Music and Fear

As I’m gathering my thoughts for today’s blog, I cannot help but think of an episode of The Jackie Thomas Show from the early 90s, where Jackie [Tom Arnold] decides that he is going to pursue his life-long dream of being a rodeo clown.

He goes through rodeo clown school, and even ends up in the ring during a bull fight.

This is when he has the horrible realization that he is afraid of bulls.

Over the decades, I have set foot on some intimidating stages. I have also been in some intense recording situations with people who have more knowledge and experience than me. This is how one learns, but you have to get over the fear first and jump in.

I have never been afraid of these types of situations, for a variety of reasons, which I will get into later. But I have met some people who suffer a great deal of fear when it comes to being a musician. This fear would manifest itself in a few different ways. Sometimes it can be almost impossible to detect, or it can be confused for something else.

This fear can paralyze them, which has a rippling effect on the band.

This is probably the worst type of panic for a band, because you’ve made a commitment to a venue and a promoter. People are in the audience and paid to get in. The club owners have expectations. Your band’s reputation is on the line.

And then, someone in the band freaks out. “I can’t go on the stage! I just can’t!”

This happened more than a few times. On one occasion, it was the drummer who panicked. My work-around for this was to present ourselves as being “unplugged.” It did not fit what we had prepared, it did not fit the evening, and it was a semi-disaster.

On another occasion, I had to flat-out tell the promoter that we could not go on because we had a band member just not show up. I covered for him, and for us, by saying that he was “on his way to the hospital” after a car accident on the way. After that, I dismantled the band.

There was also a time when a band member tried to hide it by getting wasted before the show. He had tried to drink enough that his fear would go away. Unfortunately, he also drank enough to fall face-first onto the stage half-way through the second song in our set.

All of these people were really good on their instruments and had other things going for them. This makes it all the more tragic. New bands typically start out on small stages, so I’m not certain how to avoid this potential disaster.

My stories above may provide some work-arounds. Sometimes you have to take the hit. Depending on the situation, taking this hit can mean losing your big chance.

Other instances of fear had less of an impact, although they did hinder progress.

On about half a dozen occasions, I had met musicians who had gone through a lot to get where they were. They’d gotten their instruments, maybe took lessons, and became good at what they did. They eve relocated to Los Angeles in order to take their shot.

In a few of these instances, I was the person renting the lock-out facility, where the band would rehearse. Everyone would leave their gear in there, for convenience.

Then, things would get strange. They would suddenly have excuses for why they could not rehearse. The most bizarre one was a guy who said to my face, “Every second that we do not rehearse is a second that all the other bands get an edge over us.” I told him that was good to hear, and that we should go rehearse now.

“Nah. The game’s on. We’ll do it later.”

Was he lazy? That was my first thought. He was talking a big game, but then wasn’t backing up his own words. The conflict in what he said and did was obvious.

I made plans with him to meet at the lockout the next day in the afternoon. He agreed, and I left him to his game while I went to the room and rehearsed on my own.

The next day, I show up an hour early to warm up and get ready. I’m so into my own playing that I suddenly realize that our meeting time had passed, and he had not shown up.

I go to a payphone and call the house. No answer. I work for a few more hours, then call again. Someone answered, and they told me that he had decided to “go back home.” He did not explain why.

I asked what should be done with his guitar, amp, and pedals. They did not know, as he did not mention it. I kept his gear in the lockout for six months, waiting for him to get back to me, before I came to the conclusion that he had abandoned his gear. I sold it.

Music and Fear.jpg

He did not seem like a lazy person, as he had put a lot of time into his instrument, as well as lots of effort to relocate to Los Angeles.

Over time, I took on a few different techniques for band member auditions that help weed out some potential issues.

Musician History: Has this person performed on a stage before? They can potentially lie about this, but it is worth asking [bonus for photos]. Also, do they have any recordings under their belt? Finally, do they have any references? References can be tricky, because nobody will give you a reference who will say bad things about you. Information can be helpful.

Two-Phase Audition: Break your auditions into two sections. For the first phase, it’s a night spent at a bar having drinks. What do they drink? How much? This helps you to learn more about them on a personal level, before they set foot in the audition room.

