Friend of the blog Bobby Owsinski has written some fantastic articles for Pro Tools Expert sister site Studio One Expert. In this article Bobby talks about how to create the perfect click tracks for tracking.
Creating An Effective Click Track
It is a debate that will last until the end of time regarding whether it’s best to record with or without a click track - most drummers today have at least some experience playing to one. There are a lot of advantages to using a click as long as the song doesn’t come out sounding too stiff. Working with clicks also makes editing easier. Clicks are also great for getting time delays and reverb effects pulsing nicely to a project tempo.
Here’s an excerpt from the second edition of Bobby's Drum Recording Handbook (written with Dennis Moody) that provides some tips and tricks for creating a click track that the drummer will love to play to.
Experiment With Click Sounds
Many times just providing a click in the phones isn’t enough. Here are some tricks to make the click not only listenable but also cut through the densest mixes and feel like another instrument in the song.
Pick the right sound for the person recording - something that is more musical than an electronic click can be better to groove to. Try either a cowbell, sidestick, or even a conga slap. Needless to say when you pick a sound to replace the click it should fit with the context of the song. Many drummers like two sounds for the click such as a high go-go bell for downbeats and low go-go bell for the other beats, or vice-versa.
Make sure the downbeat is accented. Most drummers might not care about the actual sound of the click as long as they have an accent on beat one.
Pick the right number of clicks per bar. Some players like 1/4 notes while others play a lot better with 8ths. Whichever it is, it will work better if there’s more emphasis on the downbeat (beat 1) than on the others.
Use an EQ plug-in if needed. Sometimes a little EQ at 3k to 4kHz can help the click cut through the mix. Be careful not to use too much boost as it could cut so much that the click can bleed into the microphones.
A good trick for getting groove out of a click is by adding a little delay to the sound. Adding delay can make the click swing a bit removing some of the stiff nature of the click. This makes a click easier to perform to, especially for those players that normally have trouble playing to a click. As a side benefit, this can also help make any bleed that does occur less offensive, as it will seem like part of the song.
Always have the drummer record a count-in as they really come in handy during overdubs.
Preventing Click Bleed
Now that the click cuts through the mix ensure that there is no bleed entering the microphones. If this is the case, try the following:
- Change to a different headphone. Try a pair that has a better seal. The Sony 7506 phones provide a fairly good seal but a good pair of isolation headphones like the Metrophones "Studio Kans" or the Vic Firth S1H1’s will isolate a click from bleeding into nearby mics.
- Run the click through an EQ and roll off the high end just enough to cut down on the bleed.
A Click Alternative
If a drummer’s performance with a click seems to stiff then try this method - It might help to provide not only the loosest feel but best groove too.
- Record the song three times with the click.
- Choose the best version.
- Instead of a click, use the track for the drummer to play against by muting the drum part and just playing back the other instruments.
- Proceed with recording overdubs.
With this method drummers will be able to hear the rest of the band and play along through headphones so that there should be very little bleed. Once the drums are printed the session can progress as normal.
Community Click Track Tips
Let's hear some of your click track tips and tricks in the comments below.