One of the biggest sources of discomfort I’ve witnessed for recording artists in the studio (especially newbies) is playing with a click track.
Some of us have very good natural rhythm. Others…..not so much. Either way, playing with a click track can save a lot of time in recording, editing, and mixing AND greatly enhance the “cleanness” of your production.
What is a click track? Quite simply, it’s a beat used in recording to keep everything synchronized. Most often a click track is like a metronome – a series out quarter note “clicks” at a set tempo. The tempo is measured in beats per minute (BPM).
Why do you need a click track? Speaking as a mixing engineer and a drummer, the biggest reason for using a click is it makes things infinitely easier for me! I rely a lot on visuals and there’s nothing more pleasing than a song neatly laid out in my DAW’s edit window in 4/4 timing with 8-bar verses and choruses. It makes editing and automating effects a breeze comparatively.
But setting aside my selfish preferences, using a click track will give your song a neat and professional sound. Not using a click track (especially if your sense of rhythm is less than perfect) will leave your song sounding sloppy and hard-to-listen-to. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!
Now I’m not saying EVERYONE needs to record with a click track. There are styles of music in which a click track would be detrimental. If you desire a very live feeling, you might WANT the inconsistency in your tempo. For most pop recordings, though, and certainly for anything with programmed instruments, a click track is almost mandatory.
- Practice! Practice! Practice! with a metronome, programmed beat, or even along with professionally recorded music. You CAN learn to have better rhythm.
- Experiment with different tempos. If you’re having trouble keeping on beat, try a different tempo. You may just naturally want to play your song at a different tempo and it’s much harder to fight the wrong tempo.
- Vary the tempo for a more “live” feeling. In the studio I’ve often (sometimes secretly) set the tempo on the choruses a few BPM faster than the verses. It’s usually hardly perceived but overall gives the song more energy.
- Use a beat instead of a click. I do this often too. Instead of a metronome click sound, use a programmed beat or even a drum loop to help keep beat. It’s often much easier to get a really good groove by using an appropriate beat instead of a stale series of beeps. And most DAWs allow you to set the actual sounds to whatever you want – i.e. a shaker, a woodblock, claps, etc.
With some experimenting and practice you can get comfortable with playing to a click track. Your engineer and other musicians will appreciate it and your song will sound better for it.
Jonah Brockman is an independent music producer and engineer dedicated to empowering songwriters with the resources they need to make great music. Visit jonahbrockman.com for more information, rates, and work examples.