Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Using a Click Track While Drumming

Do you think that you would drum better if you played using a click track as backup? Have you ever tried to record using a click track? Have you ever brought it to rehearsal, thinking that it would work in a live situation? It's not easy to keep time if you don't practice with one, so starting something new like using a metronome, (while under the pressure of laying down a great recording,) falls short when you don't do the homework.

Let the Click Track Guide You

I find that I do my best recording with a click track when I admit that the machine is keeping time for the song, and I'm just grooving along with it. The pressure to be on time during any session is already intense. How can I let that pressure go? I just think to myself that the click in my headphones is running the show, and I'm there to hit the mark while having a great time. Keep time, but realize that the click track is going to be perfect. You are human and will not be perfect. Stay on top of the click, and enjoy the ride.

Practice with a Click Track

Nothing is worse than playing "speed up and slow down" when you find yourself off time. In fact, if I have the kill switch within reach during a song and my timing is lost, I'll turn off the click track and plod on. That specific track might be spliced up, or your first two minutes of that track could be pasted to the last half of a better take if you are playing along to a click. The timing will be there for the engineer to work with. Staying in time with a click requires lots of practice. I don't just play 4/4 beats to the track, I do my warm up exercises with a click in the background. I tend to set the the beat to 8/8 for a 4/4 song. The extra notes keep you in line.

Many Recordings Require a Perfect Tempo

When your band mate writes a song that opens with four bars of just guitar, how are you going to hit your mark when you need to come in? If the song drops out in the middle and then comes crashing back in, how will you know when to start back up? If the studio is using any type of modern recording software, the tracks will most certainly be mapped out according to time. It's pretty much a "must do" unless your entire band is playing live.

Let the Engineer Help You with a Click Track Decision

I will admit that there have been times in my career when the studio engineer makes a call against using a click track. If the song is structured properly, and the engineer is quite confident that he or she can get a good take from me, then I defer to their judgement. In fact, I can think of specific recordings where I asked for a click track, and was told to try it a few times without. If things didn't work out, they would have me start again with a guide. As long as you don't get bogged down trying to fix the tempo during the mixing phase, you might find that there is a natural feel to a song that may speed up a tad.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Playing Rock Band Does Not Make You a Musician

Rock Band

I was watching a video of Rush playing Rock Band yesterday and that clip inspired me to comment on those that think that playing Rock Band makes them something like a musician. Sorry kids, it does not. If there is any benefit to that game, it may be related to keeping time. After that, it's just another game.

Rock Band is Not For Actual Musicians

I found myself sitting in my nephew's basement one day, plastic drum set in front of me, plastic drumsticks in hand. He wanted me to try my hand at the game. After all, I have been playing drums for almost thirty years, so he felt that I would be an expert at Rock Band with little effort.
All I had to do was hit the rubber pads when the little colored lights tell me to. There was the first problem. I'm an open handed drummer. That means everything that the game is set up for is backwards to me.

Rock Band is not about feel or grove. Its all about hitting the buttons at the exact time that the game requires you to. Keep your feel out of the effort, and you will do better. Who wants to keep a groove out of music? That's insane. Robots do better at Rock Band, than actual musicians.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Fog Machines in Clubs and Bars

Fog machine

Now that you can’t light up a cigarette in a club, It's too bad that a nasty smoke machine can still ruin the evening. They are most often called "fog machines," and they have evolved over the years, but you still have to be careful when being exposed to one for a certain length of time. Why do clubs use them? They make the venue's lighting system better, and they create an effect that enhances the performance on stage. Bands will often bring their own fog machine to a show, but I must admit that it looks silly to see a local band on a tiny stage pumping out tons of fog.

Not too long ago, fog machines used a nasty petroleum based product. Think about it, you were sucking in kerosene when you danced the night away in the 1970's. I remember that smell from long ago, and I knew it wasn't good for you back then. Those days are gone now, and fog machines are fairly safe and affordable items that you may even see at a house party.

Modern fog machines use glycol and water to produce their smoke. It is much safer to use, but still not perfect. Studies that focused on the health effects of this fog concluded that continued exposure can create health problems. The closer you are to the source of the fog, the worse it can be on your lungs and throat. Think about that the next time you are drumming away just a few feet from the fog machine.

Dry ice can make for a foggy club floor, and is pretty safe to use. The problems associated with that product are twofold. Dry ice fog hangs low to the ground and dissipates quickly, so you have to keep pumping out fresh fog in order to keep the effect going. Dry ice is liquid carbon dioxide. As it fills up the floor, the oxygen is replaced with C02, which can be dangerous. Dry ice canisters are the easiest to use. Lugging water and big blocks of dry ice to a club is not the most enjoyable thing to do.

Nitrogen in liquid form is another way to create a foggy ground effect. The chemical is added to boiling water, and then pumped out with a fan. The smoke hangs low to the ground, and can be more visually appealing when compared to dry ice fog. I say ban them all from small clubs. It's already too hot in most clubs, and now that it's against the law to smoke in public buildings, I think we are getting used to a smoke free environment.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Saint Vincent Pabst Theater Milwaukee Review

Strange Mercy Saint Vincent

St. Vincent is early in her latest tour, and supporting the new Strange Mercy album. She stopped at the Pabst Theater last night, and I wondered if a Monday in Milwaukee would mean a sparse crowd. Yes, the balcony was closed off, but by the time that her opening act finished her set, the lower level was full. The lights went out, Annie Clark came out, and the crowd cheered her on before the first note filled the theater. The band opened with Cruel, and they played songs mostly from her new disk. They diverted along the way to play three tracks from The Actor, and a cover who's title escapes me at the moment. Backing Clark was a pair of keyboard players and a drummer. This was quite different from the last tour, where we were entertained by violin, keys, and a small woodwind assortment.

Strange Mercy has at least six solid songs on it, and I had no doubt that those tunes would carry over well in a live setting. What surprised me was how much I liked the softer, deeper tracks. The song Strange Mercy came across so much better live than what I have come to know on the disk. I also loved the short and sweet interactions that she put forth between songs. She left the crowd little to dwell upon but the music, and that makes her even more mysterious as a person. Once again, a few drunk males shouted out the usual "I love you" crap, but she played it off, if acknowledging them at all.

To me, the best part of the evening was her opening number during the encore. She came out and sang The Party with just keys backing her up. She revealed to the crowd an operatic vocal power that required her to back away from the microphone when she closed out the song. I will not soon forget that moment in the evening, as that alone was worth the price of admission.

Throughout the eventing, I did feel that she was holding back a bit on her solos, but still pulled them off well enough. I don't need convincing that she's got serious guitar chops; I just wish that she would have torn the heads off of those in the orchestra pit with at least one killer solo. My concert partner wished she would have played Paris is Burning, but alas it was not to be. Perhaps next time for both items on our list.