Recording to a Click or Not?

Discussion in 'Recording Studio' started by gnoll, Oct 9, 2019.

  1. Drew

    Drew Forum MVP

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    At risk of being a crotchety old man around here...

    There's a lot I love about how computers and the internet have democratized the recording process. I love that in my home studio I have the ability to record as many as eight separate inputs at a time in better-than-tape resolution, I can layer essentially as many tracks as I want on top of each other in a mix, I have nearly limitless ability to add and route FX, and digital audio allows me the ability to do nondestructive editing to my heart's content. I can then share recordings on my own website, post about them on discussion boards reaching a global audience of people who are potentially interested in the same sort of music I am, and if I want to print up CDs and sell music physically or on download/streaming platforms. It's become incredibly easy to make an album if you don't mind putting the work in and doing it yourself.

    But, if the upside of digital technology is anyone can make an album, the downside is, well, anyone can make an album. For better or for worse the cost of studio time and the lock labels had on distribution were filtering mechanisms that meant only bands that profit-oriented third parties thought had songs people would want to hear, and the playing chops to pull them off, were making music. Twenty years ago, the very question of whether or not a band was tight enough to play a song live in the studio without needing a click would have been totally alien - if you couldn't hold time, the odds of you ever being in a studio were so infinitesimally low that the whole question was moot.

    So, computer recording is awesome, and I think it's awesome that I can make really legitimately good-sounding recordings working in a home studio today. But, the downside is for every Periphery you get, you also get a HAARP machine, and a ton of "check out my mixtest!" threads containing music that A&R guys wouldn't give a second listen to.

    It's kind of crazy just how much our thinking about the recording process has changed in even 20 years. I guess I'm firmly in the old-school camp; I'm not adverse to punching in or comping something from a couple takes, but the idea of looping a riff rather than actually playing it live, or worse comping a performance together note-by-note to make it inhumanly tight, is just so alien to me. I like all the little nearly imperceptible human imperfections that come with playing through a part in real time, rather than heavy comping and/or looping and dragging gives you. I think that stuff is awesome, and I've joked about this in the past, but I like all the little physical artifacts of the process of playing guitar - the little scrape of hands against the strings, hum, unpredictable little noises that come from a guitar being a chunk of wood and metal held by a living, breathing human being, to the point where not only do I usually not try to remove that stuff from performances, I've occasionally gone as far as overdubbing tracks of JUST that and throwing some delay or other ambient effects at it just to add atmosphere. Coming from that production ethos, something like the modern djent production ethos of comping performances note-by-note and then reamping the whole thing is like reading greek to me. I recognize some of the letters, might even be pretty sure I can make out a word or two... But that's about as far as I understand it.

    Old dude getting down from his soapbox here. :lol:
     
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  2. Rev2010

    Rev2010 Contributor

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    20 years ago we had Millie Vanilli lip synching to some ghost vocalists tracks. So I think you might want to adjust your time frame cause even 20 years ago everyone knew there were bands that had great albums but totally sucked playing live.

    That said, I also think the sentiment that there's so much crap flooding the music world is just that we have more access to it, not that digital recording empowers people to think they got the chops when they don't. Before the digital revolution and the internet there were still plenty of people recording crap to tape and handing it out to friends and such when they clearly might've had zero knack for music writing. But yes, the *internet* allows everyone to have a soapbox.... <pun intended :lol:> but I think it's the internet, not so much the recording capabilities of today. Suck is suck whether it's recorded digitally or on ADAT or reel-to-reel or 4-track cassette tape :)

    *EDIT - I'll also add that the internet also had allowed companies to crop up to allow us to self release music to all the digital distribution platforms, regardless of how bad something might sound.


    Rev.
     
  3. Drew

    Drew Forum MVP

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    Yeah, but that was the exception, not the norm, and was rightfully so a fairly big scandal when the story broke. These days, the number of people punching together DIs to make takes way cleaner than what they could play on their own is a valid production strategy. In 1999 virtually all of the bands going into a studio to cut a record were physically capable of playing the performances that made it onto the album.

    Again, old man, shaking fist at clouds, etc etc etc, if you like working by recording loops or comping together riffs note by note or whatever, I'm not gonna stop you, and at the end of the day I'm also not really going to give a shit provided 1) you're doing something legitimately musically interesting, and 2) the technicality of the part isn't supposed to be the star of the show, and it's being faked, but it's still important to stop and take a step back and recognize just how radical a change in recording technology we've lived through that threads like this are actually now relevant questions.

    And I write all of this as a guy who DOES have an album on a ton of digital distribution platforms that I'm sure no one actually gives a shit about, so at least I recognize my own hypocrisy. :lol:
     
  4. Rev2010

    Rev2010 Contributor

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    I have two albums out on all the platforms, though it's Electronic Industrial/Goth, but I know what you mean :lol:. And yeah I totally 100% agree with your point of not recording shit you can't actually play, I think that's lame as all hell. But back in the tape recording days I know for a fact there were still some recording solo's at a slower tape speed then speeding it up and using a pitch shifter to bring it back to original pitch. All lame as hell. For my recording the looping thing is simply a matter of convenience - hit record and play the part several times as it loops. Then I copy the part to the next track and select the tightest match of the takes for left/right guitar tracking. Very common practice and I don't think that is cheating, just the more logic way to lay down the tracks rather than doing one take, stopping, auditioning, and re-recording.