During the second phase, which is where they play music with the band, have a dozen or so friends show up. Make sure they understand that this is not a fun social gathering. No drinking or partying. You want them to give the audition a serious listen and be writing down notes. Let the person auditioning know that there will be notes and critiques.

This will put some real-life stage pressure on them. How they handle this, and if they can handle it, can determine whether or not a future fear-driven issue will arise.

Maybe you are the person who wants to be a musician, but also has issues with fear. Adequately addressing this fear before things get serious is a good idea. It keeps you from wasting your own time, as well as the band’s time. It also makes sure that fear does not get in the way of what you would like to achieve.

Being Well-Rehearsed: This can help, although it did not help my old guitar player who ran away so fast that he abandoned his own gear. I think his case was rather extreme. This definitely helps me.

Run The Show: Having the songs down is one thing. Rehearsing the show will give you more confidence. This means EVERYTHING, including when songs will be back-to-back, when there will be breaks between songs, and even when the singer will address the crowd. Yes, he should even rehearse what he is going to say.

Running the show is a something that I took away from my experiences in marching band. When the show is second-nature, you don’t even have to think about it. That is a relief!

Get Professional Help: Do not believe that you will grow out of it, or that it will magically go away once you get to the big-time. If big enough, this issue will actually get in your way, which would be tragic. Truly crippling fear never helped anyone.

Do Away With Negative Thoughts: Thinking about all of the possible things that could go wrong will only spin you down into that dark spiral faster. Accepting the fact that both good AND bad things will happen, and that these things do not matter, can go a long way toward dealing with this.

Let Go of Perfection: Not only are you going to make mistakes, but most likely nobody will notice or remember.

Do Not Take It Too Seriously, and Be Entertaining: Being a musician on a stage should be more than just playing the music. Performance and presentation are everything. Be goofy sometimes. Practice having fun.

Invent a Persona or Character: This helps to remove the ego, which can be fragile and can drive that fear. What if people don’t like me? What if this or that? These are the thoughts that push you down into that hole.

The truth is that, no matter how good you are, there will be people who do not like you, or who do not like what you do. It’s a fact of life. When you have a persona in the mix, you can separate it from yourself.

So if some people do not like it, then they’re having an issue with your persona, and not you as a human being. Of course, the truth is that they do not really know you as a human being. This fact means nothing to a person who is entrenched in fear. Logic is not soothing.

Being a prepared musician, running the show, building a persona, ending negative thoughts, and having fun with it all will go a long way. You’re a musician on a stage, not a heart surgeon in a hospital struggling to save someone’s life.

When you have fun with it, the audience will join along.

Recording can be scary. Just remember that you will get a chance for second takes, third takes, and beyond. Even if you give a solid performance, a second take might be required as a “safety.”

YOU get to decide when it’s ready to ship.

Sometimes mistakes get to stay because they bring a human element to the fold, or maybe because the listener may never notice.

There is a mistake in this recording. There are also a good number of mistakes on this iconic album. Try to find it. Trust yourself. Don’t worry about it.


How to Make Your Own Backing Tracks

If you’ve ever seen a band like STEEL PANTHER***, then you may have had some questions about what you’re hearing vs. what you’re seeing.

Where is the synth player?

There are more backing vocals than people singing.

What I’m hearing and seeing does not seem to match up.

These questions are very fair questions, and these questions can be asked of MANY, many bands out there. The answer, in this case, is that Steel Panther uses backing tracks during their live performances.

But HOW?


These are questions that I can easily answer. Let’s dive into the “how and why” of backing tracks for live performances, as well as my background in this area.

Before we do that, I have a ***disclaimer: My last dealings with Darren Leader were roughly ten years ago, around the time when Metal Skool was getting started. So it is possible that Steel Panther has since done away with all backing tracks. While I cannot say for sure that they use backing tracks today, I can honestly say that they did in the past, and it appeared to work very well for their purposes.

I did this long before Steel Panther did. In 1987, I co-wrote a musical titled “In The Chips.” With this live performance, in the initial iteration, I played live guitar while all of the other instruments were reproduced via MIDI performance.

