Using Click Tracks for Recording
To click or not to click. That is the question. And one I often have to answer. In this article we'll examine the click track, when and when not to use it, and some ideas for making a bit more musical.
ADVANTAGES TO RECORDING YOUR PRE-PRO TRACKS TO A CLICK/TEMPO Overdubbing It's generally easier for other players to play to your tracks if the tracks are recorded to a click. It's also much easier for you to replace your original instrument tracks later should you decide you want to improve on them. If you are just preparing your tracks as demos that will be recorded by a live band later, you may opt to not worry about the exact tempo and save that decision for the basics session. However, if you would like to have a live band record to the tracks you have recorded at home, you should probably use the click. Editing Recording to tempo(playing to the click)allows you to copy and paste tracks later relative to a grid. (much faster and more accurate) Charts and communication When you are recording to a tempo, you can quickly see by measure number where musical events are occurring by viewing the counter in your DAW program. Using Loops and Sequencers Most modern drum programs, loops, synths and many other electronic tools have lots of cool features that require a tempo, so if you want to add these types of elements later, strongly consider using a click track.
DISADVANTAGES TO RECORDING YOUR PRE-PRO TRACKS TO A CLICK/TEMPO Feel If you are not experienced playing to a metronome or a click track, you may not get as good a "feel" as you would otherwise. Your performance may sound "stiff"" to you. Click Bleed The standard click track can be very annoying and if played too loud in your headphones can bleed into the microphone and appear in your tracks, especially at the ending of the song in the instruments ring out. This click bleed cannot be fixed without rerecording the track.
SO WHAT DO I DO? I've found it's best to record to a tempo/click track when you can. Good players can get a good feeling track to a click, and it sure makes editing and overdubbing easier later on. If your song depends on a rubato feel, forget it, a click will just not work. However, I have worked on many songs that transition from a rubato feel to time. In these instances, I set the tempo of the track to fit the "groove" sections, and turn the click off in the rubato sections. This often requires leaving a small gap between the sections that I will close up later in the mixing process.
CLICK TRACKS HAVE NO "FEEL" The basic click track is just a time keeper, it has no "feel". Everybody plays to a click slightly differently, some play right on it, some play a bit after, some ahead. You should consider having a drummer or percussion player put down a track early in the process, then turn off the click and have everyone play their parts to the "feel" of the time keeping player. When recording live in the studio to click, I only send the click to the drummers headphones and let everyone else play to his time.
CREATIVE CLICK TRACKS There's is no good reason to limit yourself to a harsh click sound or loud cowbell to keep to the tempo. I often record percussion instruments like shakers and loop them or use electronic loops or midi drum tracks to play to. Also, keep in mind that when recording slower tempo songs (like ballads or anything below 90 bpm or so), the more divisions of the beat you have(1/8 notes for example instead of 1/4 notes) the easier it will be for you stay in time.
- Decide right from the start whether you should be recording your song to tempo. I suggest that in most cases when other production elements will be added later, it's a wise move. If you ever plan on adding a drummer, it's must.
- Design a creative click track, play a shaker with a feel you like and loop it, or use a drum loop.
- Check the end of instrument ring outs to make sure your click track isn't bleeding through your headphones and being recorded on your track.
- Turn the click off as soon as you get a good time keeping player on the track and let everyone else play to them. If there are going to be drums, record them first.