recording with a click track

Submitted by JoaoSpin on Wed, 05/09/2012 - 09:22

Hi guys and girls from the forum,
I have a certain doubt about recording with a click. I'm about to record an album with my band. It's heavy grunge music. Generally we don't go too astray from the beat of our songs, and some of our songs are pretty complex in terms of changing paces in the middle of the song. My question is, how necesssary is recording with a click? is it simply optional? I'm aware that in old recordings the click was not used, and most people seem to be fine with that. Providing that we don't mess up the rhythm in any odd way (we wouldn't let that happen) would it be detrimental to our recording to not use a click?


This really depends upon what your objectives are. Click tracks were utilized back in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, for those that wanted it. It was good for folks creating precisely timed events such as commercial jingle music for commercials. But even there, we never utilized a click track when creating our jingle musics for international syndicated advertising agency. We wanted that slight random human feel. If you are into robotic like music, I think a click track would be essential. In the days before sequencers, I could actually tell by looking at a piece of vinyl that a magnetic tape loop was utilized as part of the rhythm track because you could see within the cut of the disc a very precise visual pattern that did not vary. If you are big into the multitrack computer music software you might want to work with that click track for more precise mix and editing events? Many multitrack software packages already have the option for an internal and recordable click track. There is no one way, no single way, you should be working. It's art, it's music and you need a certain amount of human fallibility to convey art more effectively. Otherwise the analogy would be typewritten words on a page instead of being written in freehand. The Bible was written in freehand later to be converted to a consistent typeface and font. And there is always something lost in translation of any kind. For instance, 44.1 kHz recordings do not mathematically transcode to 48 kHz accurately as the math doesn't work in that instance. And folks here have been lately talking about discontinuing their use of SRC in favor of an analog decode to an analog reencoding and obtaining superior results that way.

It looks like you should be smoking a cigar with that pose in your picture LOL. That's where Photoshop comes in.
Mx. Remy Ann David

lol! a cigar away from a Che Guevara! thnks for the reply... I most certainly don't want my music to sound "robotic", especially in those sudden shifts in pace... another question: best way to capture just drums: everyone playing live in the cans with only the drums going in?
Smoking a cigar(rette),

If I understood your question correctly, you want to just record the drums without recording everybody else but everybody else needs to be playing to cue the drummer? Sure, why not? It's totally doable at least with the exception of perhaps Latin percussion, congas. You can take any guitar direct, keyboards, vocalist even in the control room on a SM58 all feeding the headphones for the drummer. It's been done. Sometimes guitars are just put into the iso-booths with the door closed. Not sure why you'd want to do it that way? It would cost just as much in studio time to have them play live for an extra take or two. Six one-way a half a dozen the other. Trying to isolate other instruments so tightly as opposed to dealing with all of the acoustic bleed and interaction which IMHO provides for a better recording than everything being so tightly isolated.

I was in Montréal once with my partner. I purchased a Havana cigar and we were walking down the street passing it back and forth. The looks we got from people were hysterical!

You can put a condom on a cigar and use it in other ways
Mx. Remy Ann David

"Trying to isolate other instruments so tightly as opposed to dealing with all of the acoustic bleed and interaction which IMHO provides for a better recording than everything being so tightly isolated."

Including bleed from the vocals? what about capturing drums and a guitar (to be later overdubbed) but recording the bass only later on? Not advisable?

Let me explain so there are no doubts: I have a three-piece band consisting of me on elec. guitar and vocals, a drummer and a bass player. We used to be a four-piece band, but that didn't work out, so the band was dissolved, the bass player skipped town and me and the drummer decided to get together again and record the long overdue album. The structure I have in my home studio, especially acoustically is not befitting to a good drum recording, but is fine for distorted guitar, bass, and vox. I have played bass in bands before and am a pretty good bass player, so we thought we'd have a go at recording the drums in a studio, the guitar, bass and vocals here. We made an all-live recording previously and I overdubbed only the vocals at home, and I thought the vocal bleed, when perceptible was pretty ugly. I had to push my vocals straight to the front of the mix, but at loud passages there was a sort of phantasmagoric resonance in the background, especially from the overhead mics. Interesting input on the bleed issue, Remy, I had heard of that before but didn't know it was so important. My question is: how do I take care of the issue of not having a bass player without getting a bass player yet, record everything live without having to worry about the vocal bleed, let alone the drummer losing his cue from the absence of my singing? Or do I absolutely have to get a bass player and record his bleed to get great sounding tracks? thanks a lot for the answers, I love your forum.

