Click Track Detector
March 5, 2009 10:58 AM   Subscribe

Drummers, you're busted. In Search Of the Click Track.

Not sure why the author focuses on drummers playing to the machine, and doesn't entertain the possibility that the drummer IS a machine. Is there really any human musicianship on a Britney Spears song?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders (83 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Click tracks are good not only for editing, but for syncing. (There's these things, they're called synthesizers...)
posted by Sys Rq at 11:03 AM on March 5, 2009


It's an interesting and well-done post, though I think not particularly aesthetically meaningful, unless our anti-pop, anti-sheen backlash is at such a level that we demand nothing artificial in our music. I'm not there, but I do like the graphs.
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:07 AM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Maybe I'm not picking up on the subtleties of the algorithm, but I'm curious how accurate this is. A few drummers are renowned as being "human drum machines" - their timing is quite precise. Would this program register them as using click tracks?
posted by naju at 11:08 AM on March 5, 2009


Yeah, this is really cool for looking back on older records, but is pretty meaningless come the age of digital recording. Sequencing tracks recorded at separate times without a consistent pulse is rarely (never?) worth the effort. Plenty of artists record as live bands, and that's rad, but they're in the minority these days.
posted by SpiffyRob at 11:09 AM on March 5, 2009


Yes.
posted by hellphish at 11:09 AM on March 5, 2009


I would like to see him plot drummers who were known for their consistency. The studio version of The Clash's "Tommy Gun" would be interesting-- I'll bet it would look like Topper Headon was laying to a click track.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:11 AM on March 5, 2009


Is it just a coincidence that the songs listed that probably use click tracks also suck?

All signs point to no.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:11 AM on March 5, 2009


> I think not particularly aesthetically meaningful

The blogger himself admits he likes some of the bands that spotted using click tracks, so I don't think he's using it as a determinant of good and bad.

I like the post. I don't think it proves that popular music's gotten better or worse, but it does make an argument that there's a much finer line between electronica and human-performed pop music than there used to be, in that the real-life drummers and singers are now being conducted by sequencers and modulated by tone filters.
posted by ardgedee at 11:12 AM on March 5, 2009


Lars Ulrich needs a click track. For that matter, he needs to learn how to drum again. He hasn't done any double-bass work since "Dyer's Eve", and I heard from a Berklee-grad drum tech that knows obscure shit like this that the drumming was sped up in the mix. Ulrich may be the only drummer in history to get worse over time. Henceforth, until he can actually play it, the song shall be known as "Summer's Eve".
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:15 AM on March 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's a neat bit of analysis, and I would love to see it thrown against Human Clicktrack drummers on recordings that are known not to have involved a click.

That a lot of classic recordings didn't use a click was reinforced for me back during the Songsmith madness, and underscores what a couple of people have said already: the clicktrack itself is a valuable tool for music production for a number of reasons, not the least of them being that the capacity to sync recording from different sources in different places at different times opens up huge new production possibilities.

Anyone who has tried to dub against an unsteady source track knows from person and likely painful experience some of the upsides of using a clicktrack.

That dead-steady tempos are common in overproduced pop is not a causative relationship. At least, certainly, not in that direction.
posted by cortex at 11:22 AM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is awesome.

I hate that overproduced sound. Now I know why my gut was telling me so.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:29 AM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Of course, a machine can be programmed to vary the rate either at random or meaningfully as with the Ringo example.
posted by DU at 11:34 AM on March 5, 2009 [6 favorites]


How exactly is a click-track any different from the thing my kids have sitting on top of the piano that goes back and forth/ Whatsitcalled... oh yeah, a metronome.
posted by GuyZero at 11:36 AM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's an interesting and well-done post, though I think not particularly aesthetically meaningful, unless our anti-pop, anti-sheen backlash is at such a level that we demand nothing artificial in our music. I'm not there, but I do like the graphs.

I think this is less about anti-pop, and more about anti-overproduction. In fact, one could argue that overproduction is what has made pop so terrible.

Take ABBA v. Britney Spears. I can listen to ABBA and really appreciate them and I enjoy a good chunk of their music. They are very "pop" easily comprehended melodies in major keys, big fills and rising melody lines to prepare the listener for a break or chorus, and universal lyrics ("S.O.S." anyone?). These things make music accessible to even the most casual listener.

Today's pop seems different. Sterile, almost. You can't really put your finger on it--until you do quantitative analyses like this one. I'm looking for the analyses of the use of pitch correcting software as well.

I think the body responds to the human rhythms a lot more than people realize. Bands speed up, especially live. But those tempo changes are a big part of the human part of the music.

That's not to say that a drum machine is bad, but that it works when it is a conscious choice, a counter-point to human drumming.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:37 AM on March 5, 2009


A metronome is where the Vikings play football.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:37 AM on March 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ain't nothing wrong with a click track.

