The Secret Glue

In my last post I wrote “I could probably write an entire blog post on the value of having 5 minutes of a stock drum beat already in place the moment I open a new song.”

So here goes…. (Once again this concept probably applies to many things outside of audio recording.)

I am in the process of recording a new album of original music. I am loosely basing the pieces on my daily morning practices. Pieces that are atmospheric representations of the stillness of the morning, the sun coming through the trees, my meditation and mantra practices, the rivers that join in a Sangama on our property, and the gratitude I feel for each day. Each piece has the same instrumentation – classical guitar, piano, bass guitar, cello, and occasionally voice and environmental sounds. There is no percussion in any of the finished tracks however I am recording them with a drumbeat as a click track.

 

I set up a special template after I recorded the album’s first track. I knew I wanted each successive piece to be sonically equivalent, to exist in the same space and to belong together. So all of the instruments, plug-ins, settings, and my “drumbeat click track” all load up with each new piece I am recording. Because I have a simple drumbeat, I can quickly dial up the right tempo for the piece and record my classical guitar knowing that everything will line up neatly for possible future editing. Once I am satisfied with my guitar performance, I record the bass and piano. I keep the drumbeat playing the whole time. I hear it but no one else ever will. Once everything is locked in and the cello and voice are recorded, I mute the drumbeat track. The drumbeat is the secret glue that holds the sonic collage together.

 

The results have been very satisfying to listen too, at least that is how I feel.

 

Why bother writing a stock drumbeat when you could just use the metronome click track included with the workstation? I hate the sound of a metronome. Maybe it was all those years of rigorous training in tiny practice rooms, but as soon as the metronome click comes on it is like an ice pick in the forehead. Maybe it was years of playing with “drum drops” records or keyboard drum beats as a teenager. Stock drumbeats have more “feeling” than a metronome even when they are locked right to the quantization grid. I set up 5 minutes of a stock drumbeat because it lets me get into the feel for how the music is going to go and keeps me honest as my tempo naturally fluctuates faster and slower over the span of time. Trying to play to or edit around those natural fluctuations is incredibly frustrating and can waste enormous amounts of precious studio time. (If you get the chance watch the “Sound City” documentary by Dave Grohl and listen to him describe recording Nirvana’s “Lithium” and the necessity of a click track to keep that song’s tempo reigned in.)

 

But it is not just editing, although that alone is worth the drumbeat. Opening up the workstation is like diving into a vast universe filled with choices. Many of those choices are completely unnecessary to even consider and will most likely keep me from finishing the project. So with this latest project everything is pre-loaded from my drumbeat click track right down to my FX plugins. Everything still takes hours and hours to create but the time is spent making the music not deciding which EQ plugin I should use. And I am not spending any time doing meticulous timing based edits because I refused to play to a drumbeat (even when the finished product does not contain one.)

It is like a contractor using large 4×4 post supports to hold up a porch roof while they redo the “real” supports. Once the weight is supported by the “finished” decorative column supports, then the ugly temporary ones are removed. Interesting how the word “tempo” is found in the word “temporary”. I guess I am not the only one who removes (mutes) the “drumbeat” once the structure is in place.

 

Thanks for reading,

Josh

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