    Rev.
     
  5. TonyFlyingSquirrel

    TonyFlyingSquirrel Cherokee Warrior

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    I have a mix template in Pro Tools, and I allow myself a lead guitar part for the left, and one for the right in case I want to harmonize against it. They're only panned about 20 in either direction. I don't splice/comp solo's. I treat it like the old days when we had to create a solo in advance & then play it well during recording. My theory, "rehearse more, edit less" and that includes all tracks, save for midi sequencing. I only have one recorded performance of each side, i.e.; Guitar 1 left, guitar 2 right, borrowing from AC/DC's Back in Black playbook. We record our entire take for the entire song, beginning to end. No overdubbing of basic tracks. I do the same with solos, no comping. I never quad track, and I have had very punchy, very clear mixes as a result. Today's recordist doesn't operate with this old school principal, for the most part. I'll program the drums first in midi, and then rehearse, rehearse, rehearse to determine what tempo changes need to be made, if any. Once I am comfortable with the performance tempo's (taking overall feel and space for vocals into consideration) then I will begin tracking guitars/bass with my bass player as live as we can against the drums in Midi. This still yields a very live feel as we have become very familiar with the material (at multiple tempos I might add) by this point.

    My old drummer had the theory that we should rehearse until we get it right.
    I can't relate to that shortsighted theory.
    My theory is to rehearse until we can't possibly play it wrong.

    As a result, we knocked out a 7 song record in 1996 in 3 days from setup to post production, then mixing for 2 days. All of our basic tracks were first takes, with 1st, 2nd, and 3rd takes for vocals and guitar solos. We saved a ton of money doing this and we were all very proud of the work, and knew that we had accomplished something very special. We recorded to 3 ADAT machines, with minimal Pro Tools editing, and I still play this with great fondness. In fact, it is in my minivan now as my wife has been listening to it recently.
     
  6. budda

    budda Guiterrorizer Contributor

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    So long as readers know you can sound human while still recording to a click :yesway:
     
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  7. c7spheres

    c7spheres GuitArtist

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    - It depends how tight you want it to be. If total perfection and accuracy is needed for the part you might want to consider a click at least for that part.
    - You can always try everything both ways and see which you like best, both the process and results.

    - You can record an entire performance and they add programmed drums or other parts later using tempo map editing and syncing or rewire between daw's etc, but it's a painfully time consuming process usually, but totally doable.

    - The old timers never used clicks and it worked for them. The new timers usually use clicks and it works for them.
    - I don't use clicks even if I know I'm later going to sync drums to the parts. Clicks are really not relevant other than for the sake of reminding you to play tighter.
    - If your happy wit the way your performance or sound is coming along and want to capture/record it, then just record it like that.
    - There's ton's of great examples of band from both click and non click camps and also both live and recorded that have achieved great results.
    - Once again I would say the fact you seriously question it means you should try both ways and see which you like best, both the process of it and the results. All the way through the project in terms of time saved, vibe lossed or gained, enjoyment etc.
     
  8. GunpointMetal

    GunpointMetal SS.org Regular

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    If you're programming drums, you're basically playing to a click, no? I think its all good advice in regards to doing what the project/desired outcome dictates. I was asked last year to record a band's EP. We started talking about pre-production, and asked them to send me samples of what they wanted to sound like when it was all finished. Most of the guys sent me stuff like Infant Annihilator/Within Destruction-type stuff, so I told them we needed to sit down and do some tempo mapping and figure out click tracks. The drummer immediately got defensive, refused to record if he was going to be recorded to a click. I told them straight up that unless they were all world-class players, there's no way to get the sound they wanted at the end without putting in that work at the beginning, and if they were expecting me to get their recordings that tight without recording to a click, they couldn't afford to do it on their budget (I was gonna do four songs for $500 including tracking, editing, and mixing). They decided to have someone else do it, didn't record with clicks or tempo maps, and ended up so disappointed with the result the band broke up before they released it, lol.
    Audio production is all about doing what is best for the project, regardless of personal feelings towards technology or "performance enhancers".
     
  9. TonyFlyingSquirrel

    TonyFlyingSquirrel Cherokee Warrior

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    At a minimum, it's good to rehearse at various tempo's in order to determine the tempo's. That way, if any editing needs to take place, you have a timing reference to start from.
    I have a song that intro's at 85bpm, verses at 95bpm, and choruses at 110bpm. It took a while to determine these, by multiple rehearsals at each of them. Part of the issue is that even though I could play the verses faster, the vocal wasn't "paced" at a tempo that allowed it to come through without sounding "rushed". We intentionally slowed the tempo down, but kept the chorus faster to build up its energy as it had fewer words that could be stretched out, unlike the verses which is very verbose. Having this preproduction work done in advance will payoff in post production later.
     
