Question about drummers in the studio

Discussion in 'Recordings [BG]' started by slowburnaz, Sep 15, 2003.

  1. slowburnaz


    Mar 27, 2002
    Tucson, AZ
    This is a real question, so I'd like input...

    Is it too much to ask for a drummer to be able to stay in time with guitar and bass tracks that were recorded to a click track?

    A little history: My band has done some recording in the past, and we've had some troubles with our drummer on a few songs. On these songs, he just can't seem to keep the tempo steady for for the changes (ie. When we go from verse to chorus, he noticibly speeds up the chorus). That, of course, fouls up everything... if the guitarist and I were to try to go back in and record over those drum tracks, we'd have to make the same mistakes, errr, "tempo changes". Our attempt at a remedy this time around was to have us record to click tracks, then have the drummer come in and lay his stuff down while playing along with what we recorded.

    So, after much frustration, the engineer suggested that we go back to our old methods of recording. I say "B.S."... as a musician, if you want to be serious, shouldn't you at least know the basics like playing to a metronome? (not that every song calls for a metronome, mind you)
  2. CS


    Dec 11, 1999
    Give the drummer a synchpated loop (congas etc) to play to. A 4/4 click will disapear when he is in time. Or get a new drummer.
  3. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    No. Not at all. We booted our drummer cause he couldn't play in time... and was even worse to a click, or guide track.

    Then, with our new drummer, I had a problem when I went to lay down my bass tracks, our drummer played to a guide guitar track and a click - he was perfectly in time with the click, but the guide guitar was out... so I had the engineer dial out the guide guitar when he went out of time.

    One thing I will say is that playing to a click track is easy, grooving to a click track is not easy.

    In the end though, if you're drummer cant keep time, you need another one. :meh:
  4. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I can remember doing quite a few recordings in the 80s in rock/pop bands and the drummers could never put a drum track on after anything else was recorded - it always had to start with drums and build everything around that. I think Chris's point is a good one and have had experienced engineers/'producers' suggest this on sessions I have played, where the drummer has been struggling with a click - I can remember one guy getting out his CD of conga loops ...;)
  5. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    Another point is that drums have to be recorded in one take. You cant cut and pate drums against the grid, or even drop in because of the length of the sing from cymbals.
    Well, I suppose you could, but it might not sound all that good.

    I'm pretty sure I'd struggle to play a track perfectly in one take to a click!

    This is a perfect example of being able to play with a groove, but not play the groove.
    It is genuinley a hell of a lot easier to play live that to play a track to a click.
  6. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    The thing I remember growing up with music in the 70s and 80s - pre digital recording - was that all rock bands made recordings, starting with drums.

    So - no internet but I used to buy as many music magazines and books as I could and they would always talked about how to record, starting with drums. So - spend hours and hours mic'ing up the kit, getting a good drum sound and then record the drum tracks - maybe with a guide vocal.

    So - you would also hear about live in the studio recordings - everybody playing together - but the norm was : drums first, then bass etc. etc.

    I can also remember getting a name as a sort of cheap producer in my home town - as I had mixers and loads of gear. So - I would get loads of people come to me with songs they had written and recorded with guitar and they wanted to add drums, but had found it impossible.

    Don't know where I'm going with this really - but just that I grew with the 'accepted wisdom' that you always started with the drums!
  7. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    This is a good point - so it is much easier to correct minor fluffs in the drums, if you record them first in isolation - especially with digital recording. If you mic each drum and get some good separation, then it might even be possible to just 'fade out' mistakes in fills!! ;)
  8. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    You still do.

    although it is common place to record a gude track first - just a ****ty recording of guitar and maybe vox to give the drummer something to hang on to!
  9. slowburnaz


    Mar 27, 2002
    Tucson, AZ
    This is exactly what we're trying... the crappy tracks still have to be in time, though, which is why we recorded to a click track. That's what gets me is that the drummer isn't actually recording to a click track... he's recording to guitar and bass tracks in his headphones that ARE in time, because they were recording to a click track.
  10. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    Yes, gotcha.

    Then your drummer isn't up to scratch.

    Tough break for him, I'd advise letting him down gentley!

    I'd make darned sure your guide is in time before telling him though :D
  11. Richard Lindsey

    Richard Lindsey

    Mar 25, 2000
    Metro NYC
    Well, not to be negative, but just because the guitar and bass tracks were *recorded* to the click doesn't guarantee that they are necessarily tight with the click. Have you checked them closely against the metronome to verify that they're right on the money? If they drift much, that will actually make it harder for the drummer, not easier.

    It does sound as if your drummer is not a great timekeeper, since he hasn't been able to stay on tempo so far, but if you want to try one more thing before looking for somebody else, try giving him BOTH the guide guitar/bass AND the click. Bring the click up higher (or maybe use a drum machine pattern instead of a straight 1, 2, 3, 4), and bring the guide tracks down to where they're just loud enough to give the vibe of the song but are not competing with the click as the source of the tempo. I've seen this work, and in fact several drummer I know like to do things this way.

    If it's still not happening, I guess you have to find somebody else or live with the inaccuracy.

    ACtually, I'm with Bruce--I would have recorded the drums to the click track first, with guide tracks as needed, as I mentioned.
  12. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    When layering(NOT recording together as a band)-
    Drums & bass usually go down first...FME, to a scratch guitar/vocal part.

    There was this one time, though, when I was helping out a local Donald Fagen wannabe.
    He asks me to do a bass part over an existing I do my thing.
    Now he's not happy with the drum part. I thought my part meshed well with the drums; IMO, it was a very musical drum part...the fills were where they were supposed to be, the dynamics were 'right', etc.
    So he calls the drummer back in to re-do the part. I don't know what he was playing to...the drums were all over the place; I couldn't believe it was the same guy playing drums. I guess he got lucky on the first go-round.
    Now my bass part didn't work/fit. I have to re-do my part.
    Well, the wannabe was happier with my original bassline(I re-do what I can remember from the 1st time) he finds a better drummer(IMO, one of the better R&B/Pop drummers in this area) to play to what I had laid down.
    And he this case, the drums went down last.
    Definitely not recommended.
  13. slowburnaz


    Mar 27, 2002
    Tucson, AZ

    Yeah, we made sure that the bass/guitar scratch tracks are right on with the click track. When we go back in, though, I think we'll cut out the guitar track, so he'll just be listening to the bass line.

    Not sure what else to try, though. It's kinda like the chicken and the egg: If we lay down the drums first to scratch guitar and bass, I know that the tempo will waver, because me and the guitarist will subconsciously try to synch up with the drummer - If we record the scratch tracks first to a click track, and make sure they're right on (as we've done this time), we'll run into the same problem we're running into now.


    This kind of thing can be pulled off live, no problem. But in the studio it's a completely different ball game.
  14. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    Yup, unfortunately this is very true. Live you do have certain amount of room to be loose because the listener doesnt have the opportunity to listen again more closely.

    but it has to be said that this shouldn't be the case. We should all be as tight live as we need to be on record.

    Studio work IS difficult, there's no doubt about it.
  15. Petebass


    Dec 22, 2002
    QLD Australia
    Boot the drumer. Seriously.

    All this talk about click tracks - there is a couple of pitfalls that everyone falls into. Firstly, does your music suffer by having robotically perfect timing. Some rock songs do.

    Secondly, if the drummer isn't carefull with the click volume, the drum mics pick it up. Usually no-one notices it till after you've packed up the drum kit.