I had the pleasure of sitting in on another recording session at a local studio. A guitar player had wrote a song and had recorded it without using a click track. A click track is a series of sounds in 2/4, 4/4, or whatever tempo the song is to be played in that is emitted through the headphones of the player. This process assists that player in keeping the proper time signature for the song. More importantly, it helps the other musicians to follow that have to provide harmony, rhythm, and anything else that will be added to the song. The guitar player and writer of the song was adamant that he did not want to use a click track for his original recording of the guitar lead. The guitar lead was a blend of guitar/banjo like finger picking with a rockabilly musical style. It sounded very cool.
The next artist to record was a rhythm guitar player. She did make mention that there was no click track used in the original guitar track. The rhythm player had charted the original guitar track after a three times listening to it. I was very impressed with this feat. Charting the rhythm guitar for a 3 minute guitar break, after three times listening through it, I thought was well done. The rhythm guitar player was doing a good job until she came to this one part in the guitar break that had a, lets see how did the engineer say it, “time anomaly”. There was a part of the guitar track that was a different time signature than what the music up to this point had been using.
Numerous takes were done and everything went well until that “time anomaly”. It was difficult for the rhythm guitarist to follow or as they said in the studio, “fall in the pocket”. Many more takes were done and eventually a track or maybe parts of different tracks assembled together later was completed that everyone seemed to think did work. I do not know if this decision came about because of a rational, music based, reason or was a decision based on listener’s fatigue. After repeated listens, I could not get my ears around that one part that had a different time signature and it appeared to me that the rhythm guitarist could not either.
Next, came another guitar part played by a different guitarist. I guess this was a harmony part. I can not remember exactly. The guitar player proceeded to move through the piece with some ease until that one spot where the time signature changes abruptly. This small section was something that had to be dealt with in a different way. How does one get “in the pocket” with this. The solution appeared to be a series of listening sessions of the “time anomaly” and then a few measures before and a few measures after to help the guitarists move in and out. Once again, the other players on the song had to work through this small section with the different time signature.
Finally, came the mandolin player. I listened closely and watched as he read the charts that the rhythm guitar player had written down. I listened to the composition that the mandolin player and the producer/engineer came up with. They would begin with something the mandolin player came up with after reviewing the charts. They would then play/listen/change. They would play the current version as they both understood to be, sometimes surprising each other with different things, which is very cool to see in person. After listening/changes, they finally arrive at something that they both like. If they both like it, they will both know it at the same time. It is an interesting thing this music communication. Well, maybe.
There is a hierarchy of decision makers present but the producer/engineer really is running things. Actually, we had two producer/engineers working together on this song. They both appeared to get along well and it was interesting to hear them speak to each other in engineer speak about this or that. It is like being in an elevator and the people with you are in the elevator with are speaking a language you do not understand. I wonder if this is a common practice to have two producers/engineers? It appears that if the producer/engineer likes it for the next step which is recording and the recording artist does not, the producer/engineer usually gets his or her way and makes the decision to record. If the artist is a little ticked off, they give them M + M s.
The mandolin player played almost over in performance than the original lead guitar. It was neat to hear how a mandolin sounds and even more interesting to hear the guitar like licks and chord the mandolin produces only with more speed. The mandolin track became a center pieces all its own, I could tell. Unfortunately, I had to leave right before recording. I hope I get the chance to hear it in its entirety. I will definitely ask.
Click Track Revisited
I did not really understand a click track. After some explanation from the producer/engineer, I understood it from a technical side. It makes sense to me that having all the moving parts, move together in the same time, makes technical communication mush smoother and easier. It also appears that it must be correct from the first track or one is always dealing with it. It appears to a layman that some of it can be dealt with electronically, but some can not. Any time anomalies occurred in the time of the piece, it confused others, not just sometimes but all the time. I can not explain why the original guitar song writer did not want to use one. He mentioned something like and I am paraphrasing here because I could not hear clearly, that, “this is the way it needs to be”. I did not understand what this meant.
It is amazing to me to watch an engineer work the digital console during a session. Focus all your energy on just his hands. Forget about what he or she is saying and just watch their hands move from button to slider to switch. It is quite an amazing dance. It also appears that for the producer/engineer it is a balance of psychology and sociology. Behavior and the thinking of artists are different but still the same. It appears to depend on the age, “chops”, and celebrity of the player.
Any way you slice it, it is a great experience and I highly recommend going to a recording studio in your area and sit in on a session if possible. You will have to do some up front work like meet the people and tell them what you would like to do and go from there. Just don’t walk in and sit down next to the board. The hardest part is not speaking.