[Advanced] Timing instruments to each other

Greetings all,

I know Cubase’s editing/mixing flow very well. Yet I rarely find use for any loop-based production techniques. Most music I record is live, with able players. Occasionally I use a click, but that’s it.

Now I have a long-time client who cut a beautiful, flowing solo piano/vocal take (to a click) that we’ve unexpectedly decided to track drums onto. A very solid, lock-step drum part to be added too.

Although the basic take is gorgeous, it rushes & drags (in a jazz/free sort of way) several times. We tracked drum kit to the take with the click running. The resulting drum takes - while locked to the click - in parts don’t match the piano/vox’s very wavering human tempo (which is nice/flowing, just not lock-step). Tracking without click went worse.

What’s your best advice for fixing this, assuming I start using the existing drum recording (that we tracked to click)? I’d like to maintain the tempo of the piano/vox, and craft the drums to match them. One other thing - I don’t mind doing a drum cut/paste job. The drum part is very simple & loop-like already.

I am an old school Cubase pro user - as some may recall, since the Notator days on the Atari (+ a brief dalliance with the first Nuendo… made sense at the time!).

If I can pull this off, I am going to be kind of a hero - not afraid to try something complicated, btw. The client is in NYC mostly; I’m in the Midwest - retracking is the least easy option. So any advice from those experienced with these techniques is much appreciated!

Thanks; :wink:,

(6.5 still - but will upgrade if it will help)

In the long run, it would probably sound the most convincing if you locked the vocal/piano to the click as a single unit, and then the drums also. I understand that you want to keep the flow of the piano, but if you do a good editing job, most good musicians will choose the lined up version in a blind test. You could still time warp the click to retain certain pregnant pauses, then have the click follow the piano back to the grid once the piano smooths out.

If that’s not an acceptable solution, (you’d be surprised), then if you don’t want to just edit the drums by ear, it is definitely worth it to take the time to craft a flexible click using time warp. Don’t quit until the click feels smooth and believable against the piano- it’ll never be any easier to make a drum kit sound smooth than it will the click.

If you have a good ear, you’ll probably have to modify the click track beat by beat, rather than measure by measure.
When you finally feel good about the click track, then start cutting the drums. It goes without saying that you’ll edit the kit as a single unit (same as the piano/vocal) to maintain phase.

One useful trick on most rock and jazz music is that they tend to lock up on the snare beat, rather than on the bass drum. Depending on the groove, it’s often best to let the drummer do whatever loosey goosey thing he has in mind, without modification, and just move his entire phrase to cause the snare to fall on the grid.

The same goes for any “pickup” beats in the groove, any time you separate the pickups from the downbeat, it can sound like a stumbling glitch, assuming the drummer had any ability in the first place. Most drummers are good enough to know what speed they’re playing at, and if they pull off their riff adequately, the only problem is they just don’t always land together with the click. Of course if he actually screws up the riff, or he’s a poor drummer, then you’re back to editing eighth note by eighth note. Been there, done that, a thousand times…

BTW, all this may seem ridiculous, but after you’ve done it a thousand times it’ll start seeming more feasible, and you’ll be able to do it MUCH faster. As likely as not, you’ll probably have a thousand edits under your belt by the time you’ve finished this song! It can take a lot of re-doing to get the editing right, if you’re picky. It’s a great job for the anally retentive ADD types.

Hi A.j.

Excellent advice from registered. I’ll add my 2c as someone who records a lot of free-flowing piano/vocal and then overdubs to that.

It’s definitely possible to use Cubase’s tools to help … but I am strongly inclined to believe that the better option would almost always be to have the drummer practice until they can play along well to the free-flowing piano/vocal. I’d think any drummer that plays live, i.e., plays well without a click track, would get this down without too much pain and misery.

This recommendation/bias is based on my experience that often in free-flowing piano/vocals, the non-quantized aspect that makes it so interesting and personal is not just that the tempo is variable, but that - even within that variable tempo - many of the piano/vocal “hits” are off the grid (intentionally leading or lagging behind the would be tempo track). So setting up a tempo track so the clicks line up exactly with the piano/vox hits (using tap tempo, etc.) is easy enough, but can suck the life out the piece.

The alternative (deciding for each “hit” of the piano/vox whether it is truly played before/on/or after the theoretical tempo click) is often enough so hard that I think it sounds better to humanize the accompanying tracks (by having the accompanyist, drums in this case, practice enough to sound good playing along live) rather than force them to fit a tempo track of dubious relationship to the actual song.

But, if you can’t retrack the drums … creating hit points on the drum track (I’ve read that Cubase 7.x is much better than 6.5 to do this, but I can’t confirm), then using the best piano/vox click track you can make to guide where to slide the drums is something to try as well.

Good luck, hope you turn out to be the hero!

(PS - there are some links in my sig relating to this topic, maybe they’ll be helpful a bit).

Belated thanks to both of you… after working with the tools, I think I’m going to be the hero after all!

I just want to say that I am amazed this worked. I used a kind of hybrid approach - reading thru your advice/links, and also some of the steps in this video:


Here’s what I did:

  1. Lined up the tempo track to the drum takes using the Timewarp tool. (Took awhile - I lined up every beat).
  2. Bounced the drums & set the definition from tempo.
  3. Re-lined up the tempo track to the piano takes (Timewarp tool again - took less time, as I lined up to just the 1 and the 4).
  4. Bounced the piano & set definition from tempo.

After doing this, the drums followed the piano perfectly.

But, as you suspected Earle - adding drums exposed flaws in the piano’s free-flowing tempo. Not all of it was bad - most of the free-flowing tempo was terrific - but certain sections were obviously wrong. So I locked just those sections to a solid, unchanging BPM by removing any free-flowing tempo changes from the tempo track (in those sections only). Easy…

End result is a very real sounding track that flows when it needs to, and is solid when it needs to be. Thank you both… again, I’m just amazed at how well these tools work. This approach worked so well, in fact, I’m curious when I would ever need to use the “slicing/quantize” approach to fix timing issues. I’m thinking this timewarp approach meets my needs perfectly.