Also, they are nothing new. The first time they discovered that a metronome signal could be sent to a drummers headphones, there was much rejoicing.
posted by chillmost at 11:41 AM on March 5, 2009


Kind of off topic, but maybe Jaki Liebezeit can save us all.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:42 AM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


The drummer sets the tempo for the band. The band relies on stability for their own riffing and structure. A poorly timed drummer could be an annoying bandmate, from my little experience (Rockband, where the notes are dropped when someone misses a beat - and yes, I realize this is not to be confused with playing real instruments).

I wonder how speed metal drummers clock with this. I'd imagine the more strikes per second, the more accurate you'd have to be.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:46 AM on March 5, 2009


There's also something to be said here about the difference between per-note tempo dynamics and macro tempo dynamics. A good drummer playing against a click track is still going to display something other than absolute quantization—a steady tempo across the length of a song does not imply robotic execution of each strike against perfect fractions of a bar.

Look at the development of drum machines and sequencing hardware and software over the last several decades: you see even in those explicitly synthetic contexts attempts (increasingly successful over time) to incorporate "humanizing" dequantization/groove concepts into the generation process, as an attempt to capture when desired that very tendency of organic drummers to display some micro tempo dynamics from stick to stick (or piano chording to piano chording—certainly the concept applies to more than just percussion, though that's the obvious touchpoint).

I'd love to see an analysis that focuses on, rather than routes around, these micro tempo variations. I understand that that wasn't what the author was looking for, and so his running-average approach makes sense for this writeup, but it did leap out at me when he said this:
In my first attempt, I used remix to analyze a track and then I just printed out the duration of each beat in a song and used gnuplot to plot the data. The results weren’t so good - the plot was rather noisy. It turns out there’s quite a bit of variation from beat to beat.
How much of that noise was noise in the sense of poor (or at least not sufficiently finely-grained) beat detection, and how much was noise in the sense of actual micro tempo variation? (If his technique suffers from poor detection, I'd love to see a technique that produces more reliable results.)

How would the existence vs. absence of significant micro tempo dynamics in songs with overall steady tempos correlate with lay perception of soulful vs. soulless recordings?
posted by cortex at 11:49 AM on March 5, 2009


Lars Ulrich needs a click track dick smack.

FTFY.
posted by SpiffyRob at 11:50 AM on March 5, 2009 [5 favorites]


The Nashville studio we did our demos in were all click tracked. Interestingly, the drummer used an eighth note click.

Anyone who has tried to dub against an unsteady source track knows from person and likely painful experience some of the upsides of using a clicktrack.

Lord yes. It's hard enough fixing a flat or sharp note (guitar, vocal etc.,). We did quite a bit of copy/paste with earlier stuff.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 11:52 AM on March 5, 2009


I'd really like to see some graphs of extreme metal drummers like Gene 'The Atomic Clock' Hoglan (Dethklok, Strapping Young Lad, etc.) or Fredrik Andersson (Amon Amarth). Hoglan in particular is known for what he calls 'kick triplets' on two bass drums...I bet his graph would look pretty flat compared to most.
posted by kenotron at 11:57 AM on March 5, 2009


from my little experience (Rockband, where the notes are dropped when someone misses a beat - and yes, I realize this is not to be confused with playing real instruments).

Okay, I see that you footnoted your analysis with the insight that Rockband is not the same as real music performance, so we're cool.

Still, though, are we really ready to start weighing in on our musical experience because we've played Rockband and Guitar Hero? Ugh.
posted by kingbenny at 12:01 PM on March 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


I wonder how speed metal drummers clock with this. I'd imagine the more strikes per second, the more accurate you'd have to be.'

Some of them are accurate, some aren't. The guy from Satyricon seems to be very accurate - listening to the sustained ~260 bpm blast beats on "INRI" (a sped-up Sarcofago cover) sounds almost mechanical even though the production isn't that clean by Satyricon standards. Also notably clean are any of Nile's drummers: George Kollias apparently exceeded 300bpm during some Annihilation of the Wicked sessions and the drums are so obvious in the mix it woud be relatively easy to hear any "organic" variation (there are't any that I can hear).

By contrast, a lot of metal drummers are either all over the place or vary: basically any album put out by an underground black metal band is going to have fast but sloppy drumming. J. Reed, who plays in Axis of Advance/Conqueror/etc. varies a lot, from the inhuman ultra-fast blast beats at about 5:40 on "Nix the Sphere" to the relatively sloppy snare-and-cymbal variations on "Supremincer".
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 12:05 PM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Maybe I'm not picking up on the subtleties of the algorithm, but I'm curious how accurate this is. A few drummers are renowned as being "human drum machines" - their timing is quite precise. Would this program register them as using click tracks?

