This is not a pretty subject for anyone. When you bring up the word “metronome” in a recording session, musicians often give you the evil eye.
You suddenly turn into the tempo police that everyone wants to avoid.
You are potentially killing the band’s groove! Well, allow me to shed some light on one of music’s most important aspects that you can by no means overlook. Believe me, I’ve experienced it in countless recordings; when things fall into the perfect tempo, everybody’s smile just grows bigger.
Add to that a killer melody and you have an amazing track. It is kind of an unexplainable phenomenon, but 100% true.
So, how do you set up and record to a click track in Pro Tools?
The easiest way to add a click track to pro tools is to go to the “track” menu, and click on the option called “create click track”. This works from pro tools 8 and beyond but for all other previous versions, it is not that simple. In the older versions of Pro Tools, what you should do is add a new track and set it to be an “aux input”, then go to the inserts section and from the “plug-in” drop-down menu choose “instrument” and then “click”.
Is that all I have to say about this immensely important aspect of music production? Of course not, keep on reading because there is a lot more to learn on this subject.
Surrender To The Pro Tools Click Track
This is something that you need to speak about with all of the involved in every session.
Furthermore, it is important to work hard with the click before setting a foot inside a studio. I have seen it happen many times: a band comes in to record their material and they are just not ready for it. This is to say they haven’t internalized the click on the songs yet.
Getting them to surrender to the click is allowing them to convey the vibe to a song while adjusting to the time signature. This way, the tune will sound relaxed, and fit in the grid perfectly. After the main track is cut and perfect, you can use the grid on all overdubs; they will fit naturally and sit easily on the mix.
Home Studio Click Tracks
This is even more important if you are working at your home studio.
Preparing a track to record, doing all the overdubs, and instruments alone with no click can be a recipe for disaster. Trust me, I’ve done it in the past and it will drive you insane to try to fit that overdub over that other overdub when both are out of tempo.
Most of the time the result is that you have to start over from scratch with a click to do it the right way. Adding a click track on Pro Tools is the first track you have to add to every production. Yes, that is a must for all of us every time.
As much as it is a must for all of us to record with a click track or metronome, there are some exceptions. Let’s take a look at them, shall we?
· Full bands – Sometimes, full bands that are well-rehearsed and have a heavy-hand drummer can do better without the click than with it. The crucial aspect to bear in mind is that all of the above conditions need to be fulfilled for a good performance. If the drummer is tight, locked-in with the tempo, then you’ll have a great-sounding, organic, flowing performance. If he or she is not, you can always go back to the click.
· Solo acoustic – Some singers and songwriters have a groove to their right hand that we need to capture on the take. When that is the case, a loud click to their ears might defeat that amazing intimacy we’re trying to achieve. In those case scenarios and if the artist is not too far off-tempo, I would recommend sparing the use of a metronome.
In this cool video legendary producer, Butch Vig breaks down the making of Something in the way by Nirvana. If you pay close attention at minute 2.30 he explains how they went “bar by bar” in the overdubs due to the absence of a click track.
How To Add A Click Track In Pro Tools
Because adding a click track to all of the productions we do on Pro Tools is so important, this is exactly how to do it in several methods. I am not going to include the “add an external source as a MIDI track” because I think it is completely obsolete; Pro Tools’ included metronome works perfectly well.
The Easiest Way To Add A Click Track In Pro Tools
For those working on Pro Tools 8 or beyond, you can simply go to one of the top menus named “Track” and from that drop-down menu you can just click “Create Click Track” and voilà, your tempo track will appear immediately. Here’s a video of absolute Pro Tools legend Jon Connolly explaining how to do it.
The Alternate Way To Add A Click Track In Pro Tools
Those working in Pro Tools 7 and below won’t have this easy option available. Don’t worry, it is still not rocket science, it’s easy too; just not that easy.
