SHOW YOUR CLICK TRACK WHO'S BOSS - Indablog - Indaba Music
News, Sessions and oddities from the Indaba Community
Thursday October 22, 2009 at 11:03 AM
I’m having to start from scratch with a lot of workflow issues
after jumping ship from Digital Performer to Logic, and during a
project I worked on last week, I was forced to re-learn an old trick
that’s definitely worth passing along here.
In part because I use a lot of MIDI, I generally try to adhere to a
click track unless there’s an artistic reason to drift — rubato, and
even rushing, have their uses, but I’ve always felt strongly that
DAW-based composition gets much easier when you can visually see and
edit the relationships between beats, bars, and whatever musical
content you’ve input, and — not insignificant, this part — snap your
musical phrases around in musically useful increments. Trying to
slide a keyboard riff back by one bar comes much more naturally than
trying to move it back by 191,387 samples, and having to calculate the
latter every time you want to move something around is, in my opinion,
one of the quickest ways to kill a productivity buzz.
Where I depart from a lot of people, I think, is that I think this
same reasoning also extends from matters of composition and
arrangement and into production. Delays and modulation effects, in
particular, can be incredibly effective when anchored to the tempo of
the piece, and even compressors can be made to pump in and out in
musically useful ways (though you’ll rarely see any sort of
beat-oriented controls on those plugins). This means that I can
quickly turn quite surly when I have to calculate millisecond values
in order to get a basic quarter-note delay or swirl a flanger around
symmetrically on every bar — again, it always feels like I’m
screeching to a standstill to address some stupid procedural hangup
(not unlike doing excessive paperwork, actually).
Most people, particularly when focused exclusively on mixing, don’t
seem to worry about this — in fact, I’d wager that an overwhelming
majority of the Pro Tools session documents in the world have the
metronome set to the default 120 BPM no matter what they actually
contain. I’ve heard arguments that unpredictable tempo asymmetries
can make the effects more interesting, and also that locking things in
too tightly makes it easier to forget that such details are usually
just meant to be frosting. Both are valid points, but I’m not
convinced, because if you want the asymmetry, you can always flip your
plugin back into millisecond mode. Properly placed beat and bar
reference points give you a very powerful new way of addressing your
time-oriented production effects, but there’s nothing forcing you to
The obvious problem here: playing to a metronome is hard! And even
assuming that I’ve already won you over here, if any of the material
is tracked without you around to play resident click stickler, chances
are this line of reasoning will be dispensed with, and the project
tempo will be set to that dreaded 120.00 when you see it next.
There’s a really elegant solution to this with most major DAW
platforms, though. No, not yelling at your drummer, although there’s
often a reason for that too, in which case, have at it, Cowboy.
Rather, you can retroactively move the beat and bar lines of the
metronome’s “grid” around to match up the musical content in the audio
recordings. Thus, it’s not actually a grid at all in the end, instead
pulsing subtly over the course of the session to match up with the
musician’s natural pacing. Or even wildly, for that matter — who
cares? I just want to beat-sync my plugins, remember, so if the
wildly fluctuating tempos (rubato, incompetent, whatever) are
considered acceptable at this point, my cognitive flow has been
restored and we can move on.
This is not beat slicing or quantization or Live Warping or time
stretching or any number of other terms that might have just jumped to
mind. Most of those processes are ways of conforming deviating
performances to a rigid tempo grid. Here, we’re conforming the
grid to the performance, and through it all, the audio is
absolutely untouched (for better or worse).
In order to set up your sequence for this, you’ll have to do a bit
of prep (which I must sheepishly admit might feel a bit like doing
paperwork) but for me the payoff comes in never having to stop making
music to switch to a calculator.
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