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History and origins of the click track Virtual Instrument Plugins
Old 16th May 2012
  #1
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History and origins of the click track

Hey guys, does anybody know how the click track infiltrated the music production world? How it started, first band/producers to use it? What equipment was used to produce the early click tracks?

I'm aware of it's origins as a synchronization tool, but what about the way that it's most commonly used now?

I understand that are many genres that sound better with absolutely fixed timing and some are even defined by quantization. Dance music in general since Viennese waltzes, through rock n' roll, funk etc. usually rely on fixed tempo, but still, there's a huge abyss between a song recorded live with very little or practically no tempo variations and a song recorded with a click track.

Does anybody have any idea of the chain of events that led to the situation we have now?
Old 16th May 2012
  #2
Gear Guru
I started in the late 70s and the only time I ever saw a click was movie or ad work. For movies, composers would write to a click so the music would hit events in the picture. For ads, it was because the music had to be a very specific length.
I don't remember straight music projects using a click until drum machines came along.
Old 16th May 2012
  #3
Lives for food
 

First I know of it is in the 40s.

Lots of click used in the 50s (where there was a smaller group and no conductor).

Heavy use in the 60s... you can really hear it on a lot of Jefferson Airplane stuff. Now that a lot of 50's-60s basic tracks are out there, it's much easier to hear the clicks. Listen to the raw vocal track of the Monkees Daydream Believer. The click is cranking away there low in the background bleed.

Click tracks have been a tool for me from day one.
Old 16th May 2012
  #4
Motown legend
 
Bob Olhsson's Avatar
 

It was invented for film scoring and probably first used as early as the 1930s.
Old 16th May 2012
  #5
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Thread Starter
Wow! I had no idea it was that old or that there were many tracks in the 50s and 60s which used click tracks - amazing!

Back in pre-drum machine world what was used as a click track? Did people record a metronome?
Old 16th May 2012
  #6
Lives for gear
Well the metronome was patented in 1815....
Old 16th May 2012
  #7
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The old fashoned way... set up a metronome in front of a mic and go have coffee while you record a track of just click.

Or.. feed a live metronome to the drummer headphones.
Old 16th May 2012
  #8
Old 16th May 2012
  #9
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Thread Starter
Old 16th May 2012
  #10
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Thread Starter
What about 70s disco music? Any click tracks/metronomes there?

The systematic use of the click as we see in super mainstream pop today, when is it possible to trace it back to? 90s? 80s?
Old 16th May 2012
  #11
Motown legend
 
Bob Olhsson's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rafa View Post
What about 70s disco music? Any click tracks/metronomes there?
Almost never for records prior to the '80s although loops were used some for disco and some drummers had their own metronome.

The original reason for using a click was so that an orchestral cue that needed to be a certain length to match a picture edit could be calculated to come out at the exact length required.

It wasn't about keeping time, folks who couldn't do that didn't get any session calls.
Old 16th May 2012
  #12
Quote:
Originally Posted by thenoodle View Post
The old fashoned way... set up a metronome in front of a mic and go have coffee while you record a track of just click.

Or.. feed a live metronome to the drummer headphones.
LOL-I used to do that all the time.
Old 16th May 2012
  #13
Lives for gear
From the interwebs...

A click-track was originally derived by punching holes in the side of the film where the optical sound track appears. As white light reached the photo-cell, a loud click was produced when the signal was reproduced by headphones or a loudspeaker. If a hole was punched every 24 frames, the click appeared once every second. In musical terms this would be referred to as 60 beats per minute (BPM). Every two frames and the click track would be at 30 BPM and so on.
Old 16th May 2012
  #14
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tha]-[acksaw's Avatar
 

One of the best click tracks of all time = Money, by Pink Floyd

I believe it was Mr. Watters, with maybe some help from Alan Parsons. They used 7 different sounds, all related to money (we all know these sounds, right?), cut each sound to tape. Splided each sound, back to back, and using a broom handle to keep it taught, they ran it through a tape machine over and over.

The timing is 7/8, right? 7 repeating sound, then back to the top. AMAZING!
Old 17th May 2012
  #15
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Thread Starter
Hey superwack that's awesome stuff! Send us the source

And about "Money" it certainly makes a lot of sense now thinking about how it sounds.
Old 17th May 2012
  #16
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vincentvangogo's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by thenoodle View Post
...
Heavy use in the 60s... you can really hear it on a lot of Jefferson Airplane stuff. Now that a lot of 50's-60s basic tracks are out there, it's much easier to hear the clicks. Listen to the raw vocal track of the Monkees Daydream Believer. The click is cranking away there low in the background bleed.

Click tracks have been a tool for me from day one.
I assumed clicks only entered rock around the late 70's. Do you know any other 50's/60's artists or tracks that used them?

