Recording “in time” – The click & guide track

Recroding-in-time-click-and-guide-track

Recording "in time" - the feeling

After the recording the feeling and intensity of the creative performance can only be produced to a limited extent. It can only be improved and enhanced to a maximum. But where nothing is present, it is also difficult to emphasize something. Therefore, “recording in time”, i.e. recording after a heartbeat, is already considered essential and for this a click track or the guide track can be the orientation.

Improve your recording with a Click-Track and/or Guide-Track!

With the digital possibilities, the user can make many corrections and manipulations to the recording in the editing process, before it even gets to the real mixing. Here, the strokes can be set more to the “beat”, the length of recordings can be lengthened or shortened, or even the pitch and intensity can be changed. There are numerous audio tools for this editing, some of which are already on board with the most common DAWs or have even been integrated in a slimmed-down form by other plug-in manufacturers. However, some tools are also available for purchase at considerable premium prices.

Editing and the intervention in the performance

But what does editing do? Here, an intervention is made in the artistic performance and a lot of time may be needed until the desired result is achieved. And if you take this step into your own hands, you will probably have to familiarize yourself with the possibilities and the functions first. This can quickly lead to frustration, or you may correct too much and overshoot the target. There are people in the music industry who do this as their main job and only do certain editing work. So only drum editing or only tuning of vocal recordings. Why? Because these people are simply phenomenal in their work and deliver a result that perfectly meets, if not exceeds, the cost-benefit factor.
But the artist himself, can take another route here and it’s not even that complicated: Simply make the recording itself “better”.

Der Herzschlag und die Anpassung

Certainly, there are songs that seem excellent and only feel so when they are played freely and without a tempo. These live quasi from the fact that they are not dominated by a fixed groove or tempo. But usually a song has a basic beat – a heartbeat that you or the whole band follows. That heartbeat may well be a person in the band. It’s not uncommon that the drummer or the rhythm guitarist is that kind of memeber who the whole band follows.

If you are, want or should be this “heartbeat” , then it is necessary that you are “timing-sure” and can hold a tempo. It’s easy to speed up in the driving passages of a song, to get out of a half-time bridge with less momentum. Or as I’ve often experienced myself, after a drummer’s fill, he’s not right back on one in the beat. In live performance, 100% timing is not always as noticeable as in a recording, because the viewer and listener process much more impressions than just the music itself. On a recording, however, the timing should fit. And that doesn’t mean you have to hit the beat straight at every millisecond. Human feeling plays a big role, of course – especially in handmade music. When I edit drum recordings myself, a measurement of 5-10 milliseconds is a good guideline for me. It also depends on the song and the overall feel. If I want it to be very “tight”, then I put beats outside this range closer to the respective beat time from the song tempo.

And yet this adjustment should be within a certain range and for this there are helpful tools that can be used before this intervention.

The click track & guide track

The click track

The majority of all musicians have already had the well known click track on their ears. Mostly this is set with a sequence of notes: “BEEP, Bleep, Bleep, BEEP,….”. I hated it! It annoyed me more than it helped me. For me it became quite fast a “CLICK, Click, Click, Click” like an analogue metronome, but this was partly also very difficult to hear, because it does breaks through the sound of a massiv recording sound.

But to capture a song idea or approach, this often worked well. For practicing, it is definitely also recommended to have a metronome at hand.

 

The simple drum beat

You can also go one step further and create a drum track as a guide track for songwriting, e.g. with a standard beat.

Logic X Pro users know immediately that they can switch on the virtual “Logic Drummer” here.

Alternatively, many DAWs come with samples, or check out Toontrack’s website, which has created EZDrummer, a really great and easy-to-use virtual drummer tool. BUT CAUTION! For songwriting or even for the first idea, you can quickly get lost in the numerous variations and possibilities. Try to keep it simple at the beginning and use it as a timing guide.

