Tempo in Recordings
I guess this is the right forum for this...
My band, (original heavy rock/progressive/metal) will be going into the studio to record a demo in 2 weeks. We thought it would be a good idea to map out our click tracks before going in. Just to save on time.
We do a lot of time signature changes and tempo changes that are obvious, but when setting everything else to a click, some parts feel slow. Then when we slow the tempo other parts feel too fast.
So, we've decided to just set the click to change when each part comes up. Each part feels right, but we have 3-4 different tempos in some songs where we thought we only had 2. And we do have some with just 1.
My question is, and thanks for still reading, is this a bad habit to get into? Could we use the excuse that we're "dynamic" or does this suggest that we have a hard time keeping tempo?
I've looked at a couple songs on guitarpro and Symphony X and Dream Theater do this. But we aren't either. :bassist:
I think if you want to make a good recording you'd better get your tempos sorted out first.
If you are uncertain of ANYTHING prior to going into studio, working it out beforehand pays off handsomely.
I'm not a huge metal or prog rock fan, but I'm familiar with some of the music, and tempo changes seem to be the norm. Without hearing the songs, it's hard to say, but I think you should look at how wide the tempo swings are. If you're going from, say, 160 bpms in one part, then 90 in the next, then it's obviously a necessary tempo change. But, if you're going from 160 to 155 or something fairly close, then you might want to decide if that tempo change is really necessary, or if your band just needs to work a little more on consistent timing.
As others said, work out your tempo changes before. Having tempo changes in a song is pretty cool but as bass geetarist says make sure they are tempo changes and not just sloppy feel.
As far as if it's doable, sure it is. Classical music has been doing this for hundreds of years. It takes practice though, assuming you don't stop at each section and have a count in at the new tempo, then slice the performances together. Prog rockers in the 70's used to do this all the time.
Get as much as possible sorted out when/where the hourly rate is cheapest. That's usually not the (recording) studio.
I fought against tempo changes in our last album (similar genre) for sake of cohesiveness, but those that got through didn't end up bothering me. Probably ended up contributing to the grooves in some parts. We'd been playing them that way originally anyway.
Record each section individually (on its own), and edit them together later.
Mesmerize your listener(s) with incredible tempo changes.
Plus, if any section repeats, no need to record it more than once. Get it right and move on.
Beatles, Beach Boys, and tons of others, were doing this back in the 60s. So much easier today with digital recording.
it sort of depends on how much digital editing/fixing you are going to do. In my thrash band, we will set tempos as we rehearse, but rarely use a click in the studio because we really do no digital editing to piece songs together. Also, our "tempo changes" are usually just either half of the original pulse or double it....so say the original pulse is 170, if we go to half time the clicks become 8th notes, or if we go to double time the clicks become half notes. The speed of the pulse itself does not change.
When we do use click tracks in prax, we just set the met at the tempo of the first phrase, and then shift around it. Is this what you mean by tempo variations? Or do you literally go from like 160 -> 105 -> 190 in triplet feel etc?
In my indie/surf-punk band, many times we will go into the studio with songs only half done (it is our own space so cost is not a factor) and then piece songs together later via "computer magic" ( a process I am not a huge fan of being an old school type). We have to use click here since we are putting puzzle pieces together as the songs evolve in rehearsal.
As most have mentioned, if cost is a factor, figure out this stuff waayyy before you go into the studio.
If your drummer is up to the task (and the rest of your band is too), don't use a click at all.
I've written my bass parts out on guitar pro, and just set a click to that. We've gone through and picked out what tempo gives each part a natural feel, rather than feeling like it drags or is rushed.
Hopefully the studio will accept a plotted click track. So we have 2 weeks to practice to the programmed click.
My advice would be: stay the heck away from click tracks! Tempo changes are cool, but click tracks just makes everything sound more 'mechanic' for no good reason (unless you're in some kind of techno/industrial/whatever band). Click tracks are evil!
This goes for triggers too, BTW.
What people don't seem to understand is that playing with a metronome is equivalent to playing scales. You don't practice, you won't be good at it.
Would you go into a studio and try to play a solo with a scale you just learned? Or only messed around with a few times and expect it to be perfect?
The only people that bash metronomes are the people that can't use them. No, it does not make the music feel robotic. Name a record and I can almost guarantee they used a click.
The only time I feel like using a click is not necessary is
A - The band is recording live and have played these songs many many times together
B - Your drummer is unbelievably tight and great feel.
When you really want a certain part of the song to hit or be really powerful and cohesive, the only way to go is a click. Otherwise it sounds lazy and to me, amateur.
For your sake, I would say ditch the metronome since you already know how the song feels. It also might help to cut the basic tracks live, this way you can look at each other for important hits and tempo changes.
One of my old prog bands in the 90's recorded a 42-minute demo of songs we had be playing together for over a year. We were very tight as a unit. No click track was used. Listening to it today, it's almost unbearable to listen to how things were slowing down and speeding up everywhere.
My current band uses a click live and in the studio. For recording it's absolutely essential to the post-production process. We can go in and manipulate any MIDI part knowing it will match the rest of the live instruments since they all played to a common reference point. We mostly adopted it live since we have a lot of symphonic backing tracks that can't be replicated by a live keyboardist. And it's the best thing we've done for the live show. We know exactly how long a song will last, and our drummer is skilled enough to be able to use the click but still maintain some flexibility in feel.
Anyone who finds a drummer who can play well to a click and is comfortable with it should hold on to them like grim death. It really makes you sound better IMO. Not robotic at all. Even though the clicks may be "on the grid", that doesn't mean the drummer will be hitting exactly on top of the grid. There are other ways to build and express dynamics other than unnatural tempo fluctuations IMO.
What ever works best for the band, is the way you should do it, if you have the time you should experiment. In my group, when we all played to a click things sounded stiff and less interesting... If we are multi track recording, our drummer will record to a click and we will lay our parts down to his playing as opposed to a click track, this way you can still create the push/pull tension with the drums, its much harder to do when everyone is on a click.
There is nothing wrong with recording your sections seperately but keep in mind there will be a hard change in temo, most bands, when changing tempo will take a few bars to settle into the tempo, you cant really do that to a click track. You may want to do those transitional sections without one but keep in mind the temo before and after.
It helps to write down the BPM value for the sections and reference them often, also TUNE everytime you take a pass at a trac.
I agree it's usually the drums that play to the click, then you play to the drums.
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