Click track – need a click track?

Well, some of you guys with the better set of ears can surely recognize a click track tune. Or a song with drum software playing samples. Or at least a drum machine tune. You can’t? Well, let’s pretend. Anyway. What is a click track and why do people use the bastard?

Click track – do we need it?

The origins of the click track (not to be confused with a clit track – don’t ask) can be traced back to the early sound movie era. People used it to get the film and the music in sync. This way, the orchestra could play the piece at the proper length so it fitted any given movie scene perfectly. So much for a dramatic effect. Or a comical one. In music production, it was used very sporadically at first. It sort of caught on for real from about the late 1970s on. But don’t let that confuse you; people still didn’t primarily use it as a mere time keeping aid. It was for making mixing and editing easier, in case you decided to overdub certain parts. And really, for tracking most elements separately, it just worked easier than having to sync to a pre-recorded drum track that was naturally human. Which usually meant it was all over the place, ever so slightly. Hopefully.

click trackSo they put a pair of headphones on the talking & burping part of the drummer, and sent a click track to our poor guy. Beep-beep, click-click, snap-snap, or the likes.

Of course some of these guys could still lay down a pretty good drum track just fine without a click track. If you don’t believe it, check out the website In Search of the Click Track. Let’s see; Pick Withers from early Dire Straits on “Six Blade Knife” – click track or not? Judging by the slightly wavy curve, it’s a non-click drum performance, but man, it’s pretty steady. How about “Every Little Thing” by Jeff Lynne? Sounds dead steady, and since it’s a Jeff Lynne production, I bet my balls on it being a click track. Yup. Almost a straight line, only ever so slightly shaky. Why? According to Jeff, he starts with a click track, then plays a hi-hat to it for about 20 seconds. Then he plays the rest of the drums separately: kick, snare, tom fills, snare fills. The goal is to get a good sounding groove going. He can admittedly play drums just fine, only not quite click steady. Interestingly, certain ELO tracks weren’t played to a click. “Rock and Roll is King” surely wasn’t. How about The Police? Stewart Copeland could lay down a mean drum track, hey? The earlier hits were clearly recorded without a click track, like “Message In The Bottle”, or “Roxanne”. But “Every Breath You Take” seems to be a click job. (It’s not like I’m dyin’ for a clit job.)

And of course we can find the early, 70s disco/pop era loop tunes, like “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees, or “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac. Cutting the best sounding, grooviest part out of the drum track, then gluing the tape together into a loop, that’s how they did it. All it needed is a couple of mic stands and maybe a pencil or two. Run around, little tape loop!

How about modern pop music and the likes? Well, they are obviously sampled and/or drum machine jobs. You will mostly find mirror flat Britney, Katy Perry or Rihanna tunes, although sometimes they do the trick of automating the tempo a little bit, just to inject the human factor back in the music. Let’s just politely say, a click track has never been in the way of good pop music.

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