laying down a shaker or some sort of soft percussion to start with. But you do have to be wary of guides. Its easy to be tricked into thinking that the parts are tight to the guide, but when you then take it out you find that they're lacking. That's also true with a click of course.

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Re: Recording WITHOUT a click track

Postby The Elf » Sun Jan 22, 2012 12:18 pm

I often hear people say that playing to a click removes the life from a song. In some cases this may be true, but it is certainly not always the case.

There are some songs that really need to breath, but I find that these are often the simplest of arrangements - typically guitar and vocal, or the like. When the arrangement is more complex then playing to click is more often a benefit. A good drummer has the uncanny ability to stay with a click, but shift around it subtly so that the song ebbs and flows, but the central groove keep punching along. In this case the click is a huge benefit.

I'm generalising, of course, but I find that the best drummers remain the best drummers when playing to a click and the worst ones tend to find it hard to hold a groove either way - and often can't play to a click anyway.

With a few bands I've tried it both ways. With the best bands it hardly matters whether they play to a click or not, but they are a very rare thing. The bands that find it hardest to play to a click are often the ones that also struggle to time their overdubs to a non-clicked backing, and the result can end up very messy unless I'm very careful and/or get busy with the editing scissors.

In summary I'd say be flexible. Sometimes a click is going to be crucial and sometimes it will kill a song stone dead. Sometimes you simply need to keep the artist happy and have to compromise your own feelings either way. A happy artist will give you a better performance and that's the bottom line. It's all about making a judgement.

And always be prepared to take the blame to keep the band united - better they blame you than each other! "I got it wrong - let's lose the click!"
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Re: Recording WITHOUT a click track

Postby DaveGerard » Sun Jan 22, 2012 1:03 pm

Elf - Absolutely I'd agree, reading back it sounds like I'm having a go at click tracks, I'm not I'm using them in about half the tracks I'm working on, due to varying factors.

Most my tracks tend to be acoustic/folk inclinations, and I was finding that a few of the tracks lacked any expression when using a click track as that was what I was using on nearly all of them.

Jack - I did actually do a few 'band' ones with me another guitarist and bassist and worked out pretty well, just did it without vocals, but seemed to get the feel right, and the bleed between instruments was minimal so I will be trying this more often, I guess drums always complicates things though.
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Re: Recording WITHOUT a click track

Postby Beat Poet » Sun Jan 22, 2012 3:03 pm

One thing you can do if you want to record with a click, but you want to retain a live feel, is to remove the accent on the first beat of the bar (so in essence it's just like a clock ticking). If you put that down low in your headphones, you'll have the ticking there as a guide for the tempo, but you won't be as constrained as you would if there was a big "boop!" at the start of every bar.
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Re: Recording WITHOUT a click track

Postby Daniel Davis » Sun Jan 22, 2012 11:46 pm

Recording to something to keep the musicians in time is a good thing - but a click is about the least useful - try a simple drum beat or or loop and preferably something between the beats like a conga groove or shaker.
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Re: Recording WITHOUT a click track

Postby JPH » Sun Jan 22, 2012 11:47 pm

DaveGerard wrote:

I gather most people record the song say guitar and vocals at the same time as a demo, and then will play over what they have done with the tracks separately?

Any other advice?

Dave

Works for me, I get our writer to do exactly this to a click; drums follow via a midi kit, quantise that, then the rest gets overdubbed.
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Re: Recording WITHOUT a click track

Postby Tartaruga » Mon Jan 23, 2012 9:25 am

Hi Dave
Interesting matter here.Maybe you need a click for some tracks,and not for some others.Also,try different ‘tempi’,like changing one point up or down,you’ll notice big,big,differences.
Personally,when I compose a track/song,it’s in a precise tempo.I can then feel when it’s 'not right'.But if it’s at a precise tempo,and the track has a click,I try to play with the click instead ‘against it’.
Try to play with metronome as an instrument itself,you’ll feel a great difference in the result.
Hope it helps and that you’ll manage.
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Re: Recording WITHOUT a click track

Postby Tartaruga » Mon Jan 23, 2012 9:34 am

Oh,sorry Dave…
Forgot to mention the importance of click if you move your project around.A ‘clicked’ one is easier to ‘move around’ than a free tempo one.
Keep in mind that,with free tempo,mood tends to change/evolve with time.With a click,you can always come back to it,even years later.And you can also change the recording platform,send it to other musicians,align all kind of virtual instruments/synths,etc.
And you can use it for recording(as a life line) and not using it in the final mix…
Cheers!
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Re: Recording WITHOUT a click track

