Digital Recording and Avoiding Perfection

NOTE: If you are NOT a musician, then fear not! I have you covered with a video that shows what I am talking about.

Back in the early 2000s, I was recording a track with Noodle Muffin. This track was one where I played multiple instruments, including drums, bass, rhythm guitar, and a few others.

When a drummer records with a click, they have a decision to make. They can lock into the click 100%, which can get boring at times. They can also weave in and out of the beat. Think of it like a slalom skateboard rider who is navigating around pylons.

The former allows for copy/paste functions, which can make the production easier, but the sound relatively boring. The latter does not lend itself to this type of activity.

I decided to weave around the click, creating an interesting drum part that helped to feed the dramatic elements in the song’s crescendo.

A WEAVE WITHIN THE WEAVE
As the bass player, I knew what the drummer [me] was doing. There was a segment where my bass interacted with my drums in a way that sounded dynamic and full.

The problem, according to the producer, was that “everything was not perfectly aligned on the screen.” They were looking at the layout of the DAW and the lines. They wanted everything perfect on the lines at all times.

FIRST THEY MOVED THE BASSLINE
They decided to scoot a few notes from the bass line slight, so that they would appear aligned with the grid of the DAW.

The bass was in line with the drums, and it didn’t sound right. In fact, it sounded terrible. So they made an adjustment to the drums, which made it worse. An attempt at moving the guitar around only solidified my opinions.

Either it needed to be “imperfect” on the grid, OR it needed to be re-recorded.

We ended up recording the entire rhythm section again from scratch, because of those few notes in that one measure.

I was not happy about this.

THE MUSIC YOU HEAR
Music these days is very “perfect,” and very boring. It is time-aligned to the grid, the beats quantized, and everything is clean and convenient for the producer.

To me, this is a case of convenience at the expense of the product.

You can go back to rock records of the 60s, 70s, and some of the 80s, and most of what you are hearing back then is not perfect.

HOW THIS LOOKS AND SOUNDS
This is something that is difficult to describe, so I have included a video by Bobby Huff, where he time-aligns and “fixes” the tempo of Van Halen’s “Running With the Devil.”

Van Halen DID NOT record with a click, and never engaged in any copy/paste.

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT TO ME NOW
As I embark on giving my 1985 song “I Want You” the proper production treatment, a series of important choices lay at my feet. One of them is whether or not to strive toward click perfection.

Since I am programming the drums, I will have to actually put some extra work into it to remove any accidental perfect that might occur as a result of programming drums in a DAW. After I write this, I’ll be seeking out information [and hopefully videos] on how to approach this issue properly.

It’s something that I’ve never done before, so it’s exciting new territory.

IN THE END
Perfection is one thing. The opposite of perfection is slop, where the time wavers WAY too much, notes are out of tune, and the feel and cohesion of the piece are inexistent.

Where you want to live, as a musician and producer, is in the middle, where your notes are good, but the tempo DOES NOT dictate the feel.

Having a tempo and hovering close to it, above and below, in and out, is just fine.

The 1985 demo of “I Want You” had NO click track, so the tempo and feel were both dictated by the drummer. Scott did a great job with the drums back then. He’s not a machine, and I am grateful for that.

The demo has weaknesses. The tempo might be one of them, if you wish to judge a 1985 demo by 2021 standards. But I think the feel is one of the elements that inspired me to tackle this latest project.

Feel takes precedence over perfect tempo. This is an unpopular opinion with drummers, producers, and musicians in general these days.

I can always work with a click successfully and get click-approved results.

I am just not interested in doing that this time.


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Published by DrumWild

Writing about drums, music, and philosophy.

One thought on “Digital Recording and Avoiding Perfection

  1. Educational read, strong points backed up by hard evidence. Strongly agree with your views. I’m sure Dr. Bob agrees too. He really mangled “Running with the Devil” by trying to make everything line up perfectly. There’s something inimitable about human perception and feel when it comes to music. “Swing factor” on those drum machines doesn’t even come close, I tell ya!

    Liked by 1 person

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