My use of the MIDI instruments was no different in using a recording. However, the way in which Steel Panther does this is infinitely more convenient and reliable than lugging around a bunch of MIDI gear, setting it all up, and doing a sound check.

I had also performed with backing tracks during Noodle Muffin’s final performance in early 2009. More about this later.

Beyond this, I was also the drum tech for a band called Video Star, back when Darren Leader was drumming for them. Darren created all of the backing tracks for Video Star, and he also created all of the backing tracks for Steel Panther, as the owner of the band. They were previously known as Metal Skool, and changed their name after signing a contract with National Lampoon, which ended up failing due to National Lampoon never being able to find a budget for the band.

As drum tech, I had to set up all of the drummer’s systems, which included how he controlled the backing tracks.

There are several reasons why backing tracks are used, and they can sometimes make sense in a modern world.

Perfection: This is one reason, which is evidenced in the performance of the bass player, Travis Haley. Travis was the lead singer for Video Star when I met him. For years now, he’s been focusing on being the bass player for Steel Panther.

While Travis is a solid bass player in his own right, he was not actually playing bass in their live shows during the early stages of the Metal Skool era. Instead, he was focusing on acting and bringing comedy to the stage, in the form of such antics as his “hair solo.”

To be clear, I think that he might be actually playing bass today, but he was not playing bass during the early stages of the Metal Skool era. I have seen more recent videos where they have “guest bass players” get on and actually play, and where Travis appears to actually be playing. If this is true, then it’s a step up, and I withdraw my critique of this for Steel Panther. However, I think it still stands for the early Metal Skool days.

Consistency: The songs are performed in a consistent manner, and all instruments that are recorded are played back with consistency. While this limits the band’s ability to jam, or to extend a song, it brings a consistency which can be rehearsed.

Save Money: If you need percussion for only a few songs, or a keyboard for a few songs or parts here and there, then it is by far cheaper to record these parts and play along with them, then it would be to hire more musicians, go through rehearsals with them, and then have to pay them.

Speed: With Steel Panther, only the drummer and guitarist need to learn the music, and the singer needs to learn to sing the songs. The drummer has a leg up, since he produces all of the backing tracks. I’m sure the guitarist, Russ, helps him. Even if he does not, he’s an incredible player. What this means, with regard to speed, is that they can add a new song to their set, or even modify an existing song, as fast as it takes to make or modify the backing track and run through it a few times.

Obviously, you’re going to need to either play all of the instruments you want to record, or you will have to get someone to do it, or hire a player. Engineering, recording, and production skills are a must. With this how-to section, I am going to assume that you either have these abilities now, or that you can work it out.

I’m going to give you THREE ways to do this: The Steel Panther way, the Noodle Muffin way, or the DrumWild way. From there, you can decide which one is best for you.

Steel Panther tracks are first recorded and then laid out in a very specific way, using stereo panning to the advantage of the band.

The Left Channel: This has all of the music on it. The left channel is the channel that gets sent to the board. This is the ONLY channel that gets broadcast.

The Right Channel: This can have some of the music on it, but it also contains other elements. One of those elements is a CLICK that is in time with the recorded music. It can also have other information, such as the producer stating the name of the song before it starts, and a count-off so that the drummer can click everyone else in. It can also contain notes, such as “here comes ending… 5-6-7-8.”

Who Hears These Channels?: To be clear, the board broadcasts the Left channel to the house speakers. Everyone can hear this. The drummer is the only one who hears the Right channel. The rest of the band links up with him, and not the click. The drummer plays with the click.

Challenges: The biggest challenge with this can come with musicians who tend to run away from the tempo. Sticking with the drummer is always important, but in this case it is imperative. Otherwise, the band could quickly become a laughing stock.

How is it Done?: First, the music is mixed and mastered so that ALL of the song is on the left channel, and the right channel contains a low-level bus of the final mix, along with a click and possibly some guidance.

Once that is mixed, it is put on an iPod in a playlist.