I was recording drum loops a few years back with a friend of mine. There was one beat I wanted to get where the click threw him off. I ended up giving him the click for count in and then turning it off in his headphones once he started to play. We could still hear the click in the control room and everyone's jaw dropped a bit as the drummer's beat synced perfectly with the click that he wasn't even listening to.

Whether or not this was an inborn talent or a learned skill from years of playing to a click I don't know. But still quite interesting.

Also, to all those saying a click = overproduction: Pretty much every orchestral film score is recorded to a click fed into the headphones of the conductor. This is very important (especially in the analog days) for sync. Of course in these cases the click track itself can change several times during a single piece. So lets not blame the click, let's blame those who use it for lazy production.
posted by dagosto at 12:07 PM on March 5, 2009


Yeah, they're nice graphs, but he's wrong about what they are. In the modern studio, it's pretty rare for a drummer to use a click track; most drummers suck with a click track. Additionally, look at the amount of error on the "click track" graphs - it's error in the 1000ths of a second. I will admit that some drummers do use clicks, but even if an excellent drummer were using a click, he's not that good - as Cortex was basically saying, I think the fluctuation in a lot of the "click track" tempo graphs is more likely to small error in his beat/transient detection algorithm.

These are graphs of songs whose drum tracks have been aligned with Beat Detective (and now maybe elastic time), versus those that have not.
posted by god hates math at 12:11 PM on March 5, 2009


Is there really any human musicianship on a Britney Spears song?

And yeah, this was a little annoying. It's more than obvious that any percussive noises on everything Britney Spears has ever done have been programmed.
posted by god hates math at 12:15 PM on March 5, 2009


These are graphs of songs whose drum tracks have been aligned with Beat Detective (and now maybe elastic time), versus those that have not.

They still play with click. The small fluctuations is the drummer chasing the click. Yes, Beat Detective and other time stretching algorithms are common but they actually aren't as good as the marketing material would have you believe. They can perfect a really good performance but #!@$in !#%# out.
posted by dagosto at 12:16 PM on March 5, 2009


> Pretty much every orchestral film score is recorded to a click fed into the headphones of the conductor.

The great stop-on-a-dime Carl Stalling soundtracks for Warner Brothers cartoons were conducted using click tracks, and volume 1 of the Carl Stalling Project CDs opens with a scratch take where the click is audible over the studio noise and orchestra performance.
posted by ardgedee at 12:20 PM on March 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Is there really any human musicianship on a Britney Spears song?

I think you mean 'live performance'. There are plenty of human musicians on Britney Spears records.
posted by dydecker at 12:23 PM on March 5, 2009


Still, though, are we really ready to start weighing in on our musical experience because we've played Rockband and Guitar Hero? Ugh.

On the one hand: playing the drums in Rockband is only nominally comparable to drumming in a real band, and the guitar controller experiences are significantly more abstract.

On the other hand: if you can't get your shit together and do some genuine two-hand (or, with the drumming, two-hand-and-foot) coordination in time and on the beat, you will (a) fail badly at Rockband and (b) be a legitimate distraction to your Rockbandmates by introducing off-meter noises and movements into their sonic environment.

Think of Rockband as a very formalized and idiomatic form of percussion. Playing that game is, certainly, an act of engaging with simulacra of varying degrees of abstraction from the rock instruments being simulated, yes. But that does not remove the need for a degree of rhythmic musical competence in order to succeed at the game.

Give me someone who can execute cleanly on Expert and I'll give you someone who has displayed the (very much not universal, even among self-described musicians) capacity for rhythm on a musical scale. Speaking of which:

Whether or not this was an inborn talent or a learned skill from years of playing to a click I don't know. But still quite interesting.

I think it's likely a mix of both. I know people with terrible rhythm, and I know people who are shockingly tonedeaf, and I think in both cases there's a natural component there beyond just lack of practice or skill development. They are, for whatever reason, just plain bad at rhythm and tonality, respectively.

I have a pretty good ear for tonality; I don't have great natural rhythm. I've worked on both a lot over the years, and in part that's lead to me improving on both fronts but in part it's just lead to me better understanding my own strengths and weaknesses there, which has allowed me to focus on the parts that are most rewarding to me musically. I'm certain I could drill and drill and drill and improve my rhythm at least marginally, but it's not something I get much happiness out of nor feel any great drive to force myself into.

Someone with crazily steady time—especially a really solid drummer—is in any but perhaps the strangest savant exceptions, going to be someone who has put a tremendous amount of time into drilling. Talent + practice will always beat either one on its own.
posted by cortex at 12:24 PM on March 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Get off my lawn you kids with your new-fangled "digital click tracks," making the music of my youth all sterile and precise-sounding!
posted by saulgoodman at 12:27 PM on March 5, 2009


Oh yeah. I love it that when music is good, precise drumming is described as "clean". When it is bad, it's called "sterile".

