Tuesday, January 16, 2018


by Mark King for proworkshop.com

For the most polished and professional sounding drum tracks our studio drummers play along with a "click track", the recording equivalent of a metronome which plays in their headphones. 

It's not difficult to make a click track once you know the basics of the process. It is really where any song should begin, setting the tempo and then recording everything in sync with it. 

One of the most important aspects of creating a click track is deciding what sound to use for the click, it needs to be succinct and well defined, with zero echo or reverb.  Remember, there is a human with ear drums on the other end of this process so you don't want the click to be an extremely annoying  sound that is piercing in any way. If the click sound is painful the drummer will instinctively avoid it instead of embracing it and you'll end up with a looser performance. 

Over the years I've tried many different ways to create click tracks. Back in the 1970's I'd set up a microphone and record my fathers mechanical metronome. It was not ideal and it was very difficult to play drums with that sound but it was all I had. 

In LA a drummer I worked with frequently preferred that I use a closed hi-hat sound for the click track. He is the only one who likes that sound though, other drummers I've worked with said the click needed to be more defined.

I've been using EZ drummer software since it first came out. These days I'm mainly using it to create click tracks that drummers don't complain about. In fact, since I've started using this I'm getting the best studio drum tracks ever. 

For the metronome-tone (the click) I like the sound of the side-stick on the snare drum, it's a big bold sound that is easy for the drummer to recognize and play with. At first I wondered if it would be too similar to a side-stick performance like you might encounter on a ballad, fortunately it has not been a problem with either of our two regular drummers. During a recent round of drummer auditions nobody complained about the click track tone so this one has become my standard.
C# above C1 is the click sound we like
The photo above shows the C# above C1 note in EZ Drummer for this sound in Logic Pro X. It's the standard drum kit that comes with the basic version of EZ Drummer.

Now that you know which note it is, you just need to use the pencil tool to drop quarter notes on the beats of the measure to create your click track. Make sure every click is the exact same level.

After creating a single measure of the click, use the loop command to make the loop run all the way to the end of the song. If you're not sure how long the song is, just create a five-minute long section of the looped drum, you can always truncate it or add to it later. 
Looped click track in Arrangement window of Logic Pro X
Don't add any emphasis to any of the beats, the live drummer does not need that and often times it's just plain confusing and distracting having one beat louder than the others. Every click should be identical in volume.

Open up the mixer in EZ Drummer, turn the snare drum track up all the way and turn down all the other tracks and effects. You want the side-stick sound to be nice and distinct but not painful or distorted. 
Everything set to minimum except snare drum which is pushed to the maximum volume
Change the name of the track to Click followed by the tempo in bpm so the track name looks like this: Click 120 bpm

Now that you've got the track running in EZ Drummer you need to make it portable for systems that don't have this software. To do this you'll export the track which will change it into a stereo wav file. First, be sure the track containing the EZ Drummer instrument is selected, this is the one that will be exported. 

Set the Yellow loop-selection bar at the top of the arrangement window so it starts exactly at 00:00 on the left and proceeds all the way to the end of the song, this will define what gets exported and the total length of your click track. 
Export Dialogue Box in Logic Pro X
On Logic Pro X press Command-E to open the Export Dialogue box, the default location for this track will be your "bounces" folder for this song which is fine, now you know where it will be. 

Notice in the above photo that the track to be exported is already correctly named because it was correctly named in Logic before the export process was begun.


The new file you're storing should already have the name from the track, in our example it was "Click 120 bpm". When everything is correct then press the enter button to complete the export process. 

Now that you've created your click track you need to go to the Finder, locate the bounces folder for your click track song and open it, now drag the click audio file back into your song starting at 00:00 on the left edge of the arrange window. Usually Logic will ask you if you want to import the tempo data as well, select YES if you get this option. Sometimes Logic forgets to ask about tempo and does not recognize it so that is why we want the tempo in the name of the click track, so we can confirm that everything matches. 
Once you have your WAV version of the click track imported into the song you can monitor it from now on while recording. You can throw the EZ Drummer track away if you're very anal about keeping your session cleaned up or your system is light on DRAM. Personally I keep the EZ Drummer click track just in case I want to make a new one or revise the original but that is personal choice. You can leave it muted and it won't use much horsepower.

MP3 is no longer a supported format, the authors have discontinued development and legal licensing. Additionally MP3 uses variable bit rate compression and other technologies that can result in inaccurate timing. 

The WAV file format recorded at the same sample rate as the song is the most accurate format for a click track and will provide the most consistent timing information.

So far we've looked at how to create the preferred clicking sound for the drummer to play and record with, now what?

Studio drummers do not need big elaborate polished productions to record with. What they really need is this good sounding click-track you just created and a simple mix of the song which should be in sync with the click-track.

I recently replaced an electronic drum track with a human drummer performance, in this case I let the drummer hear the full original composition so he could achieve similar emphasis but with a more human feel.

If you just want the studio drummer to create a new drum track for a song then I recommend you don't include any electronic percussion or drums that can possibly interfere with listening to the click-track during recording.

For our original projects at Proworkshop Recording we create a stereo song to send to the drummer. It has the click panned to the Left-side of the stereo mix and the overall mix of the song panned to the Right-side. This allows the drummer to listen to more or less of the click by adjusting the balance on his stereo to the left or right.

Simple performances, executed as in-sync with the click-track as possible is what the drummer really needs to prepare for your drum recording session.

If you're wanting to have one of our drummers create a drum track for you, follow this article and make a simple stereo song with the click-track on the left and the music mix on the right. That's what you should send to the drummer to learn the song.

For your recording session we'll need your mono click track by itself and your mono mix track of the song, these should be two wav files which start at 00:00 and progress to the end of the song. Ideally the two tracks you bring to the recording session should be the exact same as the two that you used to create the mix for the drummer to learn the song.

In our studio every song we're recording has real drums on it so instead of starting with some drum software we begin by creating a click track, then we record some basic instruments and vocals with the click, and finally, we add the real drummer performance.

It can be quite liberating just playing and recording basic tracks with a simple click track, it's easier to focus on the tempo when it's simple rather than a complex midi drum performance.

If you typically record with fake synthesizer drums during the creative process try this, turn off your drum track and listen to the parts you've already recorded with just the click-track. Do your parts sound tight? Do they groove? It's easy to let a lot of elaborate drum and percussion stuff hide poor or weak performances.

We're always interested in knowing what we need to improve in these "how to" articles so please send us your comments and feedback.

Good music to you!