From the iPod, have a cable with a 1/8″ jack, which splits the Left and Right signal. Label these appropriately, for ease of setup. Run a cable from the Left split to the board. As for the Right, run a cable from that into a headphone amplifier.

goldline headphone amp.jpgDarren uses a Gold Line headphone amplifier. This clips on your belt, and is very convenient to use. It does run on two 9v batteries, and requires a screw driver to take it apart to replace the batteries. Outside of this potentially big inconvenience, it’s a great headphone amplifier.

I had one of these, and used it for a handful of years with no problems at all. I got mine online for approximately $130.

From the headphone amp, you run earbuds. You can use some in-ear buds, which can cost around $100. I like to use LiveWires IEMs, which start at around $300. They fit more snugly, and have more protection from the loud broadcast in the house.

Once all of this is set up, the iPod can be put on a stand on the side of the drum set. I used a percussion tray that attached to the hi-hat stand. However you do it, the iPod must be in a place where the drummer can easily read it, press play, stop, and scroll through songs.

If you use an iPod, then be sure to set it so that it does not automatically go into the next song. I have not messed with this in years, so you’re on your own if you choose this method.

I took a similar approach to this with Noodle Muffin, for our final live show in early 2009. When I joined Noodle Muffin in 2002, just about everyone in the band had to play two instruments. It took a lot to re-create the rich production and instrumentation of a Noodle Muffin record.

The bassist and violin player both left when the band started getting into politically-charged writing and recording. So when we wanted to do a final show, we had a decision to make. We can hire new musicians to join the band, or we can perform with backing tracks.

We chose the latter.

What is different: From hardware to click track, everything about the Noodle Muffin approach was different.

Master multi-track recordings: Since the band is self-produced, we had the actual tracks that were recorded to make the albums. This meant that we had control over re-mixing. It also meant that we did NOT have to record any backing tracks.

Removing instruments and voices: The band’s producer removed what would be played live. This mean taking out the bass [which I was playing], as well as guitars, lead vocals, some backing vocals, and piano for one song. Anything that we would be doing live got removed from the recordings.

A Click-In: With Steel Panther, there is a click for the entire song, and the drummer has to be locked down to it. This approach, in this configuration, is essential to the success of the performance. Had we decided that I should play drums in this performance, then we would have taken a similar approach. However, since we were using the recorded drum tracks from the album in the live performance, we instead used a 1-2-3-4 click-in.

Also, we were all listening to the backing track and playing along with it, so nobody was using IEMs.

There was one song that started out with a snare beat [starting on the “&” of the 2], so we did not use a click-in for that. Here’s how that song ended up being worked out.

Major Noize explains it to Phatt Pigeon at the beginning of the video, for clarity.

Final Mixes: Once the tracks were mixed down into 16-bit WAV stereo performances [again, with no need to separate left and right] with uniform volume levels, I was given these song files. Each song file got its own entry into our play-back unit.

br600.jpgPlay-Back Unit: For this performance, we used a BOSS BR-600 8-track [virtual 64-track] portable digital recorder.

I put the songs on tracks 5/6 or 7/8, since they were in stereo.

The unit’s playback, previous song, and next song were all controlled by me, using foot pedals. I would only need to touch the unit to make fine adjustments to volume levels.

In the end, we got some very good results out of this approach. Here is a sample.

I’m on stage right, playing the Fender fretless bass. I have the BR-600 on a music stand, next to a bottle of water. It was very easy to reach. The few times that I had to make adjustments did not have a negative impact on the end sound.

Challenges: The biggest challenge in this small venue was that there was no sound man who could make sure the mix was good. I had to rely on someone in the audience to let me know when the mix between the pre-recorded tracks and the live amps was properly balanced.

Everyone kept with the tracks just fine. We did have to rehearse it a few times. Overall, the show was a success.

The way I’m going to describe here would have been the best way to do the Noodle Muffin approach. However, the technology did not yet exist, so we made do with what we had.

The way that I approach this method today is more compact, convenient, and civilized.

BOSS RC-3 Loop Station.jpgI produce a lot of my own backing tracks, but also download backing tracks created by others. Some of these are “jam tracks” for guitar soloing rehearsal. I create my stereo tracks, and then copy them over to my BOSS RC-3 LOOP STATION.

You have input and output options, including an AUX in at the front of the unit, near the power supply and USB.

