It seems that when it comes to the use of a click track, opinions are split. Some people love them, seeing them as a vital way of creating a tight sound. Others believe that they take away from the natural energy of a performance. For me, using a click all depends on the individual session. Like many other aspects of recording and mixing, I see a click track as a tool. Sometimes it’s necessary to use one and sometimes it isn’t. In this article we’ll look at the advantages and disadvantages of recording to a click.
Pros of using a click track:
- Keeping in time – at its most basic, a click is there to give you a tempo guide to follow. Using a click will give you a consistent pulse to guide you through your take.
- Better editing – if you’ve recorded to a click track then your editing capabilities become almost endless. You may want to copy and paste a small drum fill to another part of the song. You may also want to reuse the guitarist’s entire chorus section in a different part of the song. Its all possible if you’ve achieved consistent timing in your takes by using a click track.
- You need less equipment – when recording to a click, each musician can record individually. Producers call this ‘multi tracking’. When recording this way, each person takes turns instead of everyone recording ‘live’ at the same time. That means that you require less preamps as less signals are being captured at one time. You also require less headphones, mic stands, cables etc. Each musician can take it in turns to use one set of equipment. For your average home or project studio, this can be a game changer.
Cons of using a click track:
- Less musical takes – many people worry that a click track may make the music feel lifeless, lacking the natural flow of a live take.
- Click tracks may inhibit a performance – click tracks can be a little intimidating. In some cases, if a musician has never played to a click track before, the results might not be great. In fact, if the artist hasn’t practiced the song to a click or doesn’t use a click often, the result may be a messy take.
- Click track spill – all too often, you’ll notice that the sound of the click track has spilled onto a mic during one of the takes. This is usually either because of the headphones being too loud, or because the headphones didn’t isolate sound well.
Click track… yes or no?
As you can see, in some instances, a click track is a handy tool when used in the right circumstances. But it’s by no means vital in every situation. One great thing is that it really opens up options in the home studio. If you don’t have the equipment to track a drummer, bass guitarist, and rhythm guitarist all at the same time, a click track is fantastic. It means that you only need one set of headphones, mic preamps, mic stands etc. It also means that you can edit extensively within the session without running into timing issues.
If however, your artists have not practiced their parts to a click, or they’re not used to playing along to a click track, then your best option will likely be to record the drums and bass live. It usually helps to have a rhythm guitarist and maybe even a lead guitarist and vocalist playing along as guide tracks. This will give you a solid take for the drums and bass guitar. You can then overdub the rest of the instruments on top, using the drums and bass as a foundation.
If you’re concerned about your tracks sounding static when recording to a click, you can always automate your click to speed up in the choruses. This gives your track a hint of musicality whilst retaining all the benefits of using a click. Why not give it a try, if you don’t usually use a click then try it and see how you feel. If you always record to a click, try recording a session without one and record live. You may be surprised by the results.
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