Kicking against the clicks
As drummers, we're often told what to do. Which drums to leave at home, where and what not to play meanwhile, seated in the engine room of the band, we have the responsibility, no, opportunity of keeping the music cruising along and feeling comfortable no matter which audience member the singer is abusing.
I remember seeing an interview with Dennis Chambers in one of his drum videos talking about the challenge of recording drums in the modern age where people tend to bypass their ears to stare at the screen and can see every detail of your timing but they're really not listening.
Like emergency doctors, engineers and producers check your playing as they would a patient's pulse but often it's not so important the exact timing between the pulses but that there is one!
Dennis was lamenting that just because the kick waveform may be slightly in front of the beat and the snare slightly behind does not mean there's anything wrong. Dennis is creating a 'pocket'. That comfortable place for the bass to sit where it can act as the glue between the rhythm and melody. Ironic that Dennis's pocket is exactly what would have landed him the gig but once engineers could see how it looked on screen, they'd want him to change it.
From an engineer's perspective, playing around the beat causes several issues when editing. For starters, when they cut the drum take to the bar using their much loved 'snap' tool, it will be missing the attack of the kick which lies slightly before the bar, this annoys them and creates a weird double humped bass drum sound if not treated carefully. So goes for the snare as it won't line up with the bar nor the kick. Hence the reason you may be told to hang back on the kick and that you're playing the snare too late. While doing what they say makes the engineer's job technically easier, it ruins the feel the drummer's trying to create. As Dennis said "I'm simply trying to make the music feel good!".
A solution would be for the engineer to simply slice the part before the kick and move/copy this edited drum part relative to it's originally recorded place in the bar/time rather than strictly TO the bar. Playing dead on the bar can sound very odd and often quite sterile as the drums have the tendency to sound uncomfortable and even wrong. I'll explain what I mean.
I don't get out much but I reckon this may be due to the fact that when the drummer hits the drum, it takes time for the drum to resonate, the sound waves to reach the microphone and for the full affect of the drum sound to be heard so if the drummer was to hit the drum exactly on the beat it would naturally be late anyhow. Add to this the fact that different sized drums come up to full sound differently.
A standard kick's note at twenty two inches is naturally lower in frequency so takes longer than a fourteen inch snare for example. So to counter this, rather than playing like a mathematician exactly on the written bar, it's the drummer's challenge to use their ears to hear whats happening, interpret the desired tempo and style of beat required for the piece and play to give the required feel even if that means pushing the kick and laying back on the snare. After all, some of the funkiest, most soulful drums ever recorded were done without any click. In our world though, we need to know how to cope with this dilemma.
Here's a little article I've put together on how to integrate a click into your playing by using the Roland SPD-SX sampling pad and how to make it work for rather than becoming a slave to the rhythm...