Click tracks are like Kryptonite to musicians. There isn’t a lot of enjoyment one gets from recording with them.
Click tracks sound like nails being hammered into a coffin. A coffin you’ll find the remnants of your soul whimpering in. OK, maybe that’s a little harsh, but clicks aren’t fun and can suck the life out of a groove sometimes.
However, click tracks are often vital to a recording session. They’re a necessity, but one that can rob a session of its vibe.
Connoisseur Of 8th Notes
One of the shortcomings of a click track is that it’s impartial to wherever the 8th note may be sitting. Which means, it really has no feel. Anyone who has spent a lot of time cutting records can write a dissertation on how much the 8th note may vary between grooves. It’s a subtle, but hugely important detail.
There is a lot of blank space in between two clicks. A lot can happen in that great canyon of space. A lot of interpretation can be made.
In theory, you could lock to a click and still not have nailed the feel. But how, if it’s in time?! Playing in time is only part of the job. Negotiating the distance in between the clicks is a far more difficult challenge.
This is one of the things that finessed drummers do. They define the space. I work with a great drummer named Doug Yowell on occasion. His sensitivity to the placement of the 8th note is super refined. I would say he’s a connoisseur of 8th notes. He has a masterful control over the what the youngsters call “quantization’ (or what we old types call “feel”). It’s the space between the notes.
My aim is to create a mood while recording. “Click, Click, Click, Click…” may create a mood, but not one of happiness and comfort. A traditional click is often restrictive to an artist’s performance.
This led me to the idea of creating my own loops to use as a click track. I would clap my hands, tap keys on glasses, sweep a broom on the floor, stomp my feet and use whatever was around as percussion.
The goal is to create not only a groove in time, but one with some sort of feel related to the song.
Of course, once you start doing this, it doesn’t give you a lot of flexibility in moving the tempo around. This is why before you even think about recording you should spend some time with a metronome to lock the tempo. Do your homework first!!
This was the technique I used on the Lonely and the Moose record “And All Of The Space In The Whole Wide World.” We recorded the album in a cabin at a horse ranch in Colorado. Take the song “Lonely” as an example: Listen
The homemade click loop worked so well we decided to keep it on the final recording. On occasion, these loops can become part of the ambience of a song.
To create the homemade click track for the “Lonely,” I did the following: stomp for 4 bars, find the best bar, cut it and loop. I would tap on the countertop for 4 bars and pick the best bar. Then loop it. Next? A broom on the floor to create a scraping sound… and how bout some crumbling paper? I kept going until it felt “vibey.”