Click tracks : good or bad?

March 4, 2009 | 2 Comments

Drum Set courtesy of Money Munni

Photo courtesy of Money Munni

March 4th, 2009 – It’s no secret that almost all artists use click tracks for recording in the studio. Besides the obvious time keeping aspect, recording to a click serves a couple other important roles. For one, many musicians record separate instruments in the studio. Since many different performances need to sound like one cohesive one, the click helps all the parts keep on track. This also allows the engineer who’s putting it all together, to have an accurate guidline to build the song.

Cutting and re-arranging of the song’s parts requires the use of a click track. Imagine if you wanted to cut a guitar part from the first chorus and play it again as the third. If you hadn’t used a click, you would probably lose “energy”. A band that understands how to manipulate their audience will instinctively play faster as the song goes on. You might think that this would be an amateur trait, but bands like Queens of the Stoneage purposely use this technique. Watch any of their live performances to see how effective this can be.

In the studio, unless the recording is done all at once “live off the floor”-style, changing tempos is a headache for the engineer. That’s why almost all sessions use a click. This is also why a lot of people complain that some bands aren’t accurately “captured” by a studio album. Energy can be lost by quantization. Also, when focusing hard on keeping time, it’s hard to be creative or keep the emotion going.

MusicMachinery has an analysis of recordings of some famous drummers. I’m not surprised by any of the findings, but they’re fun to look at nonetheless. I, for one, always use a click track when I record. It makes it easier for me to punch-in overdub corrections (in situations where I’m not recording MIDI), and I’m pretty finicky about accuracy. When playing live, I don’t like the idea of using a click, unles there’s a need to sync to pre-prepared loops or video effects. What are your feelings about click tracks?
MusicMachinery via MusicRadar

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  1. Jeff says: March 4, 2009

    Super cool post.

    When I first went into a real recording studio, I insisted on NO CLICK. Trouble was, I think it actually created a terrible feel, because the drummer and bassist were concentrating on tempo, not groove.

    Next time I recorded, we used a click — and different musicians — and the click seemed to help keep people relaxed. By knowing ‘where’ the beat was, they could actually groove a little harder. Obviously, speeding up a tune wasn’t an option, but ‘pushed’ hits were, as well as slowdowns at the end.

    And, as you point out, no click would have created MOUNTAINS of work for the engineer during the clean-up phase.

    One last point: to save money in our BUSHWHACKED economy, I am now letting musicians record their parts in their home studios, saving money by only doing mixdown in a pro studio. Click tracks are ESSENTIAL to working this way.


    PS – MusicMachinery post is one of the coolest I’ve ever read!

  2. Sebastien Orban says: March 5, 2009

    The click is a neat tool, so we can work when we have time, to blend different sources and so on.
    But live… I think that we should let ourselves move and adapt to how people react, how we are taken by music, our mood and so on. Still, since we have work with the click a long time, we should be nearly right on tempo. Nearly, as shown on the graph in the link 😉


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