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What is lost by locking to the grid Effects Pedals, Units & Accessories
Old 24th January 2018
  #1
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What is lost by locking to the grid

I have found that if I play and sing a song without a click, and then track overdubs afterward, it sounds a little sloppy but there's a great energy and vibe. It feels good.

Then when I try to polish it and tighten up, I start by re-tracking a scratch track to a click and getting a basic drum part to lock onto. When I add the overdubs it sounds much more solid … but it has a different feel and it's harder to sing along to.

I should probably just practice, so that my performance to a click sounds the same as without one. But it occurs to me that so much contemporary music faces similar issues by virtue of its “perfection”. Would “She Loves You” by the Beatles sound as good if it was tracked to a click and laid down part by part? Would it have the same electricity? I don't think so. Would “Whole Lotta Love” or “Dazed and Confused”?

I am not saying the contemporary stuff sounds bad — there's lots of great music still being made. But it definitely sounds, and feels, different.

The recording medium, to me, is not as important to the sound as the recording method. Some older analog recordings have the same robotic feel — like “Shine” by Collective Soul. I enjoy the song but it sounds like it was tracked to a drum machine.

I think this accounts in part for much of the similar feel in contemporary music. Every band negotiates microscopic variations in timing differently, helping to distinguish and set them apart. But when all artists have the same grid-like precision timing, it's as if they all, in some sense, are playing in the same band.

One measure of information is called Kolmogorov complexity. It explains data in terms of the shortest computer program that can reproduce it. Thus 01010101… can be summed up as easily as “repeat 01”. But a random string of data can only be summed up by repeating the string itself.

By this measure quantized music is less complex since it is easier to program. You know exactly where the note will be. But human music played live is harder to nail down. It requires more effort to reproduce through programming, thus it is more complex and information-rich.

This isn't even touching on timbral or harmonic complexity, mind you.

Finally, I want to emphasize that I'm not making any value judgments here. And these aren't exactly new insights we haven't heard before. But they have recently come home to me in a way I have not previously understood, and I thought I'd share my experience.
Old 24th January 2018
  #2
js1
Lives for gear
 

It is a different feel. Only in recent times has the idea of click = correct been predominant.

I recently saw an old instructional video from Ed Shaughnessy, the drummer of the Tonight Show Band (Johnny Carson era). He talks about tempo being a "hallway with rubber walls" and that for feel, you needed to use the full width of the hallway at the right time.

At a Cubase seminar some time ago, they showed their (at the time) new tempo mapping features by applying it to an Earth, Wind and Fire track (IIRC, September), and "fixed" the time. The feel and energy immediately disappeared.

However, a recent experience made me realize that, even for acoustic music, using a click doesn't translate to no feel, just a different feel.

I did a project where I was lucky enough to have excellent players, with incredible time and feel. All 5 of us tracked together, just like olden times. My plan was to not use the click, but the drummer said that he was cool with it, so the plan changed to using the click for some takes, then try some without it.

We didn't bother doing ones without the click. The tracks felt great, and they felt current.

However, there was one song which needed to breathe, with slight slowdowns and speedups in and out of the chorus. Playing that song against a click in rehearsal flat out felt wrong. So, no click was used during the session, and the feel was absolutely right.

Interesting side note. While tracking that song, was a mess up on an otherwise good take, and the decision was made to do a "band punch" - play along with the track, and at the right moment, punch in every track.

We do it, and it works out fine. But in the control room there was a look of stunned amazement. Apparently, the punched in part lined up perfectly with the previous take - and, no click was used.
Old 24th January 2018
  #3
Gear Guru
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Yummerz View Post
Would “She Loves You” by the Beatles sound as good if it was tracked to a click and laid down part by part?

But he Beatles played that song together as a band. When several people play together they create a 'feel' in the space between them. They summon an Angel. It was not the 'absence of a metronome' that is the deciding factor, it's the absence of one-at-a-time overdubbing.

This is my personal hierarchy of groove:

1. live band with great drummer playing together with no click. Freedom.

2. live band with great drummer playing together with a click. IME, this can still swing LAMF with a good band. I have been there.

3. Single musician overdubbing to a click. Nowhere near as groovy, but remember, the click was already introduced above! So the click did not kill the feel, overdubbing one track at a time is what killed the feel Because the musician on the tape can 'influence' the next guy or gal, but he cannot be 'influenced' him/herself. The communication is one-way.

4. Single musician overdubbing with no click. The worst of both worlds, IMHO. No opportunity for influence and no common time reference for overcoming the communication gap. No interpersonal interactive magic, AND it's sloppy.