The unit has 100 banks. On the computer, each bank appears like a folder. Each song file goes into its own folder.

This pedal does have its limitations. It accepts 16-bit / 44.1kHz WAV files, up to 1.7GB in size. What this means is NO 24-bit tracks can be used. You could also run out of space for a specific song, which is less likely.

It can also be a pain to made adjustments to the volume at time, if you’re running everything out of a guitar amplifier. It seems that you could run the pedal files out to the board using a separate signal, but I have yet to try this.

Keep in mind that this is a basic guitar pedal, and that I am stretching it to its limits. There are more expensive pedals out there that may accept 24-bit files and have more bells and whistles. The RC-3 is great if you want to keep the cost under $200.

BOSS FS-5U.jpgI can control the tracks and other functions completely with my feet. I can move to previous/next tracks, stop the player, and do other things with a set of BOSS FS-5U pedals. The setup for this can be a bit complicated, so I won’t be writing about that too much here.

This guy goes into the FS-5U setup:

All I have to do is scroll to a song that I want to play, using the FS-5U, and then click on the RC-3 pedal to play it.

I can also play along with drum patterns while looping a rhythm, or I can just play a rhythm and then play a lead over it.

I have very mixed feelings about the idea of using pre-recorded tracks during a live performance. On the one hand, I do love having live players who can interact. A band being able to do whatever they want, whenever they want, is the ultimate in freedom.

Once you bring backing tracks into it, you are at the mercy of the length, tempo, and contents of those tracks. A band can easily transpose a song, should the singer’s voice need a break. With backing tracks, this would take an incredible amount of effort.

But on the other hand, I enjoy having the freedom to be able to play along with a full sound, without needing to coordinate others, have band rehearsal, deal with personal schedules, personality conflicts, paying for a lock-out, and other issues.

I think that this approach is most definitely something worth considering, whether you want to beef up the sound of your band, or you want to perform solo. There are benefits and pitfalls, most of which I’ve noted. Maybe it’s something that would work out for you.

For a guitarist, a looper pedal is an essential component to your pedal board. It’s good for rehearsals, as well as live performances.

The use of backing tracks for a live performance is a choice that many bands make. Some use it so they can sound more like the album, or for a variety of other reasons. Others do not use it, and they have their own reasons. For a band, it is either a band decision or a business decision.

For a solo performer, it can be nice to have another track in the air with you, to fill in some of the emotions or orchestration that may exist in your head or on a recording.

All of the methods mentioned in this blog have their strengths and weaknesses. If you’re a drummer locking in during a live performance, then the Steel Panther approach would be best. Review these methods, and then consider your own situation and what you want to achieve with it.

Combine the best of all worlds. Find a looping product that can utilize the sound files you want, while providing storage for those files. A looper is more flexible because it has uses outside of playing along with pre-recorded files.

With a looper, you can record something on-the-fly and then play along with it. This is something that Steel Panther will probably never do, since they rely so heavily on the play-back and accompanying click, which is set in stone.

I’ve seen acts like 2 CELLOS use a looper during their live performances in songs such as “Thunderstruck,” where they have a temporary need for three cello players. Notice how they’re playing the opening guitar riff of the song. Then, by around the 35 second mark, you continue to hear the riff, while most obviously noticing that NEITHER of them is playing it. That’s the power of a looper, when used as intended.

There are looper performance competitions, which highlight the flexible nature of this music tool. Whatever you decide to use, you can most definitely use this blog as a starting point to figure out what you want to achieve, and where you should probably start. If you have any questions, you can contact me via my website.

Whether you use it for backing a live performance, to enhance a live performance, to go solo, or for rehearsal, there are a variety of ways to approach backing tracks.

Whatever you do, NEVER use a looper or a pre-recording to compensate for actual performance of actual people on the stage. This is where big problems can arise. Just ask the surviving members of Milli Vanilli how that goes down.

Backing tracks and loopers open new doors of freedom for musicians and performers who want to take the road less traveled.

My current pedal board

The Mechanized Drummer

korg ddd-1In early 1988, I bought a Korg DDD-1 drum machine, with all of the expansion cards, RAM card, backup card, and sampler. It was new, and I picked it up at Keyboard Concepts for the low price of $2,000.

