Click Tracks: Best 101 Guide

A click track is a digital audio tool that provides a steady tempo that the band can play along with. 

They are typically generated by drum machines or metronomes. Many bands use them regularly for both live and studio sessions. The main benefits include making editing easier and making a musician more precise.

Click tracks are introduced as a problem-solving mechanism for players who tend to speed up or slow done. They became a “must-have” tool that record producers use to make the band sound tight.

After reading this article, you will know if they are the right fit for you.

Invention of metronome

Click tracks are used by musicians to keep time and stay in sync with each other. They are also used by producers to create consistent sound on recordings.

Before the invention of click tracks, musicians would have to count out beats manually or use different instruments to keep time. 

This was very difficult and could lead to counting mistakes or other problems. The invention of electronic metronomes solved this problem by allowing musicians to keep time without needing an external source of sound.

The first metronomes were mechanical devices invented in 1714 by Dutch mathematician Marin Mersenne as part of his work on musical theory. 

In 1879, a Swiss clockmaker named Dietrich Nikolaus Winkel designed a device called the Metronome-Regulator No 1, capable of producing clicks at different speeds, depending on how much it was wound up. 

This design became the standard for most metronomes until well into the 20th century.

metronome

What does a click track sound like?

Click tracks can change the measurements, accents, and sounds. There are many different sounds, from cowbells to beeps and drum beats, but you can customize them easily. 

The bottom line is it can sound however you want.

Here are a few important tips:

  • Tip 1 – You need to be able to hear the sound easily. If it is not loud enough, this will distract you and be hard to follow while recording. While exporting the backing song, make sure that the click track is slightly louder.
  • Tip 2 – If you like to hear the metronome sound loud, use in-ear monitors instead of headphones. Drummers like their metronome sound to be very loud. It causes bleed from headphones into mics. In ears will prevent the bleed, and you will get a clean drum recording.
  • Tip 3 – Experiment with the sounds. Try putting a cowbell or some musical instrument instead of a regular click track. You may discover it is better for your groove.
  • Tip 4 – Make sure to pick the right number of bars. Some riffs have 8 bars instead of 4. If the song changes, make sure the click track follows those changes. All DAWs have an option where you can customize a click track, so it slows done and changes accent and bars along with the song.

What is the purpose of a click track?

The purpose of a click track is accuracy, unity, and synchronization. With click track as a drummer, you get closer to a drum machine in terms of timing. Thanks to this, the rhythm section or the whole band will sound much tighter.

You can use them both on stage or in the studio but before that, make sure you utilize them in your practice.

Practicing with a metronome will make your brain and body adjust to the steady rhythm and wake up your measurement sense or “where the one is.”

So, when you mute the click track, your tempo will remain steady and your groove solid without speeding up or slowing down when you go into chops.

They are used throughout the music industry to enable precision and efficiency. Finding an exact place in time can be very difficult without either click tracks or a human conductor. 

Each instrument depends on the timing of all other instruments. This requires a timekeeping system to achieve unison throughout an entire song.

click tracks

Is a click track a metronome?

A click track and a metronome used to be different. A click track is computer-generated, and a metronome is a physical piece of equipment.

However, now there are metronome apps that you can use and customize just like a click track.

Physical metronomes had few sound options, and you couldn’t change the tempo. Now metronome apps have a tempo and a flash option.

Not only that, but you can customize sounds and accents and automatically increase the tempo.

Click track or metronome; which is better?

Click track is something you can export as wav or mp3 and you can play around with the tempo while on metronome there is no such thing.

Check out this image as an example of click track for the song that changes the tempo.

Photo by ask.audio

Apps/DAWs and online tools for click tracks

By using click tracks, you will rarely be in a situation to spend any money. There are a few ways to get yourself a click track:

Download a click track – more in the form of a play-along, aka drumless tracks for drummers to practice with.

I found a cool page to download click tracks on Drumeo’s website.

Generate a click track – generate a click track yourself in the tempo you want and with the desired accents or sounds. Here is one of the rare online tools where you can generate your click track in mp3.

Use an app for mobile or DAW for desktop – by using full software, you get access to plenty of features to customize a click track. 

Here are a couple of free or very cheap apps I recommend:

All DAWs have a metronome within; the most popular are:

click tracks live

Click tracks in live situations

Do drummers use click track live?

Drummers can use click tracks when playing live music, but they are not necessary tools. This is a skill you need to develop, and it takes time, so you can use it in a live situation.

Click tracks can help drummers avoid speeding up or slowing down during live performances. 

This is a common pitfall for novice performers. Keeping the same pace from start to finish helps keep performances uniform and satisfying. It is good for both performers and audience members.

Some drummers prefer to use metronomes while preparing for their live gig. Yet, relying on their own internal rhythm and the tempo of other musicians to stay on time during the performance.

Although very helpful, they are not widely used by drummers in live situations. 

Why?

Because not all gigs are at a high level of production where this is possible. You need to have the right equipment so only the drummer can hear the metronome sound. 

This can be done through a digital mixer or a sample pad like Roland SPD-SX.

Also, some sets are long, and bands go from song to song and from tempo to tempo without pausing. It is almost impossible to utilize click tracks in those kinds of situations.

Do you need a click track? 

Using one can help your performance sound tight, though it may be challenging to get used to. 

You must remember: it’s not all about perfection, don’t forget to put your emotion. The audience can easily feel if it’s missing.