Quote:
but there's a great energy and vibe
All I can say is that 99% time I have worked on something done in such a way, the inherent sloppiness of the result has rendered the project unacceptable to me. YMMV

Last edited by joeq; 24th January 2018 at 04:15 AM.. Reason: neutrality
Old 24th January 2018
  #4
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What is lost? Tempo changes and groove.. But if the band had none to begin with, it's awesome.

Seriously now, songs are edited to a grid so they can be meticulously edited and everything quantised. Even quantised to a grove and have a tempo map applied.
Old 24th January 2018
  #5
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kennybro's Avatar
A great drummer can use a click and lay down a great feel.
A great drummer can use no click and lay down a great feel.

Crap drummers can't lay a great feel with or without a click.

Rest of the band is at the mercy of the drummer...
If a great drummer tracks to click or no click, the rest of the band's overdubs will sound fine if they can play. If they can't, it's going to suck.
It's still going to suck if they all play together, and the players suck.

As far as overdubbing or playing together, that depends on the music and the band. Any production or style that requires real-time interaction between the players in can't work overdub style. Totally pre-produced music, like say The Cars, no problem. Overdub those tracks all day long.
Old 24th January 2018
  #6
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bitman's Avatar
That's one thing about the late great Cakewalk SONAR and melodyne (even essential).
You can record say, a guitar free from a click and the drag that recorded performance to the time line and SONAR and melodyne will create a tempo map (grid) that tracks along with the guitar tempo. - game changer. Now you can quantize midi to that grid that is grovin around.
Old 24th January 2018
  #7
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Drumsound's Avatar
The idea that a record made today MUST be cut to a click and then micr-edited to the grid drives me bananas. Both is concept and in sound. I don't mind using a click, I'm more than happy to work with players to get better tracks while using a click. BUT, that doesn't mean, by manner of course that I will then edit ever note to said click, or that I demand it on every project. When I'm in the control room and we are using a click, I don't monitor the click. I listen to the band play. I think of the click like the lines on the highway. There's a little leeway, but they keep things generally in line. If things sound together and grooving, I'm not ever comparing it to the click. If it gets too out of whack, I'll hear it and we'll do another take.

In the modern world of non linear editing, I will move a note here and there if a player goes a little south. In the past that player would need to play the section so I could punch over the mistake. I did a lot of that, and sometimes still will, even when working digitally. And that some thing can be done even if there wasn't a click. If a bass note is a little off, or a guitar chord is a little late, I can still slide it into place.

Automatically going into grid and fix mode turns an aural art into a visual sensation, and I don't believe that to be the best idea. LISTEN to what is in front of you. If something is problematic, you and/or the artists will notice and then you can take a number of courses to make it better. Re-track the song, punch a part, edit, rearrange etc.

BTW, Shine is not only tracked to a drum machine, the drum machine is what you're hearing on the final release.
Old 24th January 2018
  #8
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dfchandler's Avatar
 

To answer the OP's original question, musicians playing together have a tug of war with the tempo.
Especially the drummer and bass player. Most of the time, they are the clock. And these two push and pull at the tempo.
Different phrases are pushed a little or drug a little. To me, these small timing variances are what make up the groove.
Just as the Earth, Wind, and Fire example mentioned above, correct all the timing to be exact and the energy goes away!
I haven't heard the expression in awhile, but New York players were said to play on top of the beat and LA players were said to play laidback, behind the beat.

Denny

Last edited by dfchandler; 24th January 2018 at 07:15 AM.. Reason: editing
Old 24th January 2018
  #9
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Only swing, not groove. Groove contains velocity aswell.
Old 24th January 2018
  #10
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dc_r's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by bitman View Post
That's one thing about the late great Cakewalk SONAR and melodyne (even essential).
You can record say, a guitar free from a click and the drag that recorded performance to the time line and SONAR and melodyne will create a tempo map (grid) that tracks along with the guitar tempo. - game changer. Now you can quantize midi to that grid that is grovin around.
I think in Logic X you could play a guitar first and set Drummer to follow that track. I will have to try this myself again...
Old 24th January 2018
  #11
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dc_r's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by joeq View Post
3. Single musician overdubbing to a click. Nowhere near as groovy, but remember, the click was already introduced above! So the click did not kill the feel, overdubbing one track at a time is what killed the feel Because the musician on the tape can 'influence' the next guy or gal, but he cannot be 'influenced' him/herself. The communication is one-way.
I record mostly by myself and it is indeed possible to influence your playing and have interaction between instruments. The way I do it I just consciously start leaving spaces in say first rhythm guitar I track and then you can immediately start bouncing off that track. Once all tracks are laid down you can also go back and re-record the first part. Not the same as playing with a band but it does work.
Old 24th January 2018
  #12
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Unclenny's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by joeq View Post
3. Single musician overdubbing to a click. Nowhere near as groovy
How about a single musician tracking that first primary instrument to a click and then turning it of and overdubbing free form....with a bit of that hallway bounce going on?

