Kenny's Tip of the Day - Using Click Tracks!!!
Click tracks have been an important part of recording for decades. At first, nobody used them at all. And nobody cared. You can find many great records that started off at one tempo and drifted to a completely different tempo by the end. And it was fine. As long as the groove felt good, everyone was happy. And dancing.
Then we started making records where everyone used them. Everything had to be perfect. Many great drummers were even being replaced by drum machines. Thanks Roger Linn. LOL
When we got back to real drummers, using click tracks became the norm. Producers didn’t want to deal with drummers playing out of time and they didn’t want to find out later that they had a problem that now needed fixing. They wanted consistency and a click track became a great way to get it. One tempo. All the time. Nothing to think about.
And I have to admit, as a Producer, it is nice to choose a tempo that works for the song and stick with it. I have had times where the band didn’t want to use a click track, we worked on the song for many hours, got a great take and it felt too fast the next day. It sucks.
But. Making a drummer play to a click when it doesn’t feel comfortable, isn’t fun either. So how do you decide? Do you use a click track or let the band just go for it?
First. Consider the band in front of you. The talent they have. How tight they are, how good the drummer is and how THEY would prefer to do it. Sometimes you have to talk them into it. It may be the best decision even if the band is against it.
But there is music that doesn’t need it at all. In fact, sometimes you can make it worse by forcing the band to play to a click. Especially if they’ve been playing live for years without one and are much more comfortable that way. So it is a situational decision. And that’s why you’re a great producer. Right?
Keep in mind, if you decide NOT to use a click, you can still do other things to control tempo. For example, you could start the band off with a click that you’re all happy with and then turn it off once they start playing. In this way, the song at least starts off at the correct tempo. It will also make it easier to notice if it starts speeding up as you have something to compare it too. If you’re tracking for hours, the tempo can creep up and no one will notice until tomorrow that you’re playing too fast. Or too slow. Because it happened gradually. Having the click to start with keeps you centered on the correct tempo.
You can also still edit the drums even if it wasn’t played to a click at all. Simply map out the tempo based on what was played (bar by bar) and edit the drums based on that tempo map. It will tighten up the performance without losing the song’s ever changing tempo.
Now if you decide that you DO want to use a click, make sure that the drummer CAN play to it. A great studio drummer will have no issues (as they do it all the time) but a young rock drummer might really struggle if they never practiced to a click before.
Plan the song’s tempos in advance of the recording (pre-production) and give the drummer a few weeks to practice listening to the click in his or her headphones. Playing to a click is a skill. You don’t just learn it on day one of the recording. And most drummers will play worse to a click if they never did it before.
Finally, it’s a good idea to play to something besides a donk donk donk cowbell blasting in your ears. Personally, I like to build a percussion track to play with. A drum loop (filtered) along with a 1/16th note shaker and softer side stick on the ¼ notes can be much more exciting and inspiring than a simple quarter note click. It also lets you hear the subdivisions in the beat more clearly and defined.
Whether or not you choose to use a click track will be ultimately up to you and the band. But think about it before you do it automatically. It’s NOT always the best choice in every situation.
You can learn more by watching my videos at www.groove3.com
I hope this message finds you well. Kenny Gioia