How drummers use click tracks

We produced a load of backing tracks for a customer, Luke, who works in a band with a drummer. We put all the music on the right channel and a click track on the left channel.  They used a headphone amp to boost the click track to the drummers headphones and Luke asked a question about how drummers should use click tracks…

Thanks Kenny tracks sound great. got one of those headphone amps you suggested. just wondering if the drummer is supposed to hear just the click or the click & the file?
cheers, luke.

Hi Luke

Aha, you’ve just hit on a question which has been very much in debate in the music industry for a while now…!

Historically, backing tracks have always been created in the exact same way as the tracks we produced for you. The drummer would hear the click track on its own piped through a pair of one-sided headphones (the click track plays in one of the drummers ears while his other ear is free to listen to the rest of the band, helping to keep things tight and together).

To this day, this is still by far the most popular way of working because it allows the drummer to hear the click track AND hear what the rest of the band are playing (in fact there’s no real need for a special pair of one-sided headphones – a normal pair of headphones will do and the drummer just moves one side to the back of his head to expose the ear he wants to use to hear the band playing).

However in recent times I’ve come across bands who work a little differently. I know some drummers who like to hear the entire recorded drum part in their headphones (perhaps by constantly hearing the full drum part with the fills and drum breaks every time they perform the song it keeps them from straying too far from how the drum part should be played, I don’t know).

Other drummers I know like to hear the bass drum and snare from the drum part rather than a click track in their headphones because the click track grates on their ears too much.

And….I also know of another drummer who just hates headphones altogether so likes to play along with the track as he hears it from the PA – in other words, he plays drums on top of an already fully recorded drum part. I personally can’t see how that could sound right at all on stage with the audience effectively hearing two drum parts – one recorded drum part and one live drum part both being played together. Surely there must be timing issues (a live drummer can never be exactly in time with each snare hit, hihat beat or cymbal crash etc)? However he assures me that’s how his band play, it sounds great, and he’s happy (I’m still not convinced)!

So, in conclusion, it looks like it’s purely personal thing for drummers. The best way of working is whichever way that suits that individual drummer and the band.

Sorry for confusing the issue, but it seems nowadays there are as many ways of working with click tracks as there are drummers…!