Old 24th January 2018
  #13
Gear Nut
what is lost?

groove. feel. swing. emotion. movement. drama. humanity

everything, in my opinion.

but i'm old.
Old 24th January 2018
  #14
Gear Guru
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by dc_r View Post
I record mostly by myself and it is indeed possible to influence your playing and have interaction between instruments. ...Once all tracks are laid down you can also go back and re-record the first part.
That is not 'influencing' the first part, that is getting rid of the first part! The first part that you recorded remains exactly the same down to the sample level no matter what the tracks that you add later are like. It is set in stone and the influence is one-way. If you re-do the first part, the second and third parts do not change along with it. They may have been 'compensating' for something in the first part. That something is now gone and now they are 'overcompensating'. It never ends.

Sure, you could bootstrap and re-record everything 10 times and you might begin to approach the interaction that occurs instantly in the first run-through with the band warming up.

just as you can snip and nudge notes and phrases all over the track until you begin to approach the cohesiveness of having all the overdubbers follow a common time reference.

While I don't doubt it is possible to eventually get usable results from your methods, all the techniques you suggest also apply to improving the feel of overdubbing to a click. Having done it both ways many many times, there is really nothing you can say that would make me put overdubbing one-at-a-time with no timing reference out of the #4 slot. It belongs dead last to me.

It is IMO the worst of both worlds.
Old 24th January 2018
  #15
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Brent Hahn's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by americanbison View Post
... if you're interested, I can tell you who it was.
Why haven't you already?
Old 24th January 2018
  #16
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Brent Hahn's Avatar
 

My usual m.o. on my own stuff is to print a click, then do a rudimentary guide track, then mute the click. The click is still handy for getting you back in after an open space.

The Hiatt record -- the open vowels on the vocal are really busted up. I'd be interested to know if it was tracked that way, or tracked clean and clipped later. I don't hate it, but it's a little more than I'd probably do.
Old 24th January 2018
  #17
Gear Head
 

If it’s modern hyper pop stuff then I would probably use a click because there is going to be a crap ton of samples floating in it.

Everything else no way. For me Music is supposed to speed up and slow down. Apart from hyper pop
Old 24th January 2018
  #18
Gear Guru
 
Brent Hahn's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chrisdmcc View Post
If it’s modern hyper pop stuff then I would probably use a click because there is going to be a crap ton of samples floating in it.
Even if it's not modern hyper pop, sometimes the song just plain feels better if you tweeze together two or four bars of groove and then paste your brains out.
Old 24th January 2018
  #19
Gear Guru
 
Brent Hahn's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by americanbison View Post
John came in, live tracked guitar and vocals and then...left.. A production technique that is rarely employed and hardly considered, yet sometimes works incredibly well.
I know. I heard you the first time. I just felt like jumping in and changing the subject. :-)
Old 24th January 2018
  #20
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cjogo's Avatar
Quote:
John came in, live tracked guitar and vocals and then...left.. A production technique that is rarely employed and hardly considered, yet sometimes works incredibly well.
It is our go to technique ... well since the late 70's anyways ... I lay down drums probably 40% on in the production . My specialty is post percussion.


Probably used a click 2% in 40 years .. Myself nor my clients > prefer anything near a grid ...maybe because we are coming from the 60's & a live feel is favored ( and all we attest too )
Old 24th January 2018
  #21
Lives for gear
If you want to capture feel and tempo fluctuations but still have the power of working to grid, you can generate a click track after the first layer recording. Best of both worlds. In my latest band "The Gender Police" we do all our tracks this way. You can hear the result best in our latest single "Witch hunt." Garrison Keillor called it "groovy."
Old 24th January 2018
  #22
Motown legend
 
Bob Olhsson's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by crestifer View Post
what is lost?

groove. feel. swing. emotion. movement. drama. humanity

everything, in my opinion...
You forgot sales!
Old 24th January 2018
  #23
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bowzin's Avatar
Click fan here. Doesn't have to align perfectly or be quantized (I hate that), and it doesn't mean you're off the hook and allowed to forget about groove. But at least for rock or other typical band stuff, a click can be really helpful.

Only a few instances I can recall where it was noticeably easier without a click, because the song was "jammy" or intentionally had slower/faster parts, or lots of dramatic/pregnant pauses, etc. and it wasn't worth fooling with. I've also started with a click and later muted it for jammy/noise, "out" sections, think Wilco.

