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The 'Click' Discussion, Part II

The 'Click' Discussion, Part II

posted on #1
mpointon Supporter
Posts: 518
Joined: Feb 27, 2015
Following on from OliVBee's forum post here: https://www.wikiloops.com/forum/viewthread.php?thread_id=1049 it seems that click tracks/metronomes are a hotly-contested debate with arguments from both sides. So, in the spirit of true discussion, I thought I'd open that can of worms right here. I'll try to be as pragmatic as I can - I'm not looking for an argument! But, as always, this is my opinion and mine only.

Metronomes/clicks are an incredibly useful skill - crucial, especially for drummers, if you want to get anywhere in the industry - which, when learned, becomes your [i]guide[/i], not your master. But, like everything to do with learning music, it sadly requires similar levels of patience and practice to get to grips with. You can only 'learn' to use a click by just getting on with it. There's no shortcuts, just like there's no shortcuts to learning an instrument. Over time, it becomes this background 'conductor' who just keeps you in the right place. Enough on that matter. That isn't the reason for this thread...

In truth, there are basic technical reasons metronomes are a God-send, which are my overriding reasons for preferring them:

1) We're all here for fun, we don't have acres of time to spend editing and correcting things or going over and over a performance to try and accommodate timing problems. Tracks played to a click are [i]much, much[/i] faster to work with and edit. Doubly so for drummers as, in my case, I have to edit 7 tracks (kick, snare top, snare bottom, tom 1, tom 2, overhead left and overhead right) at the same time. On top of that, with all the cymbals, ghost notes, etc., ringing all over the place, having an 'aligned' track makes it a hell of a lot easier to work out where edits and punch-ins should occur to keep the edits clean. It's hard but probably not helped by my sense of my performance having to be as good as possible. Can't help it. Sorry.

2) As a drummer, I'm 'supposed' to be the metronome. If a piece is recorded without a click, there's no common time reference other than the player's sense of rhythm. For my performance to sound good [to me!], the drummer needs to sound like they're 'in charge' and 'belong' to the track. This cannot happen if one is constantly chasing someone else's sense of time and it will show. It's sadly a side effect of the way we construct any loops without an initial drummer/timebase.

3) I'll be honest: I often overlook tracks I really, really like because they don't specify a tempo or have not used a click. I can work out the tempo if a click has been used but the tempo isn't specified - that's fine - but if the track won't stay with a click once I've worked it out due to human drift, I'll often drop it and move on. It's a time thing because I know I will not have the time to work through after playing and correct all the inevitable timing errors I'll make - it can become a very tall order which can run into several hours to edit properly. I'd sooner bin the track and move onto something else than upload what I consider to be a bad performance from myself.

4) Finally - and this is very important to me - is clarity during recording. Although I use Vic Firth noise-isolating headphones (read: ear defenders like the ones people at roadworks wear but with speakers in), adding to a track that has, say, distorted guitar or just bass becomes very, very muddy at the volumes necessary to compete with the noise from the kit. Mics inevitably take some of the energy away from a recording so one hits harder to compensate. The click track cuts through that keeping me on track even if the music's not very clear.

So there you go. There are my reasons I will always prefer templates and tracks set to a metronome.

At no point am I saying not using a metronome is a bad thing or makes for a lesser musician - I am NOT saying that. But I thought I'd explain why, particularly from a drummer's perspective, I find them critical to successful adds and will therefore always prefer a track set to a metronome to one without. The main reason is point 4) above, followed by point 1) and 2).

You'll no doubt notice these issues are very drummer-specific. I can't speak for other instruments' needs!

Right. I'm off to find some touch paper! ;)
posted on #2
eGiL Supporter
Posts: 108
Joined: Nov 9, 2016
If you start a drum track, use a click! If you add to a track that is too wobbly, don't! Play like you mean it! :D

Easy Peasy! ;) No, it's not that easy...but in theory it could be :P As a bass player steady drums are my #1 <3
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posted on #3
TeeGee Supporter
Posts: 1747
Joined: Sep 27, 2014
I agree, and I really appreciate people who also add a little of the original click track to the single instrument HD track they upload seperately. It saves a LOT of time to align things :W
posted on #4
Posts: 52
Joined: Dec 17, 2017
Here is an example of starting a template on guitar, using (virtual) a drum machine, and leaving some alignment material at the beginning. #134459 - i recorded a few minutes of this (awful) beat on a track played along with that recording, and enveloped the volume down on that track when i made my guitar only mixdown. If i were adding, i would use the first few beats of the template. Like the HD file for, #146030

I think many Loopers may just upload that raw track they just finished recording.

