The age old debate! Discussion can get heated around this topic.
Camp A will argue that a click ‘sterilises’ the music. Makes it too robotic and doesn’t leave enough room to breathe and develop organically.
Camp B will argue that ‘you’re either in time or out of time’. It makes things sound tighter, more professional. Modern engineers and producers love it because it makes editing in Pro Tools easy.
I’m currently doing a Musical Theatre gig that is all click tracked. For this set up its essential as I’m playing along to some backing tracks, midi triggers etc. Without the click it would be an utter disaster. Impossible. So in this case, the way the show is set up it’s the ONLY way. It certainly adds a nice sheen to the show and the performers know exactly what the speed will be of every number without fail. The choreography and lighting cues etc can get very precise. The singers and dancers get the same tempo night after night.
At my covers gigs (no click). We are loose as a goose. No click means we can extend or shorten sections, medley into a new tempo or jump tempo if somethings not happening. Again lot’s of benefits. Lot’s of freedom for sure. The band is still tight but not metronomic. We will invariably drift with our tempos but it’s organic and may actually serve the song.
Basically you need to be able to do both. It’s true that Elvis, Led Zep, The Beatles and the Rolling Stones were not on a click. They sounded okay right!? Correct! But it’s 2014… If you are a working drummer the reality is some occasions will call for you to play to a click, whether you like it or not.
I say embrace it and try to make it feel great just like you would if there was no click. I mean you’re practicing with a metronome anyway… right? That’s a click in itself. I have replaced drummers in the studio who weren’t used to playing along with a click. They freak out and lose confidence. It’s a horrible situation to be in!
I’ve been on the other end too. I remember getting cut from a tour when i was starting out. It was for a well known artist and everything was click tracked. I couldn’t cope, and i crashed and burned. It put me off playing with clicks (or metronomes) for a long time and i resented it. I was terrified that any gig i got offered would have click tracks! I started turning down anything that involved clicks. I lost A LOT of work, not to mention burnt bridges with important contacts.
I see the click debate very much like the reading debate. These are all extra tools at your disposal. It all increases your versatility and gig potential. Why limit yourself?
2 important things that really helped me… (other than lot’s of practice)
-First, you DON’T need the click to be a 300db cowbell sound bashing you over the head all night. Choose something nice like a shaker or hi hat sound and have it at a good volume.
-Second, try to think of the click as a percussionist to your side. A percussionist who has impeccable time. This change of mindset helped me to dance with it a little bit and get more musical instead of feeling strangled.
Let me know your thoughts on click tracks!