There is no science behind this - it's all a matter of aesthetic taste.
posted by dydecker at 12:27 PM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Funny, Ironmouth, I was just about to cite ABBA as an example of pop songs with a very steady rhythm, and I wonder whether they used some sort of metronome (this term encompasses click tracks as well for me).

As far as I'm concerned, some music calls for click, and some doesn't, and that's that. I mean I wouldn't want any metronome with my Miles Davis, or Neutral Milk Hotel, or Nick Drake, but by Thor, I couldn't imagine, say, Snow Patrol or the Postal Service without it.

It does make editing orders of magnitude easier, but it isn't merely a matter of convenience to me: it's a stylistic decision (more precisely perhaps a decision of form that influences style), like sonnets vs. free verse, or longhand vs. personal computer, or DV vs. film.

When we make things, we choose platforms and formats, employ tropes and conceits, conform to and subvert genres, and all these things influence each other: form and style are inseparably intertwined. Consider a Hollywood-style feature film, a romantic comedy, but shot on DV; or a film script written in longhand.

Certainly these things could possibly exist, even if they would probably be considered an obvious and wilful "postmodern" genre-breaker. And as examples these are borderline grotesque I'll admit, but my point is that surely, click track critics [awesome band name alert] wouldn't argue that these decisions are made only for the sake of convenience or conformity, that they are not style elements in themselves.

From there on it's a matter of taste, and de gustibus non est disputandem, and all that. But I do think we are selling click tracks short when we say that they are merely instruments of convenience, and I will vigorously argue that in the right hands, a click track can be an instrument of recording magic as potent as a Marshall amplifier, or a well-maintained tape recorder, or a cello.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:28 PM on March 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


from my own experience, I'll tell you, I've known drummers good enough to hit the beat as precisely as if guided by a metronome when that's what a particular song calls for, while at the same time being able to rush or drag the tempo as needed when that's what the song calls for. it's all about the context. you can't just grab a few random songs and overgeneralize about what the beat variance you find in them means. you need much larger samples to really get this down with any precision.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:32 PM on March 5, 2009


This all reminds me of a very old joke:

How do you know when there is a drummer at your door?

The knocking speeds up and he doesn't know when to come in.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:32 PM on March 5, 2009 [11 favorites]


I don't think this is all necessary clicktracks. Some of this is done in mixing/post production. It makes it a shitload easier to mix when the tempo is steady.
posted by empath at 12:33 PM on March 5, 2009


(or what goodnewsfortheinsane said.)
posted by saulgoodman at 12:33 PM on March 5, 2009


How do you know when there is a drummer at your door?

The knocking speeds up and he doesn't know when to come in.



And then how do you get him off the porch?

Pay for the pizza.
posted by dagosto at 12:36 PM on March 5, 2009 [8 favorites]


Seconding that there is nothing wrong with a click track. Two things about that:

1. Turning a click track on does not automatically mean a drummer is going to play in time. If you're not used to it, playing to a click track can be quite difficult, for the psyche out factor alone. You become so focused on not speeding up or slowing down that the rest of your playing can suffer.

2. In turn, how exactly do you think the drummers with great time got great time? Practicing to a click track. If that's anathema, then you better prepare yourself to live a world of spastic drumming.

And a word to the wise, the more a drummer wants to talk to you about how many BPMs he can clock on his click track, the more likely it is that he is a shitty drummer, or at least an asshole.

Someone that worked in a studio I recorded at once related to us the story of an extreme metal drummer he was recording who requested his click to be set to over 300 BPM. Which, if you are unfamiliar with general tempos, sounds like a uranium-plated Geiger counter. In no way could a 300bpm click track help you play the drums.

Just like any other musical tool or instrument, someone will find a way to be an asshole with it. Otherwise, it's just handy. And not in any way cheating.

Beat Doctor or whatever it's called, excessive drum triggering, and AutoTune however: Cheating, cheating, cheating.
posted by Darth Fedor at 12:43 PM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


The remix SDK analysis library seems interesting, although the analysis part is done remotely. I think I'll give it a go, I want to see the plot from Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon". The song speeds up at least 20% and gradually morphs from one groove to another.
posted by ikalliom at 12:44 PM on March 5, 2009


Yeah, I don't think I'd describe ABBA as loosely-produced by any stretch -- those songs were polished until they sparkled. And they were damn good songs to begin with.

The Echo Nest API looks fascinating; every time I see it mentioned I think to myself that I really should think of something fun to do with it. But then I never do.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:44 PM on March 5, 2009


The small fluctuations is the drummer chasing the click.

Personally, I think the variations in chasing the click would be more than that - I'm fairly confident those graphs are displaying more significant figures than they have business measuring. I'd be interested to see how the Echo Nest Remix SDK defines tempo identification. There may be more precise methods at this point than transient identification, but I'm not aware of them.

they actually aren't as good as the marketing material would have you believe.