P.S. I'll pass on the cigar+condom thing...

What bleed from the vocals? He's not singing into the drum microphones is he? I really think you are approaching this the wrong way? People actually play better live in an ensemble. Overdubbing is still possible even if there is a little bleed because it will be masked by the overdub. That is unless they are sitting in each other's laps but even then. Of course if you are trying to make money by the hour, you might want to record each musician one at a time? Plenty of guys do that. I don't. I don't even believe in that way of doing things. Other guys swear by it. You have to decide what technique is best for you and what best suits your needs. If you are hiring union musicians, they get paid by the hour also. And then you just tripled your expenditure. The bass guitar can go direct so no problem there. Everybody is wearing headphones, so no problem there. Direct guitar tracks can be put through cabinet emulators in software, so no problem there. Dynamic microphones on the drums won't take up much bleed from anybody else. Condensers on the overheads are more susceptible to the other amplified instruments being picked up. So you can even utilize dynamic microphones for drum overheads with more than acceptable results. This is a lot of what we must do for different kinds of recording environments and applications. For instance, you don't necessarily have to put condenser microphones over top of the drums. I've utilized tie tack microphones taped underneath the cymbals without any noticeable bleed from other amplified instruments nearby. It all works. That is just your technique on the balance of everything. I have actually recorded an entire symphony orchestra, 200 voice choir along with 4 solo vocalists for television. My directive was to not be able to see any microphones on camera whatsoever. I received an Emmy nomination for that Verdi Requiem and you couldn't see a single solitary microphone anywhere since I used a lot of tie tack microphones for the highlights and a pair of very well-placed microphones hung over the orchestra. The solo vocalists were standing near some decorative plants which had other microphones buried within the plants. Overdubs were not necessary nor required for this NBC-TV production. If that had been the case and overdubs required, all bets would have been off. But even still, some overdubbing would still have been doable if it had been required. That's when certain types and kinds of different microphone technologies have to be employed. This is also where dynamic microphones with their slightly bandwidth limited response works in your favor and on your behalf. Dynamic microphones don't pick up much off axis garbage. Which makes overdubbing all the more practical. Condenser microphones not so much so. There is really no quality to be lost when utilizing dynamic microphones properly. Many can even outperform a condenser microphone with their isolation integrity. Figure of 8 microphones be them ribbon or condensers can also help to isolate bleed with their directional pattern. And a pair of dynamic or even condenser omni-directional microphones can be placed back to back and wired out of phase for a " differential microphone " which will reject everything that is not picked up closely from a single capsule. And I've done that also though the frequency response from a differential microphone is not what we would call flat. So that requires more creative correctional equalization. You'll see the use of some differential microphones on some live Grateful Dead videos where you'll see both microphones aiming in the same direction with just Jerry Garcia and the other guys singing into a single one of the two. And I saw their use of that after I had done my own thing years earlier. My friend and colleague from NBC Michael Berry, who is also contributing here, explaining the use of just that same technique to evaluate the difference between a pair of microphones based upon their minimal differences when they cancel everything around them. So some science is employed to create magic. It's all on understanding how certain things work and where directional microphones are not always required.

