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Tracking live drums- how off the beat is too off?

rbuist

Member
Messages
44
I posted a thread a while back about upgrading my interface in order to record drums and stereo guitar amps- I picked up a PreSonus AudioBox 22VSL and I'm loving it so far.

I've been micing the kick drum and placing an overhead mic pointed towards the snare/hihats area to track a really simple drum beat for an ambient song. With some light reverb, EQ, and compression in Ableton Live, I've been getting some surprisingly good drum tones for my rig.

Unfortunately, I can visually see that most of my hits come slightly before the beat of the click track. I am using noise canceling headphones with a 90 bpm click- while my playing sounds good with a scratch track guitar, I'm a perfectionist with my music so I'm trying to make everything line up the way it should in theory.

Is is ok to be slightly off the beat with live drums? I think my stuff sounds ok, but I can tell that I played it because I'm a relatively new drummer. I used to program drums, but some people say that's too perfect and I'm inclined to agree with them.

It took me a while to play guitar to a click so maybe I just have to adjust for drums. Maybe try a different tempo? Studio magic? Whatever suggestions you have- I'm open to them.
 

MoPho

Formerly tripp2k
Silver Supporting Member
Messages
5,656
This is well beyond my skill, but I've read about stretching or contracting time. Not sure if this is the right word for it (please don't beat me up) but might this be called quantitize? I also play drums and I hate click tracks and my time shows it similar to what you're seeing.
 

Rusty G.

Member
Messages
3,143
What DAW are you using? I use Pro-Tools. . .you can manually move a hit forward or backward to line it up if it's too far out. . .Or just copy and past a correct pass over it. It's all about the editing.

Also, you mentioned that you used to program drums. There are multi-platinum albums/cds that have been done completely with programmed drums. . .in the Pop and Rock genre. It just depends on how well you can program the hits. . .Also, if you need to, you can add a little swing to the beats, or changing the velocity of individual hits to change up the feel. It just depends on how much time you want to invest in a project.
 

rbuist

Member
Messages
44
What DAW are you using? I use Pro-Tools. . .you can manually move a hit forward or backward to line it up if it's too far out. . .Or just copy and past a correct pass over it. It's all about the editing.

Also, you mentioned that you used to program drums. There are multi-platinum albums/cds that have been done completely with programmed drums. . .in the Pop and Rock genre. It just depends on how well you can program the hits. . .Also, if you need to, you can add a little swing to the beats, or changing the velocity of individual hits to change up the feel. It just depends on how much time you want to invest in a project.
I'm using Ableton Live 9 Intro- it allows you to set a tempo and see where exactly your beats are landing. I keep noticing the kick track is just slightly off of the beat. Maybe I need to practice a bit more in getting it down.

I know what you mean- MBV's Loveless is one of my favorite albums and most of the drums on that were done with a program. The drums I did program weren't bad- I just want to play everything live.
 

jrjones

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
8,242
There's a way to fix it within ableton but I don't remember how...
 

B Money

Member
Messages
5,918
Seems like you're working against yourself. Either you want it live, or you want it perfect. Can't be both.
 

ShawnH

Member
Messages
1,387
Seems like you're working against yourself. Either you want it live, or you want it perfect. Can't be both.
I agree with this. The reason drums have feel, groove, swing whatever you are going for is precisely because they don't fall exactly on a quantized grid. If it sounds good then it is good. Mostly I would say you are looking for consistency (usually) - if the kick always falls just a bit ahead of the grid and you like how that propels the song forward then you are good to go. It's very common for the snare to drag just a bit behind the beat in many styles of music, etc.

Now if you are going for dance music or something with a really rigid beat then you may want something else - but in that case most would just program the drums altogether.
 
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bigEbeer

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
1,213
Are you willing to post a clip? Might be good to get others opinions since you know what to look for. I have this same problem all the time. If I know there's a small issue, it sticks out when I listen back. A good majority of the time, others don't even notice.
 

rangerkarlos

Member
Messages
5,776
what website are you using?


Can't believe this thread went this long ignoring the obvious beat off reference
 

rbuist

Member
Messages
44
I agree with this. The reason drums have feel, groove, swing whatever you are going for is precisely because they don't fall exactly on a quantized grid. If it sounds good then it is good. Mostly I would say you are looking for consistency (usually) - if the kick always falls just a bit ahead of the grid and you like how that propels the song forward then you are good to go. It's very common for the snare to drag just a bit behind the beat in many styles of music, etc.

Now if you are going for dance music or something with a really rigid beat then you may want something else - but in that case most would just program the drums altogether.
That's kind of what I've been thinking- just been reading so many articles online about how professional drummers need to learn to nail their parts to a click track it got me all crazy about re-tracking parts that already sounded decent (and fine with a scratch guitar).
 

rbuist

Member
Messages
44
Are you willing to post a clip? Might be good to get others opinions since you know what to look for. I have this same problem all the time. If I know there's a small issue, it sticks out when I listen back. A good majority of the time, others don't even notice.
I'm leaving for a wedding this afternoon- if I get my stuff together and pack in time I'll post a clip and maybe a screen shot of the Ableton session so you can see how the kick appears to chronically come in slightly early. It's probably a difference of a few milliseconds- that's why I titled my post "how off is too off?".