I don't need the marketing. I'm an engineer. I've used both Beat Detective and Elastic Time. Elastic Time sucks a lot, but that's because of the artifacts it introduces, not because of any underlying lack of ability to match transients to beat markers. Beat Detective is pretty goddamn impressive, as much as I think it's a horrible thing. It can take some pretty poorly-timed drum tracks and lock them up right quick. Also, let's not be so conceited to think that a good engineer can't take a set of drum tracks, cut them up, and shift them around so that they're in time. It's fairly easy, if not fucking time consuming. Which is why people use Beat Detective in the first place - it's fast. And remember; we're not talking about drum performances that sound good - we're talking about drum performances that are locked to the beat. There is definitely a difference.
posted by god hates math at 12:45 PM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


But that does not remove the need for a degree of rhythmic musical competence in order to succeed at the game.

I very much agree with that, Cortex. I just don't think it applies in any further, broader, musical sense. You couldn't take your expert Rockband drummer (who's never played real drums) and sit him/her down at a real kit, and say, "Play me a shuffle, or a waltz", or whatever. I guess what I'm saying is there is a whole heck of a lot more to being a good drummer than having a sense of rhythm, which I certainly agree is vital.
posted by kingbenny at 12:49 PM on March 5, 2009


you are supposed to speed up going into the chorus. that's like a law of rock.
posted by snofoam at 12:51 PM on March 5, 2009


With piano I was always taught to use a metronome for a few seconds to get the feel and then turn it off before starting to play. It is just to get your internal timing and get your counting right. Also, an audible click track can start to produce weird effects, sometimes called the anti-click problem (where after a few minutes your brain can start to produce cancellations or even move the click sound around in time).

Anyway, it all seems a little ridiculous to speculate on whether or not a click track has been used during recording because of the astonishing power over tempo in current and emerging post-production systems. An engineer can quickly remove any trace of organic origin.
posted by bz at 1:01 PM on March 5, 2009


I guess what I'm saying is there is a whole heck of a lot more to being a good drummer than having a sense of rhythm, which I certainly agree is vital.

Agreed. Reduction of my counter, then: there is a whole heck of a lot of musical and intermusician stuff going on even in an abstract environment like Rockband, however separated it may be from a live band experience, and so using Rockband experiences as a reference point for discussion of musical interactions is not something that a priori bears dismissive mockery.
posted by cortex at 1:02 PM on March 5, 2009


This plot shows the beat duration variation (in seconds) from the average beat duration over the course of about two minutes of the song (I trimmed off the first 10 seconds, since many songs take a few seconds to get going). In this plot you can clearly see the beat duration vary over time. The 3 dips at about 90, 110 and 130 correspond to the end of a 12 bar verse, where Ringo would slightly speed up.

Don't these people realise they are every drummer's nightmare? Poor Ringo ..
posted by mannequito at 1:15 PM on March 5, 2009


It would be interesting to map these over time. I don't imagine Green Day have always used a click track, and it would be interesting to see at which stage in their careers the production / aesthetic demanded that they did, and whether this coincided with their mainstream appeal. If you did that with a couple of bands it could be a pretty interesting barometer of commercial crossover, or perhaps not at all.
posted by Mil at 1:26 PM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's especially interesting with Green Day. It's questionable whether they're still considered a punk band, but to me, the BEST part about punk drumming is the sloppiness and unpredictability. Kind of like how you're not a jazz drummer if you "ain't got that swing."
posted by naju at 1:50 PM on March 5, 2009


Having a drummer play to a click for a recording session isn't really cheating in my mind. It's not that he/she can't necessarily drum in time it's that you don't want to start laying down other tracks only to find out that there's some timing fuck-up in the drum part somewhere that no one noticed at the time that's now creating synching issues. I have it on very good authority that several recordings of contemporary classical orchestral music were made by having edit points almost every bar. It's not that the orchestra can't play it, it's that it's easier to record that way. I think these things are similar. They're recording techniques, not to be confused for using studio trickery to cover up for the fact that someone can't actually do something.