Noise canceling microphone techniques can be cool
IMAX Remy Ann David

When you record in your home studio, would you feel comfortable just tracking drums, bass guitar and your vocal with an SM58? Or would you need to go the route of drums, electric guitar, vocal on an SM58? Personally, I would get the basic rhythm section down first. Including what one might call a scratch vocal. Funny enough, those frequently become the take you want. If you are singing without a PA system blaring into your room but are working through headphones, careful placement of your positioning, will make your vocal virtually unheard on the drum microphones. And the drum set will cause less interference into your vocal SM58 so as to be not much of an issue. This is also where freestanding gobos with windows to allow for proper eye contact can be so advantageous. If you search YouTube for George Massenburg, you'll essentially see what I mean. Because you are not paying for studio time, it's not much of a factor. And the results can be quite wonderful. Then you would only have to overdub the bass guitar. Or just overdub the guitar where you could take full advantage of being able to crank it up. Utilizing both close and distant miking. Low & high gobos offer many advantages. When made from wood and absorbent material can do wonders. Positioning of the microphones with respect to their polar patterns becomes also an important factor under these conditions. And Lester sensitive figure of 8 ribbon microphones can make this prospect even more doable. Condenser microphones just pick up too much damn stuff. And you don't want that. There is no need or reason to be utilizing condenser microphones on sound sources that really don't need them. It's the cohesive nature of a performance you really want to capture. Not all of the technical blah blah is necessary in the way you might think. And then we also have downward expanders and gates which do incredible things. They don't need to be hardware devices as you can create them within the compressors in software. This is where you also get to utilize high and low pass filtering in the detectors section of the software downward expander/gate. A trick real engineers use all of the time. At least those in the know. Experimentation with trial and error is what makes for real engineers. Getting junk out of books never really addresses this. So give it a try you've got nothing to lose and everything to gain.

I have 8 outboard, hardware, downward expanders that I wholly believe in using. But I even accomplished the same only in software. Don't pick just the preset because they are usually too over-the-top. You'll learn how to draw them into your compressor GUI. Bleed will then become a virtual nonissue. So drums, bass guitar and vocals with the bass guitar going DI works out extremely well. And don't use any PA speakers while tracking. Rely upon headphone strictly. Build yourself a couple of gobos. I already know that you're a smart and talented musician, producer, engineer. And this will take you the next notch up. Give it a try, you'll be glad you did. And when necessary, there's always take 2, 3, whatever it takes to get the take. After three takes & three strikes, you're out. Then you move on to another song to go back to the previous later. You don't want to work anything to death. It takes all of the life and spontaneity out of your performance. It's not really about accuracy. It's about the performance. And plenty of people even record parts in their control room, all on headphones. Check out the George Massenburg videos on YouTube because it's a free education in and by itself. Something I personally have been doing for years. So I was amazed to find that great minds think alike. And there is also the place to be utilizing blaring PA speakers in the studio. There is a trick to eliminate that with a secondary pass overdub where microphones have not been pushed or bumped, moved. So in the secondary pass, no one is playing anything. You are simply recording the room and the PA speaker from the playback which later gets added out of phase to your original pass. The PA speakers then magically cancel out. But if any microphone gets moved or bumped, all bets are off on the cancellation efforts. I've done plenty of that also with great success. And that was back in the analog tape days we're going down a second-generation really increases noise level. But those gates and downward expanders also help to thwart noise buildup. It also helps to cancel bad room acoustics. It's magical. It's practical. It's doable.

There is a technique to engineering good audio
Mx. Remy Ann David

What is the purpose of the album? Is it just for you and the band to listen to? Or is it for a wider audience? If it's for anything but yourself, use a click. People today are so used to hearing perfect timing (thanks to modern-day sequencing basically) and indeed perfect tuning (thanks to Autotune etc). If your album is not in time (or indeed in tune) then people will perceive that fact. They will not necessarily know exactly what the problem is, but they will know that there is something about the material that they don't like.

From a personal perspective, I can't see why anybody would choose to record anything out of time when they can record it perfectly in time by using a click. It just doesn't compute in my brain to record something out of time. Well, that is obviously my personal preference, but if you were recording in my studio, I would lay down a ghost guitar to a click, then overdub the drums. From there you can overdub the rest of the stuff in any order you want. If you don't use a click when you're overdubbing, you're going to get problems sooner or later.

Using a click will not detract from the 'human-ness' of your takes. We are humans, and we play out of time, no matter how hard we try, no matter how loud the click is. But a click will prevent the song from slowing down and speeding up, and it will also help you all to play in time better.

I think it really depends on the band and how musical they are and if your genre of music really calls for it. I've ran across hard rock bands that were fairly anal about being precisely on time and other bands that wanted to sound natural without the use of a click. I'd say that if you're drummer and your rhythm section play fairly tight then I would bypass the use of a click.

A temptation that presents itself with computer based DAW graphics is that you can analize the timing down to the split second and compare it to the timing hash marks. The infernal timing critics among us LOVE it, but most musicians know that we don't play strictly to timing.

A looped drum track also makes a good click track. Just make sure to toss it out before your real drummer has a coronary.