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  10. gnoll

    gnoll SS.org Regular

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    Hm, I do like the idea of making a click track with subtle tempo fluctuations!

    I guess my main thing is I'd like to capture the "live feel" where you can kind of feel the energy in the song, you know? I don't like the modern super-edited quantized stuff where everything is clinically tight.

    Buut I still want things "tight" of course! The guitars on Master of Puppets is something I really look to as inspiration. They're really really tight, but tempo wise things seem to fluctuate a bit. I don't think they recorded to a click, at least not for all the songs, but I'm not really sure...

     
  11. c7spheres

    c7spheres GuitArtist

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    - I don't know if Master of Puppets used a click track. I'd guess not.
    - Something to keep in mind also is that a click track is supposed to be there for a general reference of time, not a hindrance to slave you to absolute time. Unless you must have absolute robot time you should really just refer to it to make sure you're on basic time.
    - When you're playing something with a click and are in perfect time the click will almost completely disappear.
    - If you use a click then learn to play with it, and not to it, as if it were an actual drummer.
    - If you're making a production as music then use a click. If you're recording music then don't. They are two different things.
     
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  12. GunpointMetal

    GunpointMetal SS.org Regular

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    I think these are two things A LOT of people forget with a click. Treat it like another instrument that just CAN'T fuck up the tempo and play WITH IT, not TO IT

    Could you explain what you mean here? Recording music is a production, no?
     
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  13. fproject

    fproject Member

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    People were using clicks and metronomes in the studio before the advent of computer based recording.

    If I'm recording guitars before the drums, I'm using a click. With full band, I prefer to use a click as well, but not all the time. It depends on the musicians and vibe of the song.
     
  14. Drew

    Drew Forum MVP

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    Read the rest of my post. :lol: Clicks were used, but not terribly commonly, but thats pretty incidental to the rest of my tangental rant.
     
  15. Cynicanal

    Cynicanal SS.org Regular

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    20 years ago was 1999. If you can't name a ton of underground metal albums from 1999 and earlier where the concept of "playing in time" didn't seem to be in play, you must not have heard much.
     
  16. Andromalia

    Andromalia Pardon my french

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    Well, there are some weird things that happened. I don't remember which Metallica classic (can't remember, probably for whom the bell tolls, a relatively slow song is all I remember - Orion ?) I was trying to do a cover of, but when I had put a midi drum track in the DAW, the original recording certainly went on and off enough that I couldn't use that midi drums over the recorded track as the tempo on the record was anything but stable.
    I personally perform better with drums and no click.
     
  17. c7spheres

    c7spheres GuitArtist

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    It's a fine line between the two. Production is being used in two different contexts when saying it this way.
    I see music as something that is already completed, or mostly completed, and that can be performed and recorded. Recording music is about capturing something that already exists or something that can be performed into existence, even improvised, whereas a production of music is basically along the lines of either still creating the music, or needing to have it recorded, edited, arranged and perfected to a medium so that it can then later be played back as a whole and then perfected for performance. Production as music is still making the material into a whole entity or to achieve a level or certain flavor of quality desired. This is how most do it nowadays. They use the daw program and editing features to record, arrange, edit and perfect and complete a song etc. The music can also be completed with this method however, but the level of quality/ surrealism that naturally does not exist but is desired is not there until the production is done. That's making a production as music. It doesn't naturally exist. Recording music is a recording of something that does naturally occur (sound wise) and then the production part of that is to clean it up, but not so far deep in the editing. Most people will agree that each method yields different results. The big clean productions of today are mostly production as music, the recordings of older times are recorded music which has been cleaned up in post production etc. Neither is better but each has their own flavor. Going all the way back to click tracks that's why I said if you're making a production as music then use a click. If you're recording music then don't. I hope I didn't make it to confusing, but it's a really fine line and depending which side of the line it's on will yield different results. It can be summed up with how raw and natural does the track need to be or not need to be.
     
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2019 at 3:35 PM
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  18. fproject

    fproject Member

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    In the end, it comes down to personal preference. There is no right or wrong.

    Look at it this way: You could never record something like Zep's The Lemon Song to a click. It would lose its feel and vibe.
    Likewise, Tesseract would never sound the same without everything locked to a grid.
     
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  19. GunpointMetal

    GunpointMetal SS.org Regular

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    Ok, I think I see what you're meaning. For the way I work, they're one in the same. The songs start off as a production, with demos/programmed drums/etc, then they get taken to a band context where parts are arranged, changed, tempos are adjusted, things are added or removed, then it goes BACK to production where we create new clicks/arrangements to be recorded for a final product. I don't think I'll ever record without a click unless I'm trying to capture someone's live singer-songwriter type stuff.
     
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  20. budda

    budda Guiterrorizer Contributor

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    Using a click to record does not impede feel.
     

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