There are many ways tracks can get out of alignment, but a surprising one is that (most) conversions to .mp3 introduce about a 15 millisecond pause (more space) at the head of the track. Convert or save a track in your DAW, import it and line it up against the original lossless track and see. if your solo upload is a different file format it may bemisaligned with other tracks.

Lastly, to the idea of playing with "metronomes," i think it is awesome to play in time, it certainly gets everyone together and not drifting, which sounds good. But I also have no problem playing organically, even if folks drift quite a bit. One thing fun about the "un clocked, organic" style is that you can change tempo on purpose, right in the middle of things, or pause for an odd length which still works.

But generally i think "clocks" make wikilooping way easier, and give the music sound generally higher production values.

And hey, I can play out of time over anything!
posted on #5
TeeGee Supporter
Posts: 1747
Joined: Sep 27, 2014
BuzzBomber wrote:And hey, I can play out of time over anything!

Hahaha my quote is: I can't play on time on anything with or without click :D :D :D
posted on #6
mpointon Supporter
Posts: 518
Joined: Feb 27, 2015
LOL @ TeeGee & BuzzBomber.

I absolutely get the 'playing organically' which is why I increasingly feel my points are uniquely specific to drummers. We have to keep time and that steady timebase is vital to the success of the other adds and allowing the track to sound 'together'.

Sadly, an 'organically' played template is damn hard to add authentically to for us tub thumpers even if there is a count-in as the drummer is constantly 'chasing the beat' and it will show in the feel of the track :(

I guess, I should re-title this thread to 'why a click is important to drummers!'
posted on #7
Posts: 57
Joined: Jul 24, 2014

Following on from MPs post, and response to the statement about “why a click is so important to drummers”….I immediately thought of something I read from the great Joe Morello (who’s one of my favourite players)….

“A metronome gives you even spacing of time”
“A metronome doesn’t make you sound mechanical”

Following on from that, I once received some very helpful practice tips from a great drummer who told me to play to metronome at 40bpms (not easy!) then pull the metronome for a few bars, then put it back on again and see how far off you are…and it highlights certain issues….Eventually through practice, you improve and can nail it and play in time with the metronome off. This gives you a lot of confidence.

I have had the good fortune to record at Chapel Studios in Lincolnshire twice, which has had many big names, like The Darkness, The Artic Monkeys (both recorded first albums there) and many others, and it’s one of the best in the UK, and so a highly professional environment where playing to a metronome is essential. I had done this before in previous studios but this was the one that made all the difference.

Prior to going there (and after that in live situations) I spent many months with the original band I was in rehearsing with full backing tracks played with click tracks through headphones.

After the recordings I did a gig with another band, and they immediately commented that they could hear a definite improvement in general. The album we recorded was then played live numerous times, and I had to use a click track through headphones.

I can’t stress enough how much difference all this above has made 

Of course recording live as a band is great to capture a live / raw sound and it’s also great to play stuff live without a metronome, but for me personally I prefer templates on here to be played with a click because it gives you a little more scope in terms of adding electronics (something that’s a little more difficult with “wobbly” tempos!) which is something I like to do along with playing live acoustic drums, plus it’s a bit more easier when it comes to editing.

Not only that, if you have a sound template played in time, there is also the added option of being able to play to three different time feels, behind the beat, on the beat and ahead of the beat which can create tension, excitement and many other emotions….
posted on #8
mpointon Supporter
Posts: 518
Joined: Feb 27, 2015
I couldn't agree more, pconey.

The main issue with click tracks is that, like all aspects of learning an instrument, it requires patience and practice. A fact really not helped by modern expectations of 'ultra-perfect music'; tolerances of timing errors, even by non-musical ears, are getting less and less. Keep up or never get called!

Until the click becomes 'second nature' - a background guide that gently keeps you on track - I don't think players can fully appreciate what an immensely helpful and flexible friend it really is.

I remember my first time in the studio with a click track. I was awful and the ensuing recordings I can, to this day, hear myself chasing the click and correcting my timings to compensate! It's awful.

But within a couple of months of working with clicks, I got it 'sussed' and have never looked back!

Although if you're able to 'push' or 'drag' the click, you're way better at it than me! Never really 'got' how to sort that out! Other than the fact I drift a lot anyway!
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posted on #9
Posts: 374
Joined: Mar 25, 2012
This makes me think of a story i heard about Per Lindvall (Swedish legendary drummer who has played with everyone including ABBA).
On a recording session he was to play along one of the first Linn drum machines. Halfway through he stopped playing and complained about the machine sagging. The response was of course "Hey, come on, it's a machine, it doesn't sag" Per insisted on testing this with a mechanical metronome. Guess who was right....
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