Nothing is like in the past when it comes to music. The sound, the dynamics, the general loudness, the genre, and the biggest difference is something that can’t really be described in words. In the world of music, many terms are used, such as groove, feel, flow. These terms, you will admit, are generally accepted as the standard in describing playing style. For example, you will say: “wow, this song grooves”, “this drummer has a great feel”, “that songs have amazing flow” and everyone will understand you what you mean, even no one can explain what is that.
Many world-famous and beloved bands such as Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Iron Maiden and so on (all great bands are from the UK – coincidence ?), did not use the metronome while recording their hits. Why? Who cares? These are all great songs that will stay forever. Remember Iron Maiden’s Trooper? The most obvious drums rushing up after first fill and again, and again. Nicko certainly didn’t use the click track while recording.
When to use an in-ear click track
Nowadays, almost everything is recorded with a metronome. In fact, many songs have programmed drums, swapped samples, quantized guitars, bass, drums. These things help us achieve the perfect sounding song. We live in a digital era, so we should get the most of it. When you record any instrument in the assistance of metronome you’ll be able to make those fine-tunings on DAW’s grid and achieving that perfect timing. Additionally, if the drummer uses metronome, or a click track in live performance it will help his band companions stay “in time”.
So whether it’s in the studio, live performance, rehearsal, we definitely recommend using a metronome. It will help you build a click track to use with in earsystems for musicians. The click is very useful when performing live because then you can rely on backing tracks. For example, if you want to play instrumental or sound effects backing track, a click playing through an IEM system will help you stay in tempo throughout the whole track. That would be impossible without the click. Check out my other post, 7 Best In Ear Monitor Systems for Every Budget
You may not be familiar with this, but also in studio work, click tracks are a crucial thing, especially if working remotely with musicians. For example, let’s say you have an idea for a new song. Ok, you’ll record the demo with your phone or hand recorder, or anything like that. But what if you want to record a whole song instrument by instrument. Make that click track in the desired tempo. Record your idea following that tempo, and you’ll be ready to send it to (for example) guitarist from the other side of the globe.
Make sure that the click track you’ve made is the same sample rate as the guitarist’s project. Otherwise, it may happen that due to sampling rate changes, pitch, and tempo of the click track changes also. While the guitarist finishes recording you can send a drummer, bassist, singer, keyboardist to finish their part of the job. When everyone records their part and sends you tracks back, you will be able to load them in your DAW and enjoy the process of editing, quantizing (if needed), mixing, and mastering.
Why is an in ear click track useful for drummers?
As a drummer, you should know that developing your speed and technique doesn’t just depend on hitting a snare drum or a practice pad randomly. Take advantage of click, which if playing live, can be fed into your in ear monitor. Set your metronome to slowest tempo, put your headphones if you don’t want to annoy your family members, and start practice with it. By increasing tempo day by day, you’ll see that you developed your speed. Your wrists became more flexible, and you’ll feel that you can play your drums more relaxed while keeping a solid tempo! That was all about drummer’s exercises, and that is a way more complex topic, so we’ll skip it for now.
Now comes the real thing, performance. The drummers are the foundation of every band and drummer’s primary obligation is to keep the band in time. Because of that their playing has to be solid as a rock. Nothing must throw the drummer out of the tempo, and the most efficient comrade in that is nothing more than just a simple click. Although you are a musician with an amazing sense of rhythm and tempo, big shows can pose a serious threat to you at maintaining a constant tempo. There is no drummer who will make it without a metronome. Many will say that using a metronome in a live gig loses that “live” feeling, but it is certainly beneficial to keep the whole band tight.
Even the greatest professionals become insecure (proven countless times) when they are carried away by the big stage, when the adrenaline rushes through their veins, the audience in a trance screaming and applauding. You can only know that feeling if you have been on stage and in a given situation. It is completely normal and understandable to be carried away by the atmosphere to speed up some part of the song, especially a song that is highly energetic.
I remember the first time I watched Deep Purple – California Jamming (1974), the legendary Ian Paice was speeding up some songs so much that it was pretty noticeable. He played some songs so fast that he couldn’t play some of his best fills. That was totally unexpected from such a drummer. In any case, that was 50 years ago. And I would be the happiest man in the world if I could attend that concert.
How does a click track work?
It’s actually very simple. With the help of a hardware device called metronome, or you can simply download a free metronome phone application, you can set the desired tempo, connect headphones (in-ear monitors), and play along with click. Additionally, every digital audio workstation software has a metronome in it so you can bring your laptop to the gig as well, yet, maybe the smartphone would be the best option. If you use backing tracks, then you even won’t need a click track … in essence…if they do not have a certain pause (silence) in which you could lose pace. In any case, a click could be helpful to you along with the backing tracks.
We’re not going to lie, in many cases, you don’t need to play a click throughout the song. It could be enough for you just to determine the tempo at which you will play. Let’s explain through an example. If you watched Monsters Of Rock – Live In Moscow (1991) Pantera – Cowboys from hell, that very well known intro is played as a sample. That was enough for Dimebag to play guitar intro in time and his brother Winnie to get in with his fill. Song started, all band members know the song’s tempo, and everyone is happy. In essence, the most important thing for you is the loneliness of the first 4 clicks to give you the exact determinant. The common thing is that after a fast-paced song, if you start a slower ballad, under the influence of the previous song you will start playing that ballad much faster than it should. It is basically an unwritten rule.
How do I set up a click track?
Young artists have thousands of questions about how to use and setup clicks in a live performance. There are several ways and you think and choose the one that suits you and your performance style. When using click for live performance, in-ear monitors are crucial since you certainly won’t use floor monitors so everyone can hear clicks. The good news is that you don’t have to spend money on expensive equipment. You can use your personal computer or smartphone. Whatever option you choose, you’ll need a cable with 3.5mm jack from phones output on one side, and 6.5mm jack to mixer’s input on the other side. Simply connect your headphones to your mixer and you’re done.
Make sure the click signal doesn’t go through the main output yet only to your in-ear monitors. Now, you’ll be able to monitor your click. Now that the signal comes to us we can decide whether to save presets for each song and scroll it during a performance or make a sort of click playlist on your PC. Using a laptop, for example, is perhaps the best solution, because through any DAW (Ableton, Reaper, Cubase, FL, Logix) you can play not only a click but also a backing track, launch samples, and the like. You can put music or just monitoring a band on one ear and put a click on the other earphone. Many people don’t like this way of monitoring while many musicians can’t do otherwise. It is simply a matter of personal choice and the options are endless. Find your method to make the user click in the best and most productive way without losing on performance quality and your joy.
Frank Edwards is the founder and owner of churchsoundtips.com and has over 10 years experience running sound in his local church.