If you have ever tried your hand at song arrangement, you would surely know how important the right tempo and metronome to a song arrangement. You will also understand the importance of synchronizing sound recordings and how crucial tempo and metronome to the overall recording results. Without a metronome, you will find it hard to synchronize the sound recordings.
However, the metronome may sometimes be insufficient to achieve perfect sound synchrony because it only provides a dry beat at a particular tempo. Thus, if you want something that can offer you rhythmic grooves and beat stresses, you should go for the click track. What is click track, then?
Understanding Click Track
The click track had its origin in the sound movies of the past wherein film sound editors made optical marks on the film to indicate precise musical accompaniment timings. Switching over to the music industry, click track, in the music industry, serves a metronome-like purpose for both live performances and recording sessions. It refers to an auditory cue series that you can use to synchronize recordings and live performances.
You will find a simplistic click track that works as a basic metronome. This simple click track is devoid of stress and unadulterated beats. However, some music types require rhythmic grooves and beat stresses to help musicians get into the groove and right tempo.
The click track can provide these rhythmic grooves and beat stresses. It can let you set—not only your BPM—but also the quantization and time signature. With a nicely set quantization, you can easily get in the groove. It is a good thing the click track can provide this type of setup.
Is Click Track Important to Live Performance?
I have been involved in many gigs and live performances, and one of the issues that I often encounter while performing with my band deals with the sagging groove and tempo of the drummer. The drummer, of course, set the groove together with the bassist. Yet, if the drummer seems inconsistent due to many reasons, the band’s performance suffers. Thus, it is ideal that the drummer has a subconscious metronome or an actual metronome at hand.
The click track can come in handy in such a case. It can provide an actual metronome, leading to more consistent performance of the drummer. With a constant beat provided by the drums, the rest of the band quickly gets into the groove.
The need to maintain the right tempo is even more crucial during live performances. If your band uses an in-ear system, the drummer needs a metronome feed to keep him on the right beat.
The click track is an audio file. Hence, you can subdivide the click track into smaller parts using different cues. For example, you can use a click at the onset, switching to a beep on every quarter, eighth, or sixteenth notes.
Unlike using a metronome, which you would usually turn off during live performance or recording, click track can go on playing during a live performance to guide the musicians on the right beat and groove. However, in the recording setting, the click back allows for easy editing on the DAW or music sequencer.
With the click track, you can easily quantize the audio track, moving parts around or even splicing track parts sans worrying about small timing differences. Besides, the click track can come in handy for a one-person band.
Methods & Techniques To Make Click Tracks for Live Performance
If you are used to performing live without any click track or metronome, you might find it preposterous or ridiculous to be using click track at this time of your career. Yet, times have changed, and now there are DAWs and other apps that could facilitate your live performance. If you’re still not convinced of the merit of click track’s usage, you should check out the following reasons and methods for click track usage:
1) Performing Using a DAW
There are instances wherein your recorded music is hard to replicate in the live performances because the recorded version contains vocal and guitar stacking or comping. Stacking and stomping are usually done during the recording process to make a specific track like the guitar or vocal track more succulent and fuller.
If you are only a four-piece band, you will sometimes find it hard to replicate what you have in your recorded music during your live performance. In such instances, you will sometimes need to use DAW during your live performances to ensure that you can replicate all the recorded music elements.
Using the DAW, you can start a track while channeling the click track to the drummer’s headphones to provide him with the necessary cue to maintain the groove. Simultaneously, you can also play the tracks that you could not replicate during live performance. In this way, your performance will sound fuller while keeping each of you on the right groove, tempo, and rhythm.
2) For Synchronizing Everything
When you engage in a stage production, you need to synchronize everything, including the special effects, lighting, and background video. Making all these things work in synchrony to the minutest details is a challenging task requiring precision.
Nevertheless, you can make everything work down to the minutest details if you can get the perfect cues. The click track can come in handy during this energetic live performance and stage production.
With the click track at hand, you get the ideal cue, not only for your bandmates or artists but also for the operators of light, videos, and the show’s minute details.
3) Keeping the Drummer on the Right Groove
Of course, the bass drum, together with the bass guitar, form the backbone of your groove and tempo. If the two do not jive well during your live performance, chances are, your performance gets doomed.
But between the two, it is the bass line of the drums that really initiate the tempo and groove. So, during your band’s live performance, your groove and rhythm may go off the beat if the bass drum line does not provide perfect timing and beat.
To remedy the drums’ sagging or increasing tempo, you can trigger a click track feed to the drummer’s IEMs. Ideally, the drummer should be like a machine, not going off the tempo. Many factors could lead the drummer to go off the right beat, like fatigue or listlessness.
So, if you want to rectify or avoid such tempo irregularity, you can trigger a click track feed to the IEMs of your drummer.
4) Providing Visual Cues Onstage
here are several ways to provide artists onstage with the necessary cues to keep themselves in the groove. One is through audio signals; the other one is through visual onstage cues. You can use visible click tracks like blinking light metronome or even a vibrating device to provide the drummer with the right cues.
Of course, auditory cues are the best cues you can give musicians, for music is not visual but auditory. Yet, some musicians have better visual orientation than auditory. In such a case, the visual onstage click tracks can come in handy for them. Moreover, it will be useful to note that musicians who can abstract musical concepts tend to be better musicians than those who could not.
Click tracks can come in handy, not only to musicians but also to producers and sound engineers. Musicians, especially bands, are usually assessed based on how they jive together when performing to produce synchronized music. Moreover, many critiques will judge your music brand based on how you maintain your groove, rhythm, and tempo.
So, if you want a fair review of your live performance, it is better to always get into the groove during your live performances. You can also utilize a click track to keep you on track and synchronized.
Of course, the click track might not transform your music into machine-like music like Metallica. Yet, you can surely improve your performances if you could perform in perfect synchrony.