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Music Secrets: Writing a Click Track

In the Digital Age, a composer is just as likely to write a work for the local university as he or she is commissioned by an ensemble in Australia.  From using notation software programs like Sibelius and Finale to using crowdsourcing and virtual Skype rehearsals, the classical composer today has dozens of tricks up their sleeves.

The shrinking of our world has forced many composers to develop tech skills that were not necessary 20 years ago. 

Many composers are familiar with the concept of a click track. Most commonly associated with live acoustic recording of soundtracks or recording studio sessions, the classical composer today may have to use a click track to help musicians thousands of miles away to stay in sync for a project. Complex multimedia projects involving live musicians, film scores, and cross-internet recordings. 
music score
The Logic Score is Helpful But Not Always Accurate

For my current project, Libertaria: The Virtual Opera, I have a cast of a dozen singers that are spread throughout the United States. They have never met for rehearsal, and most have never met at all. Libertaria is a modern animated opera, and the cast members are voice actors for machinima avatars. Because of this, each cast member needs to record their voice from their location and send the vocal stems to me via the Internet. Most cast members play one prominent major/minor role and play a part in the chorus. A few have given voice talents for speaking roles.

As a composer I have to create a click track for each member of the cast. I use Bandcamp to upload the click tracks and scores, which the singers use to record their parts. 

Download the cast rehearsal album: 

There are a few steps to effective click tracks and scores. In my creative process, I use Finale and Logic together for creating scores, click tracks, and the final mix. I usually compose a rough sketch and transfer it to Logic. After creating the song, I export the all tracks as MIDI and import into Finale to clean up the score. 

I check the music score against the Logic file. Listen if what you wrote matches up to what actually plays. The Logic score window is faulty while the MIDI is accurate. Many times the MIDI imported into Finale is slightly off, especially with triplets, pick-up notes, and smaller rhythmic divisions and syncopations. 
logic score window
Checking the Finale Score against the Logic Score

After I am satisfied that the score and Logic file match up, I create a separate click track in Logic. There are a few ways to do this, and I usually create a simple track using the Ultrabeat drumset. I play in a single measure and then repeat it. For more complex pieces, this allows me to add in special sounds for Rehearsal Letters and big parts of the piece. 

For click tracks for live performer and tape, I set up the click in one ear (for the conductor) and the other ear has a mono mix that may go to the house. Many halls have worked fine with mono, but I have also sent the click as a separate stem and the final concert had a stereo mix to the house and click in the conductor and/or performer's ear.
8ths in an Overly Complex-Looking Rhythm that Needs Cleaning Up

In Libertaria: The Virtual Opera performers record their voice with no instrumentation for later mixing. I include a separate piano track playing back the singer's cues. Be sure to check the piano part against the score. 

Adding Time Code in Finale
The score will include timecode and sometimes other useful information like descriptions of video imagery or extra music cues.  

The more you can give your performer without ending up with a cluttered score, the better. 

I find that many of my long distance projects require a click track because I work primarily with live performers and multimedia/electroacoustic scores. I hope you found these tips helpful. Thanks for checking in and be sure to subscribe for more great Music Secrets. 

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