Also thinking about Daydream Believer, I'm wondering why Davy would need to hear the click when presumably the whole backing track would have been recorded by this point. Might it have been a snare or tam on the bleed?
Old 17th May 2012
  #17
Gear interested
 

great thread! typical - second post makes a very firm assertion about 1970's origin of the click. typical "male answer" dude response, when in fact as others have pointed out the click is much older and has origins in sound-for-film.

the first time I heard click in pop was in "Mr Tambourine Man" by the Byrds (with, yes, Hal Blaine drumming). Check it out.
Old 17th May 2012
  #18
Lives for gear
 

Apart from the early analogue versions described above maybe the modern digital version came in with MIDI sequencers. In ye olde days MIDI sequencers on computers would have a metronome so you could record everything in time to the beats and bars. As these sequencers added audio (ie Cubase) and grew into the DAWs we know and love today the metronome and beats and bars never went away thus dooming an entire generation to "perfect" music.
Old 17th May 2012
  #19
Gear Maniac
There was a film in the 1920's (i believe) made by disney, that had an orchestra perfectly synces to image through the use of a click track.

I know KISS worked to a kind of click track for Destroyer. Bob Ezrin but a 57 in a box and tapped it.
Old 17th May 2012
  #20
Gear Guru
Quote:
Originally Posted by LucyYorkshire View Post
great thread! typical - second post makes a very firm assertion about 1970's origin of the click. typical "male answer" dude response, when in fact as others have pointed out the click is much older and has origins in sound-for-film.

the first time I heard click in pop was in "Mr Tambourine Man" by the Byrds (with, yes, Hal Blaine drumming). Check it out.
Not a firm assertion, just telling you what I saw. I'm as interested in the topic as anyone.
And since the one of place I saw clicks was music for picture, it's interesting to hear about these examples from LA pop.
Old 18th January 2014
  #21
Here for the gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by thenoodle View Post
The old fashoned way... set up a metronome in front of a mic and go have coffee while you record a track of just click.

Or.. feed a live metronome to the drummer headphones.
----+1 +1 +1 +1 +1 +1 +1 +1 +1 +1 +1 +1 +1

It is EXACTLY the most logical way to do it. I am sure LOTS of click track for Sinatra, big bands, orchestras, swing, early rock 'n' roll....endless...., were done that way; as well as for film in the 30's, 40's and 50's. And radio ads (of course against a Mäezel metronome).

---Tubular Bells intro "Exorcist" 7-7-7-9 piano sequence was recorded against a synth click, as Oldfield recalls in the BBC 2013 "Tubular Bells: The Mike Oldfield history" documentary. That was 1973.

---Surely in the sixties, with the advent of beat and surf music were a consistent tempo was a must, a Mäezel against a mic was a constant in the studios. If four tracks were used, one was for the click, the second for guitar/vocals backing track, and there were still two available tracks for real rhythm section takes.
Old 18th January 2014
  #22
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rafa View Post
Hey guys, does anybody know how the click track infiltrated the music production world? How it started, first band/producers to use it? What equipment was used to produce the early click tracks?

I'm aware of it's origins as a synchronization tool, but what about the way that it's most commonly used now?

I understand that are many genres that sound better with absolutely fixed timing and some are even defined by quantization. Dance music in general since Viennese waltzes, through rock n' roll, funk etc. usually rely on fixed tempo, but still, there's a huge abyss between a song recorded live with very little or practically no tempo variations and a song recorded with a click track.

Does anybody have any idea of the chain of events that led to the situation we have now?
I was aware of click track use from my reading as far back as the 60s. It was sometimes cited in articles about studio 'cheats' like overdubs, punches, and, believe it or not, echo and reverb.

I remember a lot of kvetching from social/media critics through the 60s about how they could turn 'anyone' into a pop star through the use of such 'cheats.' Such jeremiads from the mid-late 60s often mentioned Nancy Sinatra -- she was sort of the (considerably tamer/more discreet) Miley Cyrus of her day -- considered by many as a totally manufactured artist riding on her fathers' coattails -- but others got similarly unflattering attention.
Old 18th January 2014
  #23
Here for the gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Olhsson View Post
Almost never for records prior to the '80s although loops were used some for disco and some drummers had their own metronome.

The original reason for using a click was so that an orchestral cue that needed to be a certain length to match a picture edit could be calculated to come out at the exact length required.

It wasn't about keeping time, folks who couldn't do that didn't get any session calls.
---That's right, but old-fashioned Mäezel metronomes in front of a mic were heavily used for backing tracks previous to drum recording... perhaps early 70's more than late sixties...and the ability to play cleanly along them was a must when working professionally. It's true that a strong sense of tempo was always needed if you expected to work.
Old 18th January 2014
  #24
Motown legend
 
Bob Olhsson's Avatar
 

I seriously doubt that anybody played to an old fashioned Mäezel metronome. A producer tried one at Motown but it wasn't steady enough so I had to cut together a tape loop measured with a ruler. There were electric metronomes that were used for film work in the 1950s. As noted above, clicks date back to the early years of talkies for scoring to picture. If musicians or singers were actually in the picture, they recorded the music and then played it back during the filming with everybody miming to it.

People seem to forget that there is a worldwide oral tradition of musical performance where the leaders were always playing and not waving their arms. Improvisation is a natural outcome of being in this kind of a performance groove.
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