First of all thank you so much much for sharing this wealth of information and ideas. I hope this question is relevant:
Your essay A Primer on Feel sums up the mechanics of a rhythm section in a live setting perfectly. I like the example of Led Zep - the Stones take this to an extreme as well. It seems feel is all but a lost art in modern popular music recordings.
What's your favorite method of capturing this in the studio while still maintaining relative track isolation?
Do you like to use a click track? Maybe just for the drummer and just for reference (my method)? Musicians in the same room? etc...
I have had the best results with the drummer playing without other musicians, or with them in the room but at very low levels in his monitors. One reason for this is I find that certain drummers will not only shift tempos, but also lose their feel because they have gotten used to following other performers. This becomes even more of an issue when they have to record with a vocalist.
I like to have both isolated drums and the best possible feel, but I will err on the side of feel every time. Some drummers are capable of playing like this with a click and can lean on the front or back end of the beat- some drummers stiffen up completely with a click and do better without one.
I also try to provide the drummer with examples of feel-based playing and to demonstrate how it breaks down component-wise if I feel that this can be beneficial. I have worked with drummers who are either too headstrong or naturally play with great feel and don't need any coaching.
In general, it helps to be able to explain things well and be somewhat knowledgeable on the subject. In recording, I stay off any grid, unless the drummer wants and play better to a click. Otherwise, the click gets made to the drummer, post-performance- not the other way around.
On Celebrity Skin, we cut the drums live and, if memory serves, there were no guide instruments playing along (perhaps one or two tracks?). I would establish the song tempo with Deen Castronovo (who played on the record) who would then find the BPM on a Dr Beat click. WHen the tape was rolling, he'd start the click, then turn it off, count off two bars and start playing. He did about 1-3 takes per song and there were no edits. That's why superlative drummer makes such a big difference- his performance is always memorable.
Yes, when the drummer plays without other musicians he must memorize the song. With this in mind, many of the drummers I've worked with have the ability to listen to a song, hear the drum parts and be able to play part-perfect within about 5-10 listens. I once saw Dave Grohl sit down, just play along with a track, simultaneously learn the song and jam out his part at the same time.
As for examples, I first like to explain the relationship between the kick, snare and hihat, then, play a few references, such as any popular music from the late fifties to the mid- '70's and various R&B music such as P-Funk, James Brown, The Meters, etc. I go into detail as far as the relationships between the drums in the essay I wrote- "A Primer on Feel".
As far as recordings I've done, everything from Ozzy's record going forward has had this emphasis.
I don't use a click when I know the drummer can play without one, when I feel the click will hinder the drummer or he simply plays better without one. Some drummers actually play better with a click, as they can put their emphasis on different parts of the beat and make room for their groove. Some drummers just stiffen up when they play with a click- this never sounds good.
One way to address this and still get a track recorded to a timing reference is to create a loop of something groove-oriented in the tempo of the song being recorded.
Doubtful I'm the best person to ask, but assuming that the video will now be cut to your performance, everything is probably fine. If a click is required for any reason, it can be manufactured, post-performance in a DAW.
You'll record the video while listening to your recorded track, probably played pack through a speaker in the room. As long as you and the singer can mime well to the playback, you'll have no issues. You will probably record a few takes (video, that is), so if you screw it up somewhere they'll just edit another take in, unless the idea of the video is a seamless take, than you'll have to be spot on all the way through.
Micheal, thank you for this Q&A, I'm loving it and I'm also loving your blog. Very interesting read on how to produce music and how to put feeling back into modern music, where it's been lost for a while now. It's not surprising that you were involved in quite I few records that were influential to me, like Celebrity Skin and Mechanical Animals (which I always loved and thought it sounded very different from the rest of Manson's records).
I'm not saying they're useless, but I've seen click tracks suck the life out of many recordings before they even had a chance, just to make life easier for the engineer.
If you have time on your next rock-oriented session try this: find the right tempo for the song and record a version with a click. Then record a version without a click. Give the band about a 15-minute break, then have them listen back to both versions, not telling them which is which. In most cases it's not even close.