Also ikalliom yeah, the rushing on "Chameleon" is pretty amazing.
posted by ob at 1:50 PM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, this is more exciting for me because now I know about the remix sdk. But, Burhanistan has piqued my interest. I'll see what happens when I run a few Can songs through this guy's script.
posted by zsazsa at 2:12 PM on March 5, 2009


I remember seeing a video ages ago about Metallica recording the album that Enter Sandman is on. Ulrich played with a click track so loud that they had real trouble with the sound leaking out of his headphones and getting picked up by the recording mics, Yet this says that he played with no click track. I guess it's possible he only used the click track on some songs, but that wasn't the impression I got.
posted by markr at 2:15 PM on March 5, 2009


A few years ago at a Mouse on Mars concert, I swear they had things set up so that their live drummer was triggering the tempo of the programmed sequences of bleeps and blops, not the other way around via a click. I don't know how they did it, but it made the music breathe in this incredible way. It is interesting to me that this isn't done more often.
posted by umbú at 2:27 PM on March 5, 2009


This is fun.
Can - Oh Yeah - really regular
Can - Moonshake - all over the damn place
posted by zsazsa at 2:44 PM on March 5, 2009


Ahh, Moonshake is probably one of the few reasons why the alien overlords haven't vaporized humanity and all its traces.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:54 PM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


John Bonham and Janice Joplin's ghost pee on the precious clicktrack. There's no magic in knowing where 'one' is right. Metronomes? For practicing your time so you don't need the damn thing in performance. sheesh. Practice bitches. Get good. Be good. PLAY OFTEN. Keep the error/humanity in the damn track...Playing music well isn't supposed to be easy otherwise every other dickweed you meet would be trying to pull it off, and we'd be subject to soulless, overproduced, metronomic sounding, robotic feeling, un-chameleon feeling...
No clicktrack...2-3 minutes in is at least 5 bpm faster than beginning...problems?

Are they rushing it? idunno, are they monsters and fun to listen to, kicking ass even? yes most definately...god they're SO unprofessional. HACKS. They'd never make it Nashville!

You following me camera guy? Live. No phones or blinky lights. They are looking at each other ALL THE TIME.

also, Vinnie Colaiuta eats babies and is one drummer i have seen live who uses an amplified sequencer (clicktrack by another name) in performance when it's just him and a bassist, and to great effect I might add as he demonstrates playing "over the bar". But it's used as a part of the 'band', not to keep his rhythm
in line.

...little help down please
posted by greenskpr at 3:11 PM on March 5, 2009


Sometimes it just takes two drummers.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:14 PM on March 5, 2009


and by 'bitches' I mean 'my dear fellows'
posted by greenskpr at 3:24 PM on March 5, 2009


I couldn't imagine, say, Snow Patrol or the Postal Service without it.

My eyes glossed over the word "Patrol" in that sentence, making the comment much harder to take seriously.
posted by Bookhouse at 3:25 PM on March 5, 2009


If this thing says phill rudd used a click then this thing is BOGUS!
posted by tylerfulltilt at 4:03 PM on March 5, 2009


The hardest part about being a drummer (I'm just a piano player, and have a lot of freedom in faking it now and then if the bassist and drummer are on top of it) is starting the tune with the right beat and the right tempo. That is really tremendous pressure. Starting a tune too fast and slowing it down in the first couple measures really sounds like shit. I admire the hell out of drummers for being able to do what they do.

On topic, I think flexibility regarding tempo is a good thing. Slight variations in response to the moods of the musicians (and, especially, the vocalist) can make all the difference. The drummer is not a metronome...although the tendency of some drummers to speed up over the course of a song is usually not a propensity of professional drummers.

I'd like to see comparable charts for jazz drummers.

I vote no for click tracks. The less tech the better. Of course, I play piano, not synthesizer, so I am biased in terms of human-type acoustic music.
posted by kozad at 4:28 PM on March 5, 2009


I've often wondered how various drummers' beats would look like after a Fourier transform (i.e., in the frequency domain). The width of the resulting peak would be a measure of their consistency. (A click track would be a single vertical line.) For example, the FWHM (full width at half maximum) would be a good quantitative measure of consistency, not that consistency necessarily means a better track.
posted by Mapes at 5:00 PM on March 5, 2009


Today's pop seems different. Sterile, almost.

Well, consider: before computers, a great recording was one where everything worked in the performances and everyone was happy. Now, you can take a mediocre, unexciting performance and make it perfect. Arguably you'd be better off taking a great recording where everything worked in the performances and then using a computer to fix the odd clunker here and there, but with studio time being a lot more expensive than computer time these days, that's not a typical approach.

Which, by the way, is why second albums are often so much better than the first: with more money you get more studio time, and with more studio time you can do more takes, and with more takes you can pick one with good energy and that needs less fixing.

Think of it like a painting done with paint and brush versus photoshop: arguably you can make the photoshop painting more accurate and exact than the paint and brush one, but odds are good you'll spend too much time fixing and not enough time generating good source material in the first place. Without photoshop, you don't have that luxury, so you take a lot of time doing even the smallest details over and over and over until it feels right -- to the ultimate benefit of the viewer, if not to the ideals of perfection.
posted by davejay at 5:53 PM on March 5, 2009


Orchestras have had click-tracks for years - they call them "conductors".
posted by awfurby at 6:17 PM on March 5, 2009


Late to the thread, but I have to relate this tale:

Back in the 80's, my band was actually in the studio recording demos for an ill-fated major label deal with none other than the legendary Tom Dowd (who was not under the label's employ at the time or ours, but there merely to amuse himself working with some earnest neophytes whose music he apparently respected). As per studio tradition, we the band and the engineer prepared to engage a click track. "What do you need that for?," says Dowd, "your time is good enough." But this ain't jazz, Tom, we protested. To assure us, he related all the famous rock and pop tracks he recorded without a click. So we did a few takes, and when we listened to the playback, lo and behold, we were rushing through the choruses.

