Making a Click Track

As promised here is what I learned making a click track video for Christmas Eve. First off, let's define exactly what we mean by a click track video. A click track video is put together to a song just like you normally would, but then for the service, you replace the music with a click track that is sent only to the musicians so they can perform the song live while the video plays. The click track needs to be in time with the original music score so that the edits fall where they should. Maintaining synchronization is not a big deal if the footage is just atmospheric, but if you are trying to tie certain shots to certain phrases in the song, the band and video needs to be in sync. Here's how to do it.

For this exercise I used Final Cut Pro and Soundtrack Pro, though you could accomplish the same thing in the Adobe suite. You can also use a dedicated music program like Logic, Cakewalk, Reason or any number of other sequencing software to build the click track, and any video editor you like.

As I said in a previous post, I had a bit of trouble with this at first, and I think it's because I made it too complicated. So here is my revised method, which worked really well. First, edit the video like you normally would. Next, open up a new project in Soundtrack Pro (or your music editor of choice). Import your song and begin the process of determining the tempo and time siganture. If the music director already knows this, you're hardest work is done. Most worship tunes (and most rock music for that matter) is in 4/4 time, which means there are 4 beats to a measure, and the 1/4 note gets the beat. If you are unsure, start there.

Tempo is expressed in beats per minute (bpm). Getting the temp right is the hardest and most critical elements of the whole process. Some software has beat detection tools which makes this a lot easier; sadly Soundtrack Pro does not. To determine the tempo and create the click, you need a simple loop of beats. I found that the Wood Block loop works really well. If you use this loop, you'll notice that the loop has beats on 1 and 3. We'll fix this later on.

Place your song on one track, then load the Wood Block into another track. Stretch the loop out to the length of the song. Play the song and find the first beat. Line up the first beat of the wood block with the first beat of the song. Hit play. Very quickly you'll notice if the wood block is beating faster or slower than the song. Adjust the tempo of the project (the wood block will follow along with the project; the tempo control will not affect the song) and try again. Before long, you should have it dialed in. Make sure to check the song all the way through to ensure it doesn't drift.

Once you have the temp figured out, you can delete the song track. All we need is the wood block. As noted earlier, the wood block loop has beats on 1 and 3. For an effective click track, we want beats on all four beats per measure. This gives the musicians a steady beat to follow. At first I played around with different ways to accomplish this (editing the sample, the Apple Loop Utility, etc.), but the easiest way is to just double the tempo. In my case, the target tempo was 76 bpm. To achieve clicks on all four beats, I dialed up the tempo to 152 and voila! a perfect 76 bpm four beat click.

Export your click track as an AIFF file (or WAV), making sure it's longer than you need to cover the song. Import the song into your editor and line it up on the beat.

The next trick is to give the musicians a cue when to start. Having a click track is good, but if you put the first click on the opening beat of the song, they will fall behind. So what I did was to put 2 measures (8 beats) in "silence," meaning before the song actually starts. To further clarify, I used a 1 frame 1K tone at beat one of the first 3 measures. So it sounds like this...

BEEP...click...click...click...BEEP...click...click...click..BEEP...click...click...click... From this point forward it's all clicks. The third beep is the beginning of the song.

To finish the video, mute the music tracks and export with just the click. When you play that back through Media Shout (or whatever you use), make sure the soundman sends the click to the monitors (in-ears work best, though this works in wedges) and not to the house PA (that would just spoil the ambiance...).

There you have it. A simple way to synchronize the band with a video. All told it takes almost as much time to explain it as it does to do it, so give it a try!