CTA Classroom: Using a Click

Today’s topic comes from Javi J. Diaz, as suggested on Twitter. A lot of worship bands want to play to a click track, a metronome that keeps everyone on time. There are quite a few companies (Boss, Korg, Yamaha) who make small, portable metronomes, and most have an 1/8” headphone or even a 1/4” headphone jack on them. 

Boss DB-90

I’m not going to debate the use of a click and what it does or doesn’t do for the music; that’s another debate for another article. At this point, all I’m assuming is that the band wants to use a click and you as the audio engineer has to figure out how to make it work. There are several scenarios to consider, and I’ll try to come up with as many as I can.

Basic Configuration

First, you need to find a metronome (hereafter called a click because it’s faster to type…) with a headphone or line out. Take that output and route it into a DI. We have a cheap DI that’s designed to take a 1/4” stereo (TRS) source and turn it into two XLRs. Someone replaced the 1/4” with a 1/8” plug and we use that to get the click into the system. While you could buy a really expensive Radial DI for this purpose, it’s a click, so a cheap one will do fine. Set up gain for a solid, but not slamming level and you’re good to go. I use mono for the click; I’m not convinced stereo is worth the channel count.

Once in the system, you have to be very intentional about how you route it. Most mixers allow you to assign a channel to either a group or the L&R bus. With the click, you want to leave it unassigned. This is really important as you don’t want the click coming through the mains. If every channel automatically routes to the L&R bus, then you’ll have to leave the fader down all the time. You might even consider taping it down with some board tape. Chose a channel at one end or the other of your board so you’re less likely to hit it by accident.

Now that you’re sure the click won’t find its way into the mains, you can move on to adding it to the monitors.

All Ears

If the band is all on ears, it’s pretty easy to put the click in their mixes; just bring it up. Make sure you start slow and low as it’s a very loud an annoying sound if it comes blasting in at too high a level. You will find that some musicians want to hear the click, others don’t. Work with them and get them what they need, just like any source.

Personal Mixes

If you’re running personal mixes, you have some decisions to make. In our system, with the SD8 at FOH and the Roland M-48s making up our mixers, we just send the click down a digital channel and set it up on each M-48 as each musician requests. If I were using an Aviom system, I would probably set aside one channel for foldback (click, talkback, speaking mics, etc.) and put the click in there. In this case, it’s kind of an all-or-nothing approach, but that’s really a limitation of the Aviom system. You could also dedicate a channel to it if you have enough open channels. 

All Wedges

If the entire band is on wedges, using a click can be tricky. In this case, I would not want to put the click in the wedges because it will be clearly audible to those in the front rows (and perhaps the back rows, depending on how loud your band likes their wedges…). In this case, one option is for the drummer pick up a set of non-sealing earbuds—iPod buds would work great—and plug those into the click. He could then set the level of the click to where he can hear it, and because the buds won’t seal, he should still be able to hear is wedge and the drums. 

That situation might work, but it’s not ideal for hearing preservation, however. Before we switched over to the M-48s, we took a different approach. We put a cheap Mackie 1202 at the drum platform and mixed a stereo monitor for him. We then put the click in on another input of the Mackie and he could mix it in as needed. This allows for much lower volume levels in his ears. It does give you one more monitor mix to contend with, but if you were mixing wedges anyway, it’s not a big deal. While the rest of the band can’t hear the click, the drummer can keep everyone in time.

Those are all the possible configurations I can think of. Did I miss anything? Does your worship team play to a click?