June 6, 2008

About metronomes... (plus a comic)

Metronomes may drive people crazy, but they're also useful tools when you're dealing with midi (or bad drummers) but when is the right time to use a metronome? Lets go over the pros and cons of using a metronome during tracking.

  • Keeps your musicians in sync with the computer's tempo track
  • Makes editing easier
  • Allows midi/audio quantization and other
  • Allows you to use beat detective if you want
  • Makes editing harder
  • Makes you (and especially your drummer) crazy
  • Takes more time
  • Can sometimes make the song feel lifeless
    (It removes the subtle, natural tempo fluctuations characteristic of live music)
  • Metronome Bleed

First, I'll clarify the "Makes editing easier/harder" part. It makes it easier to fix tempo problems and drag/drop sections etc. because you can just snap your regions to the beginning of measures and know they'll be in time.

However, it's harder to rearrange songs, create spaces, and other things that involve changing the structure of the song. Especially when you have multiple time signatures in a song.

Which brings me to "It takes more time." You have to spend time setting it up (which can take a long time if the song changes tempo or time signature). You have to spend time getting takes that sync up with the metronome, which is just one more complication in the recording process. You have to spend time redoing tracks that were otherwise OK except for the metronome bleed.

Metronome Bleed - When the sound of the metronome in the headphones gets picked up by the microphones and is audible in the audio tracks.

I can personally attest to the annoyance of metronome bleed.

Let's talk about some of the things that make metronomes useful. If you're working with a weak drummer using beat detective is possibly the only way you have of getting usable drum takes. If you want to use beat detective, you really need to use a metronome. I'm sure someone will disagree in the comments but the fact of the matter is: beat detective is much easier to use if you recorded to a metronome. You almost can't use it if you didn't.

Next up is that you can quantize midi, as well as enabling tempo sensitive arpeggiators, and effects (like delay). This is really useful.

I'll admit that I rarely use a metronome when I record a song unless I'm specifically planning on utilizing one of the pros I've mentioned here. They're usually just a lot of trouble for not much return.

Whatever decision you make, just know that there are people who are avid members of both camps so be polite if someone does or doesn't want to use one.

And here is the Friday comic I promised:

Dedicated to mike!

So I know my drawing ability isn't great, but I'll work on it I might also grab one of those sick wacom tablet things to make it faster and possibly vector as well.

© 2008 Jim Robert