Click Track: Is it Right for Your Session?

Popular Click Track Myths Examined

One of the first points addressed in any session is the click track. Many musicians believe that using a metronome during recording immediately results in a stiff track with no breathing room. Engineers often favor click tracks because it makes editing and overdubbing much easier. Click tracks are an invaluable tool, but sometimes they are not right.

As mentioned earlier, a common mentality among musicians (especially younger ones) is that using a metronome will result in robotic performance with no emotion or energy. This is the wrong mindset. The truth is that no performance will ever be “perfectly” on time. The purpose of the metronome is simply to provide a rhythmic boundary for the group and prevent the drums from varying in tempo. Any good drummer will be able to work within these bounds and still “groove”.

Recordings done with a click track should end up sounding just as natural as any other recording. If the drummer can groove and the band has a good pocket, this group will have no problem following a metronome. If a drummer refuses to use a click track simply based on the argument that it will “sound robotic”, I interpret this to mean they do no practice enough. For me, I believe a drummers job is to keep the time – if you can’t do this you should probably start practicing! I would guess that a huge majority of the songs played on the radio in the past couple decades has been recorded with a click track – enough reason for most people to realize that click track recordings are the way to go.

However, a click track is not always a good idea. Some examples include songs with multiple time signatures, live recordings with no overdubs, orchestral recordings, inexperienced groups who simply cant perform to a click, and bands so good they do not need one (unlikely). A click track does not mean the performance will automatically be awesome. In most scenarios, I feel it definitely does help glue together a performance, but there are some cases in which a metronome will negatively effect the performance. The most common is when a drummer is speeding up, realizes they have lost the tempo, then slow down to catch it again. This wavering of the tempo results in a super unprofessional sounding recording, and should be avoided. Another example of this could be if a band is significantly altering their performance to accommodate a click track.

If any type of overdubbing is part of the session, it is foolish to not use a click track. This is especially true for songs that have breaks where instruments (drums in particular) drop out. Having a click guide for this type of stuff is like night and day. On this note, it is important to not force a click on a band just because it makes it easier to “protools” a mix later on. The decision to use a click should solely take into account improvements in the music – of course it doesn’t hurt to mention ease of overdubbing in most scenarios.

Generally speaking, I think almost all bands will benefit from click track recording. When used properly, it will increase the tight-factor of any song while doing wonders for intensity and build of a track. As we talked about, however, it is not always right. I like to consider these points for any session I am doing and then decide whether or not a click track is the right choice for the session.

Drum Recording Basics

How to consistently get great drum sounds.

When doing live tracking in the studio, usually the most time consuming task is getting drum sounds. It’s a large and dynamic instrument – adding a bunch of mics can result in a giant phase nightmare.

Different engineers take different approaches to drum miking. Some prefer super tight miking, while others go for a more open sound. As an engineer, I find it good to be flexible, and to be able to adapt to each session and the needs of different artists.

For me, a truly great sounding drum recording is more a result of solid performance and proper drum tuning as opposed to great mics and precise placement. Think about it this way – if the drummer sucks and the drums are out of tune, the resulting recording is still going to sound pretty bad even if you are using awesome microphones placed in the perfect spot.

The best advice I can offer to beginners is to start with the very basics. Listen to records you like and pay close attention to the drums. Familiarize yourself with what a good drum set actually sounds like – how things are balanced, the tuning of the drums, tonal quality of different cymbals, etc. Notice how the sound changes as you move around a live drum set. It is fascinating how much different things sound just a few inches in the other direction.

Remember, you do not need super expensive microphones to get good drum sounds. It is possible to get awesome sounding drums with a single microphone – if your set sounds good to begin with.

As with all things, practice is key to success. At first, learn how to get good sounds out of acoustic drums without any microphones around. Listen to how sound moves around the room. Learn good mic techniques (the internet is a great resource for this) and how to work with what you have available. Start small – just single or stereo miking for the whole kit. As you begin to do sessions and other experimentation, you will begin to notice what works well and what does not. Get as much experience as you can, and remember to enjoy the process.

Drum set up for part of the Tribe of the Mountain session