Monday, July 7, 2008

Nix the Stick Clicks? Never!

Boy, has "modern" (read: commercial) music ever become so bland and sterile!

When working with a band in the studio one becomes ever so clear that the pursuit of the "perfect" take has led music to the same fate as Narcissus - who's mother was told by the prophet in answer to whether he would live to an old age, "Only if he never comes to know himself". Narcissus died, or was metamorphosed (according to Ovid) because of an "odd" love: he loved himself. He was seeking perfection, and seemingly found it only in a reflection of himself. Not the real, but a shadow of the real. He was enamored with, and couldn't take his eyes off, that beauty which he saw yet could not grasp. It was intangible; it didn't exist except in his own mind. Many bands today are bound for the same fate: unable to leave that reflection, that hint of perfection; bound for nothing more than becoming a flower that others would hardly notice.

How many times have I heard in the studio "I just want it to be perfect". More often than not that comment was never uttered until after a multitude of takes - each sounding much the same as the previous. Drummers, for the most part are the culprits. Maybe because in a standard tacking session they go first. There is a lot of pressure on them. The rest of the band is usually eager for the drummer to finish so they can do their thing: hot, tasty-licks and over the top guitar bravado; and singers waiting for the lesser important things like music to get out of the way so they can concentrate on the "real" talent.

When we got to the inevitable point of the session that the "I just want it to be perfect" card is played everything stopped. I would cease play-back, turn the chair around to face the band (or single member), intentionally take a long strategic pause, and then ask for a definition of "perfect". "If you mean 'perfect' as in no mistakes, you had better settle in and make yourselves comfortable; because we're gonna be here a long, long time. If you mean 'perfect' in the sense that it is the best that you can do, then we need to agree as to what that is". I'd ask what was wrong with any of the dozen takes we had already. You see, I have no problem stopping a take immediately when it is bad. If the timing was off, a fumbled roll, fill, etc. during the drum takes for example I will stop the take right then and there. But, stick clicks?! "So, what was wrong with that take?" Stick clicks. "Stick clicks?!" Yes. "You're a drummer; you were going crazy!" I know, but I heard stick clicks in that one fill. "Of course you did!" I don't like 'em. "You want me to just edit them out?" Can you? "Of course, but I wouldn't want that if I were you." Why? "Because with them there it sounds like a real person played the drums. You ever hear of Keith Moon?!"

Listen to "The Ox" by The Who. Stick clicks the whole way through! Brilliant (dare I say "perfect") song. Full on maniacal energy by a drummer that is often cited as the best Rock and Roll drummer ever. Stick clicks abound. Every time I listen to that song (which is often) I wonder what happened in the studio during play back. "Hey uh, Keith." Yeah mate? "There sure is a lot of stick clicks in there." You do it better then! Actually, I'll wager that it wasn't even mentioned.

Perfection is a trap; a neutering of Rock and Roll.

And for the agony of Narcissus? "His love was cursed. Only the glancing mirror of reflections filled his eyes, a body that had no being of its own, a shade..."


  1. Man, seems like yesterday I was ending the summer of 78 when I heard the news that Keith Moon passed away.

  2. I forgot what I was gonna say. Stupid brain... be more smart!