As a drummer, I'm trying to improve my micro-time to put more feeling in the grooves I play. For certain songs (ballads for example), you usually try to get a "laid-back" feeling by playing slightly behind the beat. Then the question is, if the drummer is behind the beat... who is on the beat?
I'd be happy to get a more general idea how the timing within a band is perceived. Nobody in the audience knows where the real beat is. So whenever a group of instruments is played behind other instruments, it depends on the "perceived beat" whether the one group is behind the beat or the other group is ahead. Especially within the drumset, you sometimes play the snare behind the beat (in ballads) or the hi-hat in front of the beat (for uptempo songs). What defines the difference?
Update: To clarify my question I can give a small example scenario... Assume a typical four-piece (drums, bass, rhythm guitar, lead guitar). They play a ballad and all have the clicktrack on their monitor. They are all very good musicians and bass and guitars play exactly on the click. The drummer wants to add some "feel" to the song and plays a bit behind the beat - all fine so far.
Now assume, to simply their cabling on stage, the band decides that it is enough if the drummer has the clicktrack on his monitor, the other instruments don't need it. The drummer still plays behind the beat, the others don't hear the clicktrack, only the drummer.
The question now is: can the other band members hear from the drummers playing that he is not on the click but behind? I guess so, but what defines the actual beat then? If they couldn't hear it, they'd have to play ahead (relative to the drums) to achive a laid-back feeling, which is somehow weird...
I found two nice references about the displacements within the drumset. A scientific paper from the International Symposium on Performance Science (2011, Kilchenmann and Senn: "Play in time, but don’t play time” - Analyzing timing profiles in drum performances) and an interesting webpage with audio samples.