EDIT- spelling
 

eyeteeth

Member
Messages
432
If I'm tracking Live drums, for Live drums sake... when I have a take I think I like, I'll turn off the click and listen to just the drums closely... if nothing jumps out at me as feeling awkward, or sounding off... its good. Everyone else will play to the drums, so if it's a little ahead, or behind doesn't matter as much... and you want it live... push and pull of the tempo... etc. I'm not a big fan of the ultra perfection everyone seems to strive for nowadays... sounds fake and manufactured to me. But IF that is what someone wants... I'll convert the the tracked Live drums to triggered MIDI notes, quantize the MIDI, then pipe it through a drum replacement process using different sounds.
 

Silent Sound

Member
Messages
5,247
Drummers are always slightly off the click at at least some parts of any given song. That's one of the ways you can easily tell if the song is using a drum machine vs real drums. So if you're recording a real drummer, then you probably want some variation, or else why not just program it all in and use some top notch samples? That and the inconsistency in the hits give the tracks "feel". Good drummers know how to control these "mistakes" to give the songs more emotional impact. Bad drummers aren't aware of their mistakes usually.

So the question is how much off can it be and still be acceptable. The answer is "it depends", as always. But my general rule is to turn off the click, close my eyes, and listen to the tracks. If you hear the drums speeding up or slowing down, then it's probably something worth addressing. If you can't really tell if it's moving around, then it's probably fine. As a recording engineer, you should be much more aware of these issues than the average listener, so if you don't really notice a problem just listening to the song, then it's probably not worth worrying about. So I would say do as few edits as you possibly can, but make sure to edit out anything that sticks out at you.

Beware that it's real easy to kill the feel and vibe of a song by time aligning or editing too much. Sure, you can take out pretty much all of the mistakes out of a song with computers these days, but that won't make it sound good. One of the skills that separates the best recording engineers from the bedroom hobbyists is knowing which mistakes to leave and which ones to fix.
 

jjohannes

Member
Messages
103
I think my stuff sounds ok
You've already answered your own question!

(As long as it sounds good it is good, no? Of course there could be a problem if you try to overdub some other instrument and tend to play behind the click and not listen to the drum track, or if you need to edit/cut/loop and things don't line up. )
 

Bassomatic

Member
Messages
12,337
Pocket rarely has much to do with metronomic time. If it feels good, leave it. If it doesn't, better off recutting it in most cases.
 

3dognate

Member
Messages
6,066
One Exercise I've heard is to do a click/metronome PAINFULLY slow like 40BPM... and practice 1/4 notes and forcefully practice playing them just behind the beat. This is supposed to train you not get in front of it which makes it feel rushed. I've done this on guitar back when I was working on improving my right hand, it helped (I'm sure it was temporary and I was quickly back to bad habits.) That might be an exercise to do before tracking... That's all I've got.
 

rbuist

Member
Messages
44
One Exercise I've heard is to do a click/metronome PAINFULLY slow like 40BPM... and practice 1/4 notes and forcefully practice playing them just behind the beat. This is supposed to train you not get in front of it which makes it feel rushed. I've done this on guitar back when I was working on improving my right hand, it helped (I'm sure it was temporary and I was quickly back to bad habits.) That might be an exercise to do before tracking... That's all I've got.
That's not a bad idea- maybe I'll give it a try. I just find it strange that I'm off the beat so consistently for drums. Most of the music I have recorded in the past usually revolved around a single rhythm guitar track being played slowly- I don't have a problem recording guitar to a click at all.
 

Rex Anderson

Member
Messages
5,079
Steely Dan guys (Fagen and Becker) would have Roger Nichols (engineer) move things around in time until they liked the way it felt so it was not mechanical sounding (exactly perfect on the beat).

Get the feel you want, don't go for perfect unless that is what you want.
 

phazersonstun

Member
Messages
3,117
I'm primarily a guitarist / singer but I got into drumming 15 years or so ago specificly for my own studio use.

One important lesson I learned is to not listen with my eyes. Constantly visualy monitoring the transient peaks against the grid can get you into trouble regarding the songs feel.

A mistake is a mistake & should be retracked or edited but....

Much of a songs organic feel comes from where the drums and or bass land on the beat.
Not slowing down or rushing, but an intentional choice to play slightly behind the beat for a laid back groove or on top of it to propel the song and give a feel of urgency.

Which ever way it is, if its consistent & by a tasteful margin it can transform a track from "Ok, sounds good." to a head bobbing "Hell yeah!!".

Automatically nudging the kit to line up perfectly with the grid just because your eyes see it isn't perfect will often be a mistake as it can kill that groove relationship between the drums and other instruments.


One trick I learned about nudging that can strongly help a well performed drum track that isn't about the timing of the performance:

AFTER you are happy with the take, any drum edits & phase relationship of the mics, group all the drum tracks together EXCEPT the OH.

Zoom way in on the 1st transient of your OH drum tracks & nudge the close mic'd drums to the right to line up perfectly with the OH.

It will be a small move but will unify the impact of your kick & snare by no small amount.
 
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