Here’s another reader question:

I have run into a problem – I seem to lose the energy of a live performance when I record with a metronome, but my rhythm is pretty awful (I tend to speed up). Any ideas as to how I can maintain the energy in the recordings without getting sloppy?

Thanks! Harrison

Ooooo…good question.

There are a lot of benefits to recording with a metronome (a.k.a. “click track”). I’ll get into that on a future post, but I highly recommend recording to a metronome of some sort. It makes overdubs, editing, and even mixing go much more smoothly.

Here are 4 suggestions for maintaining energy while recording to a click track:

1. Record and play at the same time.

As a musician, we typically play and sing when performing in public. Sometimes playing and singing separately in the studio can be a bit dull.

You’re used to rocking out on guitar while belting out the lyrics, and it’s hard to get a good performance doing one at a time.

Try recording them simultaneously. Use a dynamic mic on the vocals (to help control bleed a bit), and just do it. There will be bleed, but who cares? If the performance is incredible, the bleed won’t matter at all.

2. Practice with a metronome/click

As a musician, you really should develop the skill of being able to play with a click AND maintain energy.

Just like anything worthwhile, it takes time and practice. One of the main reasons I can play well with a click (both live and in the studio) is that I made myself do it.

Was it awkward and uncomfortable at first? Yep, but it got better. Now I don’t even really hear the click anymore.

3. Use a drum loop instead

I still do this quite a lot. Nobody said you have to use the standard Pro Tools “marimba” click track when you record. Pick something more musical.

You could use Xpand! (or some other virtual instrument) as your click track.

Or drag a drum loop into your session, or use one of the many grooves inside EZDrummer.

Now you can play along to a steady beat…without it feeling lifeless an sterile.

4. Don’t Use a Click Track

I list this option last because, while I highly prefer using a click track, it is certainly valid to NOT use one an a particular song. The tempo of the song may need to “breathe.” Or perhaps the musicians simply perform better without a click track.

As always, do what’s best for the song.

What about you?

How would you answer Harrison’s question? Leave a comment below.

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13 Responses to “Maintaining Energy in a Recording [Ask Joe]”

  1. Andrew (cobaltaudio)

    Swapping the click out for a virtual drum kit is a great idea!
    I have to confess that I hadn’t thought of that one before, but can really see how it could make the difference.

    Unfortunately, there are occasions when no matter what you try for the musicians, you just have to have a click/drum track because a slight loss of performance is less distracting than instruments being out of sync with each other. It often is the case that practicing with a click will enable you to build up to giving enough of a performance to allow you to keep the click running.

  2. simon

    #2 is important even when you’re not recording. Practicing regularly with a metronome will develop your sense of rhythm. Once you get that, you get better at creatively working around the tempo without losing the pulse.

    It will also help you when you’re performing without a drummer, with or without a group. Your more-solid tempo will transmit as a more confident performance. In a group, you will be able to wait out a two-bar break and come in on the nose.

  3. Neil

    I totally agree with #3! Even if the song will have no drums, I find it much easier to keep time with than the generic metronome. Also, if you’re not entirely settled on the lyrics (or just want to record them separately), you can include fills in your metronome-drum track to guide you in transitions.

    Not sure about other DAWs, but Logic can do something pretty cool — if you record a scratch track with no metronome, you then record a ‘metronome’ track with handclaps or whatever, then you can extract the tempo from that using beat mapping. That way, the Logic’s tempo follows your performance rather than you having to follow Logic’s. This is the video I learned that little trick from:

  4. Sam Kearns

    I’m no expert, but another tip I’ve heard is that it’s a lot easier to play in time to a looped recording of your self counting the beat (eg: saying “1..2..3..4..1..2..3..4..”) than it is to play to a typical “click” metronome sound.

  5. James Hoffman

    He could also be losing energy because of tempo related problems, especially if he is used to speeding up in a live performance, so here are a few other things to try…

    1. Make sure you’ve set the correct tempo in the metronome. Seems like a no brainer, but it’s easy to set a tempo that feels right while you’re playing, only to have it feel like it’s dragging upon listening back. Set a tempo, record a verse and chorus, then listen back and see if it still feels right. Also, take the time to be precise here– a few bpm doesn’t sound like much (especially when you’re eager to record), but in the long run it can greatly affect the feel of your song. If you look at pro sessions, you’ll even see tracks that are set to 122.5, cause 122 is too slow and 123 is too fast, and they took the time to determine that!

    2. Record a scratch track without a metronome to figure out the tempo. As a follow up to point 1, sometimes its better to record a scratch track of how you feel it should be played and use that to determine the tempo (then go back and record the “real” version now that you have a tempo locked in), rather than guessing a metronome marking and trying to hum along while changing the bmp to what you think is right or even using a tap tempo. Keep in mind, if you really do speed up, the tempo in the middle or end of the song may be the best tempo for that song.

    3. Automate your tempo, if it really needs it. Sometimes certain sections, like the chorus, need a little boost, and automating in an extra 2-3 bpm leading into and throughout a section can make a big difference. It’s a small enough change that most people won’t consciously notice, but will FEEL a boost in energy. However, this trick does take more time and can really mess up a player that over- or under-anticipates a tempo change. Do this only if you need it, and be sure to do a couple practice runs (at least of the tempo changes) before you record.

  6. Mr Stonebender

    Occasionally I will take option one a bit further: I’ll record myself playing acoustic/vocals—with a click or a drum loop—and then I’ll go back and record the parts one by one, playing along with my live recording, essentially mapping new cuts over the energy of the live take.

    It doesn’t always work, but if the click just isn’t agreeing with me that day, it can certainly save a session.

  7. Clayton Lewis

    I’ve done it both ways. But my drummer is definitely a cat who plays/records better without a click track. He doesn’t have tick precise timing but I think for the benefit of any songs he records we fly without a click in those instances. To keep the energy i have the bass and guitar play with him while recording them direct. I may keep those takes if they’re any good but I’m more interested in getting a good “energetic” drum performance first and foremost.


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