First, you have to add a new track as if it was a new instrument to record but you need to set it as an “Aux Input” instead of the standard “Audio Track” from that drop-down menu. Once you’ve done that, go to the insert section, select “Plug-in”, go to “Instrument” and then “Click (mono)”.
This will bring up a menu that allows you to fine-tune your click track to make it more of your liking; here´s a video example of a user doing it in real-time.
From the click menu, you can modify the volume of the “accented” versus the “unaccented” notes. This means that you can drop a loud “ONE” beat and let beats two, three, and four a little quieter. This is great to make the ground beat clearer; having louder downbeats is very useful when the mix is crowded and you still want the musician to hear the click.
Selecting The Sound In Pro Tools
Speaking of making a musician hear the beat clearer, you can also change the sound of the click from the same menu. For example, you can select either a classic marimba or a cowbell sound among many others.
Headphones, Clicks, And A Difficult Mix
Selecting a different sound in quieter takes can be especially helpful.
This one time I had a close-to-deaf singer-songwriter in my studio who wanted the click to his ears louder than life. At the same time, we were cutting a solo record full of emotional ballads and powerful slow tunes.
The first takes were completely unusable; the click track on his headphones would bleed on every microphone.
What we did was to choose a sound from the list that was trebly enough for him to hear it through the mix, that way it didn’t need to be so loud. The result was a cleaner take and a happy customer.
Here’s How I Set Up Click Tracks In Pro Tools
What I do is take advantage of Pro Tools setup options.
If you go to the “Setup” menu and choose the “Preferences” option at the very bottom, you’ll get to a menu with many tabs. From that menu, choose the “MIDI” tab and then check the box next to “Automatically Create Click Track in New Sessions” to turn it on. Now every time you open up a new session, your click track will be there. Bear in mind that the default tempo is 120 bpm and that you can turn on and off your metronome using the number 7 of the numeric keypad.
What if you don’t know the beat of the song?
This is all great so far, but what if we don’t know the bpm to a specific song? This is a not-so-uncommon scenario in which you might receive a track to build a production upon and you don’t get any more info about it. Moreover, in these days of distant collaborations, being able to identify a track’s bpm is crucial for a good result.
Meet The Pro Tools Identify Beat Function
Pro Tools offers a solution to this kind of situation. You need to use a tool named “Identify Beat”. Let’s divide this into different steps:
1. Put the audio track in your new Pro Tools session.
2. Identify the beat in it. If it is a 4/4 time signature, you will have to count “one, two, three, four” in a section of the track.
3. Once you have a selection of one measure in whatever time signature it is, you have to let Pro Tools know that what you have highlighted is a measure with the four beats in it (for example).
4. Open the command mode hitting Command+1 and make sure you are in the “Conductor Track” mode. You’ll see the little image of a man conducting with batons at the bottom far right of the menu; it should be blue.
5. Bring up the “Identify Beat” menu either with Command+I or from the “Event” menu.
6. You need to tell Pro Tools your selection is one measurement and the time signature it is at. Once you let it do its magic, it will give you a number.
7. Repeat the operation in another section of the same track and double-check to be sure.
You can check this video for an example.
In this video to see this feature in action in two different music styles.
If you have no idea what the tempo in the song is but are confident you can tap it in manually, you can input the tempo of the track with the letter “T” in your keyboard. Simply make sure the number in the tempo menu is highlighted when you press the letter T or it won’t work.
Pro Tools Click Track Conclusion
The tempo on any music production is an absolute must. It doesn’t matter if you can play at the speed of light or sing like Whitney Houston in the eighties, if you are not in tune and on time, it all becomes a wasted effort.
Let talent shine through every production and avoid basic aspects from crippling a great song by always having a click track. You might be recording an exception and for once refrain to use it, but it has to be the exception and not the rule. If you do it often enough, you will train your ears to spot off-tempo tunes in a heartbeat.
Learn to master the click and you’ll take a giant leap in your music career.
Happy (metronome-driven) recording!