Tom's solution? "Do it again, but this time everybody hold your breath during the 8 bars before the chorus. Then exhale as you play through the chorus".

It worked! "It worked on 'Layla' too," he says. Man, what a dude!

That said, my personal advice when recording live human drummers with a click is to create a click pattern that emphasizes the off beat. Then the drummer can just jam and keep the pulse, as opposed to worrying about hitting the exact downbeat every time.

As to the actual topic, it is interesting, but not controversial in any way, is it?
posted by bonefish at 7:51 PM on March 5, 2009 [5 favorites]


There are plenty of human musicians on Britney Spears records.

Depends on how you define 'human'.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:20 PM on March 5, 2009


Davejay sez: second albums are often so much better than the first: with more money you get more studio time, and with more studio time you can do more takes, and with more takes you can pick one with good energy and that needs less fixing.

Wow. So tech improves the second album. I'd say what the musicians do with their music has more to do with it, which is why sophomore albums are more often duds, for many reasons: artistic, commercial, and the unfortunate conjunction of the two.

Excepted from this sophomore slump rule, of course, are the studio-generated pop focus-group-friendly "products."
posted by kozad at 8:26 PM on March 5, 2009


yeah, well, i use drum machines and click tracks because i don't have a drummer - you can learn to play with them - you can even learn to play off of them so it doesn't sound mechanical - (it helps if you're sloppy at times)
posted by pyramid termite at 8:53 PM on March 5, 2009


How would the existence vs. absence of significant micro tempo dynamics in songs with overall steady tempos correlate with lay perception of soulful vs. soulless recordings?

I imagine it wouldn't correspond at all, because 'soulful' and 'soulless' are musical descriptors with a huge amount of historical and aesthetic meaning that extend far beyond whether the drum rhythm is precisely quantized or not. Heck, even 100% machine-generated tracks can have oodles of soul.
posted by dydecker at 9:31 PM on March 5, 2009


Its funny/weird to hear people say the main reason to use a click track is to make editing easier.... god forbid something as important as the 'feel' of music is lost to some music editor, producer or engineer who wants to go home early because they insisted on using a click track!?! If thats you then you suck! Go find something else to do for a living thats more convenient...

GET OFF THE GRID!

but heh heh, I dont have issues either way; some of my records feature drum machines, some features drummers... some of each are consistent & some of each arent.... but god bless them all!
posted by subbasshead at 11:13 PM on March 5, 2009


using click tracks : music
::
analyzing music with python scripts : music appreciation
posted by troybob at 1:47 AM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


To anyone who thinks that a constant machine-like beat is soulless, go and listen to Blue Monday again, please.

I think that Rock Band drumming is not the same as regular kit drumming, but it pretty obviously is a percussive device that you have to strike in time to a rich click. I'm happy to have Rock-Banders' opinions on timekeeping.
posted by Cantdosleepy at 2:05 AM on March 6, 2009


Which, by the way, is why second albums are often so much better than the first

That's, uh, not my experience.
posted by mannequito at 5:26 AM on March 6, 2009


A metronome is where the Vikings play football.

Literal vikings, maybe.
posted by rokusan at 5:49 AM on March 6, 2009


Its funny/weird to hear people say the main reason to use a click track is to make editing easier.... god forbid something as important as the 'feel' of music is lost to some music editor, producer or engineer who wants to go home early because they insisted on using a click track!?! If thats you then you suck! Go find something else to do for a living thats more convenient...

Do you understand that some of the people saying that a click is a useful recording and editing component are musicians and recordists who care a great deal about the feel of the music they record?