Generally though I've found if a click doesn't seem to be working, either because of the song or the players... a good 2/3rds of the time it might be better to at least TRY and make it work with a click! I can recall way more times where "groove/feel/vibe" degenerated into just "sloppy" and needed tons of cut/paste work in the DAW, and far less times where the band was JUST TOO TIGHT with the click, which is an easier fix (and those types of players probably wouldn't benefit as much from the click anyway). I have gotten that feeling, and lowering the BPM just a touch often works that out.

At first I thought it just made things easier, but now I'm sort of convinced it makes things easier and it sounds better. Sort of like drum-replacement, not something to bring up in a magazine interview, but it's a reality.
Old 24th January 2018
  #24
Gear Guru
 
Brent Hahn's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Drumsound View Post
Automatically going into grid and fix mode turns an aural art into a visual sensation, and I don't believe that to be the best idea. LISTEN to what is in front of you. If something is problematic, you and/or the artists will notice and then you can take a number of courses to make it better. Re-track the song, punch a part, edit, rearrange etc
Interesting to me how sometimes a spot in a groove will need something slid, and the tiniest little adjustment will fix it. And other times, what you see on the screen is a disaster but it sounds fine.
Old 24th January 2018
  #25
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Drumsound's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
Interesting to me how sometimes a spot in a groove will need something slid, and the tiniest little adjustment will fix it. And other times, what you see on the screen is a disaster but it sounds fine.
Crazy, right. I usually look at the mixer screen and leave the waveform screen behind. I prefer seeing the meters like they end up on a console, and NOT being influenced by what I see.
Old 24th January 2018
  #26
Gear Nut
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Olhsson View Post
You forgot sales!
indeed.

Old 25th January 2018
  #27
Quote:
Originally Posted by bitman View Post
That's one thing about the late great Cakewalk SONAR and melodyne (even essential).
You can record say, a guitar free from a click and the drag that recorded performance to the time line and SONAR and melodyne will create a tempo map (grid) that tracks along with the guitar tempo. - game changer. Now you can quantize midi to that grid that is grovin around.
Do that in pro tools all the time...elastic audio is great for warping percussion loops to a live drummer.

I find the issue is that people tend to “chase” the click - they naturally speed up into a fill, but then they don’t just settle back to tempo, they have to slow down to get back on the click - which makes a bit of a see saw effect. With better drummers, you can just even out this section; with others You basically have to chop it all - I tend to do by hand and only fix the distractions, but that can be time consuming!

I like starting a good band on click and then losing the click...but it depends. Sometimes people simply sent as solid as they think they are - and dismissing sloppiness as “Feel” is not a good thing!
Old 25th January 2018
  #28
Gear Guru
 
Brent Hahn's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by psycho_monkey View Post
I find the issue is that people tend to “chase” the click - they naturally speed up into a fill, but then they don’t just settle back to tempo, they have to slow down to get back on the click - which makes a bit of a see saw effect.
I saw a James Taylor show ages ago, and his drummer kept dragging through fills and turnarounds and such. Evidently, they were working to a click. It was so off-putting for me that I wrote a letter. Remember letters? This one may be the most recent one I've written, and it was 1993, give or take.

Back on topic, one of James' people actually wrote back and explained that they were recording the whole tour for an album and wanted to be able to cut between shows, and that any collateral damage in the form of crappy $45 fan experiences was regrettable but necessary. He also sent a tee shirt. A tour-merch tee shirt. To remind me forever of that effed-up show. Thanks, Jimbo.
Old 25th January 2018
  #29
They did relevant studies at the Music Cognition lab at McGill University in Montreal. I read about them in "This is Your Brain on Music" by Daniel Levitan, who is a professor there. Basically, people playing together will lock into the beat better than people playing to a click track, even if they are playing together with the click track in their headphones. There is, apparently, some human super-power to read each other's mental click track. I have certainly noticed this in recording with an excellent drummer. The bass player is able to lock in with the drummer far better than he can lock in with a click track. And the drummer always plays better if he has no click track (I mean the drummer I know, so nothing gender-specific here).

And just for reference, Cubase also can generate a click track based on already-recorded material, which makes it easier to edit, without needing to quantize the audio.

I suggest reading all of Daniel Levitan's books. They are not so difficult, considering the scientific and technical nature of the subject. I could provide samples from the band that sound very "tight" but don't adhere to a click track, but we all know examples.
Old 25th January 2018
  #30
Gear Guru
 
Brent Hahn's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Early21 View Post
There is, apparently, some human super-power to read each other's mental click track.
The ability to react to someone else's tempo variations is a superpower?

I think it's more like a human can do it and a click track can't.
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