How To Tighten Tracks While Conserving Feel (Without Snapping Everything to the Grid)
Today’s music is all about accuracy.
So much so that you’re expected to edit everything perfectly to the grid, even though it sucks the life right out of the performance.
Well, what if I told you there’s another way to achieve the same accuracy without destroying the human feel?
Performance is King
Of course, having a great performance from the start is the key to all of this.
If you’re trying to cobble together a good-ish performance from 15 lackluster takes then have fun with that…
You might be able to use this tip, but I’d recommend sending the musician home to practice so you don’t waste your time any more than you have to.
But if you have a pretty good performance that’s usually locked in tight with the timing and has a pretty good feel then you’re more or less done.
Of course, there will be occasional instances where the drums, bass and guitars, for instance, will feel a little off so that’s when you resort to editing and moving regions to get them to line up.
But how you line them up is key and it all has to do with feel and what you want the song to “feel” like.
Michael Beinhorn, in his spectacularly inspiring book “Unlocking Creativity: A Producer’s Guide to Making Music and Art” has a great chapter on feel, one which inspired the rest of this post.
The main point is that three different musicians won’t ever play locked to a grid so sucking out their performance by locking them so tightly together might be detrimental to the appeal of the performance.
For instance, a bass that plays slightly ahead of the drums creates excitement and “propels the music forward.”
In contrast, the guitar can help enhance the overall feel by laying back slightly behind the drums in order to create a coherent groove.
Then, with all of these instruments playing together you’ll get a more exciting and less robotic touch to the performance.
Of course, this doesn’t apply to all genres of music. It’s more of a rock ‘n’ roll kind of thing of course but it creates a space where everybody in the rhythm section has his or her own beat while simultaneously playing together.
Basically, everything flams while creating a tight groove.
Getting it Out of the Performance
Usually if you record bass and drums together you’ll take whatever groove those two human beings create.
But when you record the rhythm guitar, have your guitar player think more about concentrating on the instrument that’s playing behind the beat, which can be hi-hat or cymbals instead of the kick and snare.
Challenge the musicians to lock in with the groove but find their own pocket to play in.
Editing it Into the Performance
Once you have a good performance for editing, think of these things as you move regions around to tighten things up.
Artificially pushing the bass ahead slightly in an upbeat song can make the song more exciting.
And adjusting the guitar so it lays slightly behind the beat (without feeling out of time of course) can further enhance the groove.
Because let’s be honest, aligning everything up perfectly to the grid isn’t necessary if you have great musicians.
But you can tighten them up and flatter their performances even more by using this mentality when you’re editing.
In case you haven’t noticed, I’m in comping and editing mode with our album so this is something I’ve started doing with great results.
Most of the performances are great to begin with, but when I edit I try to keep and enhance the human feel of the performance rather than editing it all to the click.
Tight Tracks Make for Great Mixing
As I’ve said multiple times before, great sounding tracks that are tightly edited together make the mixing experience so much more enjoyable.
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