By this point in my pursuits, I had been playing in various bands over the course of two years. Rehearsal space was expensive. I did not own a car, and thus relied on band members to help me get to rehearsals and venues. No band meant no car, and that meant no drum playing.

Realizing that the bands were not going to go anywhere, I decided to instead focus on writing and recording. I had two projects at the time, one being a set of songs that I co-wrote with a keyboardist / friend and former Robin Baxter band mate, Otis Scott.

We had planned on performing our songs as an electronic trio. The drum machine would contain the beats/patterns for the songs. I had a Korg SQD-1 sequencer that contained parts that would work with the drum machine. From there we’d play our own parts live, in conjunction with these other parts.

The other project was a musical that I had co-written a year earlier, titled, “In The Chips.” This play was in the works for the better part of a year, with me writing music and making sequenced “recordings” of parts. For this project, I recorded the MIDI on an Atari Mega ST2 computer.


This was the actual 4-track reel-to-reel that I used to record in 1984-85 at Ball State University. Owned by “Ra Bob,” and rented for $25/hour.

Before this time, I had recorded a demo with a few friends in 1978. I had recorded some of my own demos at the same 8-track studio. In 1984-85, I recorded with my college band in a basement, and also did my own solo recordings down there.


During all of this time, there was no click track. Sure, there was a band director, but there was nothing mechanical.

Rehearsing at home was the exception, when my mechanical metronome would click back and forth while I was practicing. But back then, playing with a click was what you did during practice. The purpose of this was to build up  your sense of time. You did not have to be perfect, but it was good to be close.

For me, early 1988 meant the beginning of a new era for me. I could write and program drum beats and organize these patterns into songs. I could then play various parts on a keyboard and record the MIDI performance with the sequencer.

Even more cool, I could create an entire show and perform along with my own mechanical band.

I’d have the DDD-1 with the drum programs. I’d have the SQD-1 with the sequences. Then, I could incorporate the 4-track into the mix, by having individual 5-minute tapes. On track 1, I’d have the time code. The time code was very important, because that signal would go through its own OUT, into the sequencer, and it would inform the sequencer on when to start, as well as the tempo. The drum machine would be slaved to the sequencer.

The chain, from top to bottom: 4-track > SQD-1 > DDD-1

The other three tracks on the 4-track could contain backup vocals or other sounds or instruments that I wanted to include in the song.

Finally, I could be a one-man band.

While I was busy getting my own act together, the world was changing. Perfection was the new name of the game. Click tracks had been used prior to 1988, but were being implemented at a higher rate. Grids were being laid down for drummers and bands.

The history of the click track is unclear. Some say that bands in the 1960s were using a click. Bands like Led Zeppelin did not use a click, and the tempos of some songs can vary by as much as 10BPM.

Maybe it was an option before the 1980s. But eventually, it became a requirement.

What this meant for drummers and bands was that they would have to perform for the tape while staying in time with a click.

What this meant for music is that some of the feel would be gone.

My project with Otis never got off the ground. He had struggles with his employer, and was being forced into a mega-commute from Sherman Oaks to Bakersfield every day. This meant that he had no time available to dedicate to the work. We’d work on it occasionally. But the whole situation was a mess.

I did get the musical completed, and we had a screening at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The musical has been in production various times since then, and is undergoing a new iteration in 2018.

With my solo stuff, I did get out and perform them. It was fun for a while, although setting up was a lot of work. I did have a few problems with it. One problem was that I was missing out on the human interaction that occurs on stage with musicians when they are performing together. In my mind, I was hoping to look over and see Otis, since we had planned to do something like this together.

[L-R] Me [on the KORG], Eddie Davis on guitar, Otis on backup vocals, for The Robin Baxter Band, at Club 88 in Santa Monica [circa 1987]
My other problem was by far more subtle. The music was too perfect, too sterile to be enjoyed. There was no human feel to it.

Drummers are tied to click tracks. Some play electronic drums, sparking the idea that maybe a drummer is not needed, beyond programming parts or beats that can be called back later with something like an Ableton Push.

