Recording with a Click Track
To record with a click track or not? The reasons why (or why not) are discussed.
When approaching a session, one of the
big things that often rears its ugly head is
whether or not to record with a click track.
While some may say it makes things sterile
and rigid, others insist it keeps the tempo on
target and prevents a lot of headaches later.
Both methods are warranted in different situations,
but this month we’ll explore different
ways to make a click work for you.
Let’s first look at why you’d want to use a
click track when recording. The reason you
put up with that sound in your cans is to
keep the tempo rock solid and to help keep
you and your bandmates locked into a steady
flow. It can also help keep sessions moving
along, so that lagging tempos don’t call for
additional takes of a song. While this is not
as important when recording at home, paying
hourly rates in a room can push the budget
up. Good for the studio owner, bad for you.
When using DAWs (Digital Audio
Workstations), clicks can dramatically help
with the editing process of a song, long after
the band is gone. Also, if you work with other
musicians via the Internet or FTP (File Transfer
Protocol), especially when using the same
platform (Pro Tools, Logic, Cubase, etc.), it
can help the overdub process move more
smoothly. When you get your files back from
other players, the overdubs are more likely to
line directly up and be ready for mixing.
Tricks for Players
Some musicians work better with click tracks
than others. This is usually evident in the first
few minutes of a session, so try to ask your
players ahead of time if they are click-friendly.
If they’re not, a great way to get around this
is to have them play to a loop. Simply find a
good loop of almost anything that grooves,
making sure it’s the same exact tempo as
the click. Programs like Pro Tools can be put
into Grid mode, and the loop can be cut and
pasted through to the end of the song with
a minimum of fuss. This has helped me get
through many sessions with click-adverse
players. The only possible negative is that
they may alter their part to fit the style of the
loop, so be smart with what you pick.
For musicians who don’t mind tracking with
clicks, find out what type of click they like to
hear, how loud they like it, and if they want
an accent on a certain beat. All these elements
are adjustable, whether you’re using a
built-in software click, drum machine, or even
the new generation of click apps available on
the iPhone. Remember that any sound that’s
too bright has a better chance of bleeding
into your track via a player’s headphones, so
consider using a dull sidestick, clave, or even
kick drum for your click track. Sometimes I’ll
even place an EQ after the click and filter out
the top end to make it darker.
Bleeding of a click can be a problem. If the
click sounds too bright or too loud, it will get
into a track through a nearby open mic. This is
less likely to occur when recording loud drums
than when tracking guitar or vocals, which are
more dynamic and open. One way to minimize
this is to use closed headphones, which have
sealed ear cups to help isolate the sound and
keep it from leaking into the microphones.
Models like the Audio-Technica ATH-M50,
Sennheiser HD 202, Beyerdynamic DT 235 or
AKG K27i work great for this purpose.
Also, try to play the click at a reasonable volume
with the music, as sometimes you don’t
even realize it’s blasting until you listen to the
playback and hear it on the track. Every musician
likes their click at a different level. Even
if they like it loud, I tend to turn it down after
the first few measures. Feeling a loud click
helps them get into the groove, but once
they’re solid, they don’t need it as much.
Most of the time I don’t even tell them I’m
turning it down. As long as they stay in the
pocket, they don’t need to know.
Last but not least, when getting toward the
end of a song, either turn the click way down
or completely off. Many guitar takes have
to be redone or punched in because that
annoying click is bleeding through the last
fading chord. With my Pro Tools or Logic
rigs, I simply have the automation turn it off
at the last hit.
Tracking with a click has its benefits, but
should be done carefully. Keep the headphones
closed, the sound source dull, and the
click volume as low as possible. If that doesn’t
work, turn the click off and just go for it.
Rich is a Grammy-nominated engineer and mixer who has
worked with artists ranging from Al DiMeola to David
Bowie. A life-long guitarist, he’s also the author of Pro
Tools Surround Sound Mixing and composes for the likes
of Fox NFL, Discovery Channel, Nickelodeon, and HBO.