Postby turbodave » Mon Jan 23, 2012 2:49 pm

There is a skill to click track playing. Often a drift will work if the drummer comes back in time over a fill or if s/he drifts back in over time....but this only works if it is not a self conscious act. The key, as has been said before , is drive and performance, so a well timed drum track is not always a useable track. No, you need a little drift, with a lot of feel and purpose, often gained playing to a musical click with a basic guitar /vocal track and a well rehearsed drummer. Always check back with just click and drums, then drums with rough backing, then all three. If it works well in all scenarios then there is a good chance it will work with a proper mix.
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Re: Recording WITHOUT a click track

Postby humandrums » Mon Jan 23, 2012 5:10 pm

the superb alan parsons dvd has a section on this, where instead of a click he gets the live band playing to a loop of the drummer seems to work well for him ive not tried it tho
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Re: Recording WITHOUT a click track

Postby Wease » Mon Jan 23, 2012 9:02 pm

the key is in the live band element....always the best groove, when everyone is playing together

If this is not possible i second the using of a percussion groove rather than a click...much easier to play against and you can put a little swing into your loop - so the beats are a little lazy or pushed - depending on what you want
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Re: Recording WITHOUT a click track

Postby djangodeadman » Tue Jan 24, 2012 12:24 pm

Another thing to consider is WHAT you are playing. I'm a guitarist, who can play bass tolerably well, but with pretty limited keyboard skills and I'm not epspecially inventive when it comes to drum programming. If I demo a song and play all the parts myself, it tends to sound stiff and a bit lifeless. If others who are more skilled on their instruments play the other parts, it sounds better, even when played to a rigid click, because they bring more life to the parts. The more like a real bass player your bass part sounds, the more like a real drummer your drum part sounds, the more you will sound like a proper band.
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Re: Recording WITHOUT a click track

Postby MadManDan » Fri Jan 27, 2012 4:49 pm

The Elf wrote:With a few bands I've tried it both ways. With the best bands it hardly matters whether they play to a click or not, but they are a very rare thing. The bands that find it hardest to play to a click are often the ones that also struggle to time their overdubs to a non-clicked backing, and the result can end up very messy unless I'm very careful and/or get busy with the editing scissors.
I beg to differ. I've seen many bands that cannot play to a (drummer with a) click but since they grooved together have no prob whatsoever overdubbing. The most important issue in these cases is for the drummer to remember of course not just counting in, but to keep a light hat or sticks going during any "non drum" sections, as it's the preferred way for an overdub to stay in time.

In any case the op was about one-man bands. I tend toward clicks myself but a lot of times prefer a good shaker or any perc that locks but is not quantized.

It raises an interesting quandry about what the click really represents. I generally hope for the quantized 1/4 note to fit the song, but if it can't it can't.

Need to re-read the op. Does he play live drums? If not, maybe he should. Stevie Wonder did a lot of his basics this way, keeping arrangement in mind while laying a live drum foundation.
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Re: Recording WITHOUT a click track

Postby Frank Rideau » Mon Jan 30, 2012 4:13 pm

Last song I just did, I made subtle automation of the click speed throughout the song according to the tension I wanted to build. Then I record everything to this automated click. I don't know many style of music that sound good when the timming is sloppy, however I think the lack of speed variation when you record to a click is the major problem. Listen to any funk and soul music of the 70s and you'll see these guys are locked together like you would dream your band could be. However, if you look at the songs speed, it's always speeding up and down a bit. Another best example of this would be So Lonely by The Police, you have there one of the best rythm section of the 80s, the song is tight, but if you look at it against a grid, you will be amazed how much it speed up in the chorus and goes down in the verse.
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Re: Recording WITHOUT a click track

Postby Frank Rideau » Mon Jan 30, 2012 4:26 pm

Here is the example of the song I mentionned, if you want to hear. I think it's pretty tight, but the there's a lot of variation in the speed.
http://soundcloud.com/orgasmo-sonore/piero-piccioni-pearls-camille
The song starts at 95 bpm.
It goes slowly up to 98 until 2.45
At 2.45, there is a abrupt shift to 103 or 104 that goes with the upbeat change.
Then at 3.05 it goes down back to somewhere between 96 or 98, I don't remember.
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Re: Recording WITHOUT a click track

Postby lukeandrewhill » Tue Jan 31, 2012 12:09 pm

Only thing I'd add is that beat mapping the project tempo to a non-clicked performance has worked for me in the past - allows you to add a click after putting down the first instrument, so that you can overdub accurately but keeping the vibe of the freely played instrument.

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Re: Recording WITHOUT a click track

Postby alexis » Tue Jan 31, 2012 3:28 pm

lukeandrewhill wrote:Only thing I'd add is that beat mapping the project tempo to a non-clicked performance has worked for me in the past - allows you to add a click after putting down the first instrument, so that you can overdub accurately but keeping the vibe of the freely played instrument.

L


After what seems like forever of trying different options, this is what I have settled for at the moment as well. Instead of a click though, I'll use a bass note appropriate for the music at the time of the beat. My "first instrument" is piano.

