Click Tips From Bittner, Luzier & Larkin

Jason Bittner

Part 2: Clicking In

Once you realize playing to a click is a necessary evil, the question of how gracefully you’re willing to embrace this unforgiving machine into your life is what will determine your success. As Bittner puts it: “There comes a time where you have to make the click your friend and not your enemy. And when you can do that you can really enjoy playing with it. I like just playing along to a click by itself and seeing what I can come up with, seeing what I can groove on. It’s fun.”

Those of you currently struggling through the early stages of metronome anxiety who think “fun” is a little too strong a word, consider Larkin’s more sober assessment: “The click definitely makes it easier to record records,” he says. “Would I prefer to play without it? Sure. It’s just more natural to me. When I’m in there in my garage and playing drums for the pure enjoyment of playing drums I don’t use a click track. But time is money in the studio, and it’s a business, and it’s not like you’re just in there jamming. But does it hinder me in the studio as far as playing what I would want to? No, it doesn’t — not anymore.”

This is coming from a guy who willingly subjects himself to what, from the outside, might look like an unhealthy reliance on the click’s every whim when recording with Godsmack. “Say we set a time to 86 bpm, and that’s where it feels good on average,” Larkin explains. “But then we play the whole song at 86 and realize that the verses just don’t groove, man. And when we play it naturally we tend to slow down a bit in the verse. So then what we do is just map the click, and slow the click down to say, 84 — so two beats slower. And what you do is go 86, then 85, then 84, so it’s a gradual decline of the two beats. And once the beat’s mapped out like that, and you’re a drummer playing it, especially if you’re doing it because it’s naturally speeding up or slowing down in a part with the whole band, then you follow the click track naturally also. It doesn’t sound machine-like, and it also lets you breathe life into the song. A lot of the time with the click, if you keep the song at exactly the same bpm throughout the whole thing — even if it’s perfect — it still sucks life out of it.”

It’s pretty genius when you think about it — a sort of controlled organic approach that satisfies the consistency police while still adhering to Larkin’s philosophy that “perfection lies in the imperfections in the studio.”

Sometimes, however, a song needs so much room to breathe that even this method won’t suffice, and the safety net is completely removed. Larkin gives the example of the song “Make Me Believe” off Godsmack’s Faceless album, where there’s a middle section that slows way down. “We thought it was just ridiculous to try and map the click that much,” he says. “So what we do then is just set the click where the main part of the song felt good and then turn it off when the middle eighth of the song comes up. And then you’ll find your way back to roughly the same tempo when you come back into the original part.”

Bittner ran into a similar situation on Shadows Fall’s last album with a B-side track called “Fade Into Smoke.” After trying to map the song to the click, the band finally gave up and went at it the old-fashioned way. “We felt that when we tried to ritard a piece of music with a click track, it was really killing the vibe,” he says. “We just finally decided in the long run to let the music breathe, and it ended up being the only song on the album we wound up recording without a click track.”

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