How to record a drum set part 2
Using a click track to guide your drummer can be a very fruitful marriage.
There are many advantages to using a click track.
But first, let me say this:
Much of my use of a click track or a simple drum pattern to develop a song comes as much from a utilitarian standpoint as anything.
If I had unlimited resources, with top tier players and all the time necessary, I might not use a click track as much as I do.
Much of what I do comes from necessity, as I most likely am under a very strict budget and time restraints, and using a click track allows me to do some creative editing after the fact.
One of the biggest negative comments about using a click track is that the music will tend to sound sterile. I don’t necessarily agree with that.
If you have a good drummer with good time, he or she will play with the click effortlessly. And you will still be able to do pretty much any editing you need on any part of the song.
I’m sure there is someone out there that will bring up the fact that if the drummer is that good, why use a click track at all? Good question.
Let’s just for example say we have a song that is clocking at 120 beats per minute. We have intro, verse chorus, verse, chorus, verse chorus and ending.
Okay, we love it and it sounds great. We spent a couple hours getting the basic tracks done and sounding good. Time goes on and at some point we decide the song needs an extra chorus at the end.
Now if we started at 120bpm and used a click track, we have the information from two other choruses in the song to edit from. We can make a fourth chorus and have it basically sound unique.
If we are not using a click, there is the possibility that by the last chorus the rhythm section is going just a bit faster (or slower) than the original 120bpm. This creates some problems in that the only usable chorus for us is the last one and just copy paste it again.
It can be done and may sound fine, but close examination will prove it out to be just that, a copy of the last chorus. A bit sterile possibly. Or if we use information from earlier choruses the timing will be skewed.
Or we have to re record the whole thing.
A side note: In my studio I used to leave my drum kit up and mic’d in it’s position with all the mics still where I initially put them. It would be theoretically possible to go in and add a chorus, but the chance of having everything sound the same on a different day even with the same drummer and the same setup is not likely. But it is possible.
If we use the click, we can take the drums from the first chorus, the guitar and bass from the second chorus and vocals from anywhere we want. All because we have a stable time base. It really opens up the possibilities.
If you are using a basic drum pattern or loop as the foundation for your song there are many things you can do to give it a more human feel.
First, only quantize what you have to. I will record a kick/snare pattern for 8 or 16 measures, and when done, I will only quantize any individual notes that are way out of wack.
Second, I will copy paste that back to back to the length of the song. Then I will add a high hat track, I go ahead and usually play this one live for the whole length of the song. Once again, I only quantize what I need to to get the feel I’m looking for.
Note: Try NOT to quantize to full eighth or quarter notes. Use a percentage, like 25% or less. It will sound way more natural.
Then I will add cymbals and toms/ percussion to taste. the whole idea is to create the illusion of a live drum track. If you are programming drums, think like a drummer. How would you play the snare, cymbals, the tom fills etc.
Don’t be afraid to take your kick/snare loop and change it up here and there.
In the past, I’ve actually put a live snare/high hat with a sampled drum track, and had good success. You can actually leave the original snare and high hat in and get a bit of the old ‘two drummer sound’ that has been used by many groups successfully.
Like I mentioned before a cardboard box will work at times.
Anything to make it have the feel.