I've learned that there's no point in making short cuts - it's critical to have the timing of the first instrument be exactly perfect before using it as a guide to overdubs with voice/further instrumentation. I don't mean it has to necessarily be "on the quantized beat", but rather that any playing off the beat adds to the vibe/emotional content of the song, rather than distracting (as bad timing would). So I do a multi-step process to get to that point:

****************************************************************************************
1)Play the free-form piano part (MIDI), not to click. This is the fun right brain part! But - oops, there are some clear errors in timing, above and beyond the desired musical variations in tempo. At this point recording again is an option, but what if that take was otherwise really great in terms of expressiveness? So to keep the take, but fix any sloppy bits, I:

2) Generate a tempo map of the piano part exactly as played. This tempo map will have significant variation over time - some of it because of the desired musical variation in timing, and some from true errors in timing.

3)This step fixes the timing errors from poor playing, while preserving timing variations that contribute to the vibe/emotional content of the song. I now critically listen ("ears, not eyes!" - not looking at the tempo map!) to the first instrument. Where are the clear timing errors (as opposed to desired musical variations in timing)? Now I open my eyes, find the tempo point that is off, and adjust the tempo map accordingly.

4) The tempo map is now not "flat", but variations from flatness reflect the desired musical performance. The first instrument's timing is not quantized now, but sounds perfect. The expressiveness I felt would be missing by playing quantized click track is present. Hooray!

5) Only now do I generate a click from the tempo track, and use that as a guide to all overdubs - voice, other instruments, etc.
****************************************************************************************

I am thinking of changing this up slightly. The problem is that the click track I generate in this way, though it does preserve the expressiveness of the free-form playing, results in all the piano accents being "on the beat". This is fine for the most part, but does steal the expressiveness from the occasional musical anticipation of the beat, or dragging behind.

What I'm going to try is to render the MIDI first instrument to audio here (so it is not locked to the tempo track), then flatten the tempo track on a micro scale (over the course of a few bars at a time, for example). I'll preserve the macro-changes in tempi (choruses will still be faster than verse, ritandardi/accelerandi are preserved, for example). Hopefully this "micro-flattening" will allow the first instrument to "swing" musically around the beat.

Maybe that's asking too much. But, any suggestions or comments on this process would be much appreciated!

Thanks -
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Re: Recording WITHOUT a click track

Postby djangodeadman » Tue Jan 31, 2012 6:18 pm

Frank Rideau wrote:I don't know many style of music that sound good when the timing is sloppy...
True, obviously, but not the same thing as not playing to a click. Some musicians can play together without using a click, remain in time with one another and yet manage to slow down and speed up slightly as the music demands. I know it sounds improbable, but it's true
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Re: Recording WITHOUT a click track

Postby KennyBourbon » Wed Feb 01, 2012 2:05 am

I find a lot of people I work with don't like using drup loops either. And I kind of agree. The drum loop runs the risk of over-dictating a groove that may not be what the band is looking for. Having the drummer play the loop himself may work better, but I've never tried that.
For a band I'm curently working with, we found that many tunes don't sound natural to a click but also the drummer can't be there as much as we'd like. We've been having a lot of success with simply recording a guide guitar and bass track and programing the click in afterword. It usually takes me an extra 15 to 30 minutes to go through the song and set all the tempo changes. Not much of an inconvenience at all. The drummer hasn't had a problem with the loose tempo swings because he's already used to the music, the click just helps keep him tighter.
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Re: Recording WITHOUT a click track

Postby alexis » Thu Feb 02, 2012 4:12 am

DaveGerard wrote:Ok so for the most part I've always used a click track because I do most the parts myself and its just easier to me really, I have good timing etc.

But I tend to find that stuff sounds a bit flat, dead, predictable really and wanted some advice recording without the click.

I gather most people record the song say guitar and vocals at the same time as a demo, and then will play over what they have done with the tracks separately?

Any other advice?

Dave


Another way to overdub to a free-recorded track is to not to - instead, flatten the track to a constant tempo, then overdub (now much easier), and then unflatten the track to the original tempo, "dragging" the overdubs to the original tempo also.

The meat and potatos about flattening/unflattening starts at 4:04:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c13UP4lrYkg&feature=plcp&context=C3fc3400UDOEgsToPDskIZIXTKKWr9l3W7YpCzG8P0

This is for Cubase, but I'm guessing the other DAWs have their own ways of doing the same thing ...
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Re: Recording WITHOUT a click track

Postby BigAl » Fri Feb 10, 2012 2:06 pm

I recorded a song once with a drum machine, then got a real drummer to play on top.
With both parts in, it sounded good and the kick and snare hits were all spot on.
However, when I mixed a version without the drum machine, the song had a lovely, lazy groove all of a sudden.
And the reason for that was a good drummer.
I've also experimented with recording a band with one mic (live take) onto a track, then get them all to over dub individually. If the original take is good and captures the mood and groove etc... the final over-dubbed version can sound very good indeed.
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