 

The Guide Track

But now you’re playing in a band and you’ve finished your songwriting together in the rehearsal room, arranged the song, set the tempo and already rehearsed it intensively together. It’s studio time and the song is now ready to be recorded. As an audio engineer, I have often experienced the scene where the drummer had a click or “bleep” in his ear and a guitarist and bassist were also playing along. They would play the song structure to the drummer as a guide. Sometimes the singer was called in, because all together were not so united, in which song part one was now concretely.

The problem was that each band member knew the song well, but not inside out on every beat, or one of the players simply misplayed and thus irritated the recording drummer. And it should be noted – there are those drummers who can sit down and deliver the song, without any other band member, from the first to the last beat flawlessly to the point with groove and feel for the recording. However, it is not the rule and that is not a bad thing.

You or you as a band can make the studio time super pleasant if you write down the song structure in advance (in the respective studio, but even better in advance at home), record the tempo or if necessary also the tempo changes and then record a GUIDE TRACK.

The rhythm guitarist can, for example, record the entire song cleanly once with a single track after the click/bleep. A rudimentary sound is perfectly sufficient. If the drummer has a close relationship to the bass sound, which is not so rare, he can also put his guide track over it and then the singer can sing over it once. At the beginning, leave 4 or 8 beats from a metronome for counting in, as well as in parts where no drums are playing.

Then export all three versions (guitar only, guitar + bass, guitar + bass + vocals together) and the drummer can prepare himself for the studio session in his own four walls or in the rehearsal room.

 

Once you are in the studio, you have the following advantages:

  • The song flow is set, there is no more getting bogged down when playing along.
  • The drummer has a very familiar guide track on his ear and can fully concentrate on his recording
  • It is significant for all, more relaxed the drum recordings. Everyone who is, wants to be or has to be on the spot can pay attention to the recording and does not have to worry about playing along
    as a guide, the recordings will be better.
  • This means that there is less, or in the best case no need to edit the drums before moving on to the next instrument.

MY ADVICE: Send the guide tracks to the sound engineer of the studio in advance. He can prepare the recording session in the DAW and gets an overview of the song right away. And a sound engineer, who is interested in creating good recordings with you, is grateful for the information in advance, because he can also get a much better overview.

Solution & Conclusion to the click & guide track

It can’t be ignored that mistakes in a recording process really add up from the beginning to the end. If the drummer isn’t “in time,” the bass won’t groove, the lead guitar hook line will seem off, and the vocalist will have to take a few more time to sing on the appropriate gap where everyone is supposed to come together.

If you as a band take care to create a solid foundation of “in-time” and “groove” as early as the drum recordings, it will save you a lot of time and stress in the recording process that follows. And none of the people present will need another click/bleep on their ears after the drums – except in passages where no drums are playing. But even here, basic chords (guitar or keys) played in advance can help for the final recording, and you will rarely need another click track on studio day.

The less editing you have to do at the end, the better. You have more time in the studio, so you can record a few more takes if necessary to improve the sound or to capture unplanned and spontaneous ideas additionally.

Less time for editing also means less cost for post-production (if you employ an external audio engineer) or less stress for you if you take over this task.

  • Orient yourself to a “heartbeat” for the recording. Be it a click track or a guide track.
  • Practice, practice, practice playing “in time.” This won’t happen overnight, but everyone can get better at it.
  • Get familiar with different tempos and try to play to a desired tempo off the cuff.
  • Create a guide track and practice with this guide track, which you then also take to the studio. It will save you a lot of time in the studio and your recordings will most likely go much better.
  • Try a virtual drummer (Logic, EzDrummer) for songwriting, but keep the groove simple.

Links

I hope you enjoyed the blog post and would be very happy about your sharing:

Feedback

  • What are your experiences within a band or as a solo artist regarding the “heartbeat” in music?
  • What tools do you use to stay “in time”?

Tell me about your experiences from studio recordings and a click or gudie track.

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