A click track is not for drummers only. It is helpful for musicians who need to stay on beat and tempo during a performance and develop a sense of time.

Bands or groups playing together should have all musicians play with a click track. This helps keep each person on the same page, especially if playing to backtrack during their set.

Click tracks can be used for live shows, but it might take some practice before the band gets used to them.

How do you play live with a click track?

Using a click track during live performances has many benefits, but it’s important that you set it up correctly beforehand. 

Before I guide you on setting up the click track and your options, here are a few important things to pay attention to.

  • Make sure your click track is in sync with the rest of your song.
  • Practice in advance to ensure the click is set at an appropriate volume and location.
  • Set up some extra clicks in the beginning so everyone can check their levels and then gradually tap into the main groove.

If you want to hear only metronome sounds, the process is pretty straightforward. What I suggest next:

  1. Download Soundbrenner metronome app
  2. Make a setlist of songs with the tempo for each
  3. Plugin your in-ears or headphones
  4. Click the song name, and count it on

If the sound isn’t loud enough, here are the steps to take:

  1. Plugin your phone to a mixer
  2. Plugin your mixer to an amplifier so you can control the volume
  3. A simple tool like Behringer P2 will do the job

The click track situation gets more complicated if you need to hear a backing track. 

Drummers usually do this by using sample pads like Roland SPD-SX. This sampler allows you full control of both click track and background track and is built for a live performance.

Another (more complicated way) is to use a laptop with a DAW. Here is a full guide I recently discovered on how to run a backing track live.

click tracks in studio

Click tracks in a studio

Do professional bands use a click track while recording?

Yes, many professional bands use click tracks in the studio. A click track can help give a band the ability to create the perfect song structure and ensure that the tempo of each section feels right.

This helps to ensure that everything is perfectly in time, thus making the final product sound more polished and professional.

The primary reason is to synchronize the music with other tracks. Often, multiple takes of a song can provide some difficulty in aligning those various takes. For example, if you have a verse that appears twice in the song.

A second but related reason is to help the musicians stay together as a band. For example, when there are long pauses between parts or complicated timing.

Should I record to a click track?

Yes, you should record to a click track. It can help ensure that you are coming in at the right time and make sure everything stays in sync. Click tracks can also make it easier to slice up individual tracks if the song needs editing later.

Most people only use a click track when recording drums and bass guitar, but you may want to use them for other instruments if you are doing overdubbing.

Overall, using a click track gives your music an element of professionalism and will save lots of time when it comes to editing and rerecording.

How do I make a click track? 

You can make a click track easily in any DAW. I will show you how to make one in Studio One, but it is similar to all others. To make a click track in, you need to do the following:

  • Open a DAW (like Studio One) and create an audio project.
metronome app
  • Click on the “Metronome Setup” icon or the wrench icon in the bottom right corner, next to a small metronome icon that is used to turn metronome sound on and off
use click track in daw
  • You have the options “Accent”, “Beat”, and “Offbeat.”
app for click tracks
  • You can customize the sound of accents, off and on beats.
  • Precount will add x bars of click before recording starts
  • Preroll will add x bars of song before recording starts
  • Below you can turn click on and of or add it just before the song but not along with the song
  • Finally you can render a track so you can see it in the project and export later if you wish
generate a click track

To export a click track

  • double click on it
  • go to song
  • than export mixdown
  • hit ok
How do you make a click track change with tempo? 

You can make a click track change with tempo on almost every DAW.

In Studio one, to open a click track you just need to click the clock icon in the song menu.

axport click track
  • Next click the pencil icon in the upper menu
  • Let’s say you need to change the tempo from bar 3 to bar 5. You would use the pen to draw it and you would end up with something like this.
change click track tempo

To change the switch back to an arrow tool and, go to the box you just created and move the upper edge up or down. You will see the change where not says 100 BPM.

Are there drummers who don’t use click tracks?

Yes, a lot of drummers don’t use them. Drummers who don’t use click tracks include Danny Carey of Tool, Nick Mason of Pink Floyd, and Ringo Starr of the Beatles. 

Why?

Some drummers might prefer not to use it because it is constricting or unnatural, so they get nervous about having to play perfectly on the beat.

Some people say that drummers shouldn’t use click tracks because they do not help develop a sense of rhythm.

Using it can help drummers be more steady, but drumming without one may help you develop a better feel for music.

Also, for example, if you want to record your band playing in a room together without headphones, you can’t use a click track. There will be too much noise bleeding from the click track into the drums and other microphones.

My advice is that if you are a beginner or an intermediate player, you should explore click tracks and see if it will work out for you.

Wrap up

A click track is a recorded track that people record as they perform. 

The click track makes sure that everyone is playing together at the perfect time, making recording easier. It is useful to have a click track, especially if you have started your musical career or changed the band.

The process is relatively simple whether you will be using a click track live or in the studio. You have to follow your producer’s lead and synchronize most of your timekeeping efforts with the drummer’s. 

Whether playing along with a pre-recorded drum track or with a drummer on stage, a click track is useful for all musicians. As we’ve seen above, it can benefit both the band and the audience.

Some people think that click tracks make music more monotonous, but I have to disagree due to the benefits I have mentioned above. What do you think? Will you start using click tracks?

Denis Loncaric

Denis Loncaric

My name is Denis. I am a drummer, percussionist, music enthusiast, and blogger. Drums have been my passion for 15 years now. My idea is to write about the things I like and I am interested in. I want to share my drum passion with fellow musicians who walk, talk, and breathe drums.

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