Madeon is a personal favorite of mine.

For one, I’d recommend to all drummers to become proficient in performing with a click. Sometimes, I like to play along with tracks like the one above, so that the machine is keeping the beat and I am performing with it.

There is no putting this beast back into the box. You will be expected to perform with a click, in almost all cases. The exception will be situations such as open jams.

It is said that drummers are the time-keepers. There was a time when this was true, and the drummer decided if everyone was going to speed up, slow down, or hang where they all were. So long as the variation was not dramatic.

With a click, the drummer is free from the need to keep time, so long as they are able to lock in with the click. Once you get good enough to play with a click, you are then free to do whatever you want without the worries of time.

Learn to program beats in sequencers, or in an Ableton Push. Also learn how to program variations in tempo. If you know how to program an accelerando or a ritardando, then you will be a hero.

The more programming, the better.

Every musician should practice with a click. With my guitar studies, I will play certain things along with a click, and then record my progress.

In practicing with a click, you can improve on speed, but also improve on playing slower. Achieve at all relevant tempos.

This practice prepares you for performing or recording with a click, but it also prepares you for those times when you are not bound to a machine. This is why practicing with a click is so valuable, and must be a part of your routine.

You will probably have to record with a click. Very rare cases occur where this is not the case, but it is the industry standard to perform with a click for recordings.

Ideally, you want to give a robust, solid performance that does not need to be edited. My philosophy is that if one note is off, then the whole thing needs to be performed again. However, sometimes editing is required, due to budgetary and time concerns.

This raises another question, which is “How far should you go?”

I had a track where there was a bass drum beat that was slightly ahead of the click. This was not noticed by anyone, until the engineer/producer looked at the grid and saw it.

No problem, or so he said, as he went in and fixed it. However, this caused a problem in the big mix, because the bass was locked into the bass drum. He fixed the bass, only to hear that the keyboard and guitar had also locked in.

He fixed everything. The end result was that it sounded horrible, when compared to the previous one.

We ended up re-recording the entire passage again. Looking back, we could have very easily left that alone, because the listening audience would never see the DAW grid, so they probably never would have noticed.

As Joe Walsh once told Howard Stern, when they were talking about how music has been changed with things like Pro Tools, “If Pro Tools existed when we started recording Hotel California, then we’d STILL be recording Hotel California.”

You need to know when to say when. “When” occurs when you like what you hear, to over-simplify it.

PR08 BOSS DB-12 Dr Beat Metronome.jpg
The BOSS DB-12 is a discontinued metronome. I bought it new for $80. You can find used ones online for about $6-$10.

Even if sequencers and click tracks were to magically die tomorrow, you would still want to continue practicing with a metronome.

I have a TON of metronomes, on top of the BOSS DB-12, pictured. My Korg Minilogue has a metronome/time clock, as does my BOSS BR-800 and BR-600 portable digital recorders. My DAW, REAPER, has a click/time clock. I’d have to dig through my inventory to find them all.

If you are looking for a metronome that is HIGHLY flexible and useful, then I’d recommend TEMPO by Frozen Ape.

I have TEMPO on my Android phone, as well as my iPad. It’s very flexible, because you can select the time, select the tempo, and select a click pattern.

You can also build a set list. There was a time when I was drumming in three bands. TEMPO was new, and I had gotten it. I built a set list for all three bands. I could run a show, or I could rehearse a song by just selecting it from the set list. Yes, the individual songs allow you to enter NAMES.

In the interest of full disclosure, I wrote a rather glowing review of this product online a few years back. The owner of Frozen Ape saw it and sent me a code to download a free app, which was probably worth less than $5. Still, it was something I received after writing the review, and so I feel that detail is worth disclosing.

Whether you decide to get TEMPO by Frozen Ape, or another metronome, or you use one that is built into one of the tools that you own, I would recommend that you always use something in your rehearsal.

You never know when you’ll have to record or perform to a click. You also never know when you won’t have a click to lean on, and will have to drive it all yourself.

Indeed, drumming has been mechanized. However the need to be able to match and maintain a tempo one’s own is still an essential ability for all drummers and musicians.