Blog No. 43, Posted by Larry Seiler, 01/27/2014
One of the first questions often asked at the beginning of a recording session, "Should we use a click track?" My answer is almost always an emphatic "Yes!"
However, sometimes it is the engineer asking the question, "Do you want to use a click track?" The response to that is something like, "Maybe," or "I'm not sure," or "Do we need to?"
The follow up question, "Can you play to a click track?" is often the real challenge. While many musicians have no problem playing to a click track, it gives others a real fit.
In the opinion of Eleanor Goldfield (Eleanor Goldfield, "Click Here," Recording, January 2014), you should insist on a click track. For the most part, I agree. However, there are a few exceptions when a click track may not be necessary. A solo singer and his or her guitar may be one instance, but even that situation is often improved with a click. A song with many tempo changes is another instance. Tempo changes can be handled with a click track, but it takes a lot of work and may not be worth the extra effort. Other than that, I can think of few situations in which a click track is not a benefit.
So why insist on a click track? First, it will give your song the consistency of a commericially-recorded hit. Very few drummers can keep consistently good timing without a click. A song with sloppy timing is a dead giveaway of an amateur recording. Second, it allows the engineer to edit and add effects with precision, something that not only makes his job easier, but saves you time in the studio. For example, if you're adding a reverb to a vocal, you don't want the reverb to interfere with the beat of the music. By setting the reverb parameters based on the tempo setting, this problem is easily solved.
So what are the downsides to using a click? Not many, other than your drummer can't play to a click. One famous producer has said, "If your drummer can't play to a click, get another drummer." Sometimes a drummer will complain about a click track ruining the groove. Not true. Even with a click, the drummer will not always be precisely on the click. The click track is there as a guide, and a good drummer can still put his or her spin on it.
What do you do if you have trouble playing to a click track? Practice using a metronome. After a while, you'll find that playing to a click track becomes second nature.
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