To Click Or Not To Click, That Is The Question

I can remember when I first started to work in the studio how much musicians resisted using a click track. “It’s unnatural. Speeding up and slowing down gives the music a better feel,” was what you heard all the time. The thing is, they were not wrong, but the world has gone to a click anyway and today it’s difficult to find any young musician who isn’t comfortable playing to one.

Bassist Paul ILL playing to a click track
L.A. studio bassist (and my good buddy) Paul ILL playing to a click

It’s Easier In Some Ways

A click certainly makes the producer and engineer’s life easier for sure. It’s easier to edit between takes, easier to set up delays and reverbs timed to the track, sync sequencers, and easier for vocalists to sit in the pocket. There’s something about not using a click that does work well though, regardless if it’s intentional or not.

In one of my Deconstructed Hits that I do for members of my Hit Makers Club, I analyzed “Goodbye Stranger” by Supertramp and found that the speed intentionally went up a full 10bpm at the guitar solo and that added an excitement that wouldn’t be there otherwise. Same with Lionel Ritchie’s “All Night Long” after the bridge/breakdown. Goosing that tempo can do wonders getting the listener into it during the final minutes of a song.

The Past vs. Now

If you really want a good comparison between tempo changes of hits from the past versus today’s hits, check out Paul Lamere’sIn Search Of The Click Track” posts where he goes in depth on tunes from different eras. In the meantime, let me point out a few that caught my eye.

The first one is The Stone’s “Sympathy For The Devil.” Watch the tempo deviations as the song progresses.

Yep, it goes up by +6 and down by -10bpm.

“Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who is pretty steady, but that’s what you’d expect when playing to a sequencer.

Let’s come closer to today. “Animals” by Nickleback was definitely done to a click.

“I Love Rock n’ Roll” by Britney Spears is done with sequenced drums. The beginning doesn’t count because it’s just Britney saying, “Hey, is this thing on?”

I bet if you play the Joan Jett version it feels better!

The thing is, A-list drummers are masterful at playing to a click and can make you forget it’s really happening. I wish more artists would choose to cut their song that way, but I doubt that will happen until the next trend in music occurs (which hopefully leans back to real players again).

The fact is that we’ve grown accustomed to songs built around a click thanks to songwriting based on loops and samples. There are fewer bands today than ever (I bet there isn’t even a garage band in your neighborhood) and everyone with a home studio programs their songs. We may get tempo perfection but we’re losing some feel and excitement in the process.

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