Part of the argument here is that the "you cannot have a reference tempo and also 'feel' omg" proposition is nattering bullshit, the sort of thing that only people with neither a stake nor any real experience in the process would say. Just, you know, an fyi. It's one of those things. Stop spouting archly about it if you don't want to be That Guy, because man do actual recording musicians get tired of that shit.
posted by cortex at 6:25 AM on March 6, 2009 [5 favorites]


hey everybody, i've got news for you: recordings are fake! scandalous, i know, but recordings are artificial contrivances, like movie sets and theater backdrops! there aren't really tiny little musicians performing inside your iPod. (and if there were, it would sound awful.)

turns out, while musicianship is one of the core skills needed to be a recording artist, being a recording artist =/= being a musician.

recording art is about making sounds that can be listened too over and over again; live musical performance is about increasing drunk frat boys chances of getting laid that night. (i keed, i keed... but the point is, recording is an art, meaning, it's a contrivance.)

when you hear a guitar that sounds like it's being played in a big old empty concrete room, guess what? in most cases, it's not, and that's true even of the music that you grew up with and get all misty-eyed about looking back. in fact, there are all kinds of electronic devices of various kinds that make guitars sound the way they do on recordings. all the other instruments, too. it's not the guitarist's performance, nor anything "real" about the performance environment that makes it sound that way--there's nothing particularly "authentic" about it. by and large, the idea of "authenticity" in recorded music is a sham.

(that said, i still hate tools like auto-tuner and dr. beat.)
posted by saulgoodman at 8:31 AM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd say what the musicians do with their music has more to do with it, which is why sophomore albums are more often duds, for many reasons: artistic, commercial, and the unfortunate conjunction of the two.

Total derail, but... I've always assumed sophomore albums were duds because they're written in a hurry compared to a debut, which is often made up of songs honed through years of live performance.

That said, debuts suck even harder, even more often. That an artist ever gets to record a second album at all tends to has everything to do with the success of the first one. And then they have to pinpoint why it was successful (often missing by a mile), and incorporate that into the next album while still sounding fresh.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:00 AM on March 6, 2009


recording art is about making sounds that can be listened too over and over again;

Yes and yes also to what cortex said. As I hinted at above, this is true whether it be "rock/popular" music or "classical" music that's being recorded (and by classical I really mean contemporary classical as that's my bag.) The differences between the genres is that contemporary classical exists as more a live performance genre and popular music exists more as a recorded genre. Still, in a recording session the same rules apply. This is to create an object that will be satisfying in and of itself, not a reproduction of a live performance (that would just be a live recording...) and in order to do this certain recording techniques have evolved.

Something that is satisfying in a live performance might not work on a recording, so you change things so that they work. If there's rushing in a live performance, that's fine, there's a live audience who are invested. If there's rushing or some kind of weird ebb-and-flow to the tempo on a recording that has the potential to be listened to thousands of times, that's pretty crappy. So you avoid such pitfalls. One of the ways to do that is to use a click. Using a click doesn't automatically mean that there's not feel. When you listen to a record/album/etc. you need to ask yourself this question: Does the recording sound good? Good, then its serving its purpose. It's a document in and of itself. Who really gives a fuck if the drummer used a click or not?
posted by ob at 11:46 AM on March 6, 2009


"Do you understand that some of the people saying that a click is a useful recording and editing component are musicians and recordists who care a great deal about the feel of the music they record? "

yes cortex I do understand that, because that also is me. You totally miss my point.
My point is this: using a constant click means the drummer is NOT ALLOWED to vary tempo.
So a decision is being made BEFORE recording to disallow one aspect of music making. Whereas if the decision is made afterwards to use Beat Detective etc then that is a decision based on what is, as opposed to what might be.... Of course all of these decisions are up to the people making the music but if it is primarily motivated by making the song easy to edit, then I personally feel that the priorities are wrong.
posted by subbasshead at 12:42 PM on March 6, 2009


My point is this: using a constant click means the drummer is NOT ALLOWED to vary tempo.

And?

I use a click for some things. I don't use a click for other things. When I do and don't depends on what I'm trying to achieve and how I'm going about it, what tools I'm using, who I'm working with, what my arrangement contains, etc.

Am I working on something where it's important that the drummer (or other musicians) be able to vary the tempo organically? Am I working in an environment where using a timing reference track would be more distraction than it's worth? Cool, I eschew the click track and accept some of the production inconveniences that come with that, hopefully confident that I picked the better approach for what I'm working on.

But that's about as far as it goes: making a reasoned decision about what tools to use for a given project. Your objection seems to be based on the ideas that (a) a steady tempo is somehow inherently bad and (b) wanting a steady tempo is for many people fundamentally about laziness rather than legitimate musical goals. Both of those strike me as deeply off the mark.
posted by cortex at 12:59 PM on March 6, 2009


So a decision is being made BEFORE recording to disallow one aspect of music making.

That's a really weird argument. You could say that deciding a chord pattern is doing the same thing. Again, we're talking about using a click to lay down a track that will go to make a set-in-stone musical document, not a jam sesh.

As before, I have to say that I'm totally with cortex here, you're basing all of this on random value judgments.
posted by ob at 3:13 PM on March 6, 2009


So a decision is being made BEFORE recording to disallow one aspect of music making.

so?

you cannot write, perform or record music without deciding to disallow MANY aspects of music making as you create

total freedom = total mess
posted by pyramid termite at 8:56 PM on March 6, 2009


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