Let A “Cue” Track Be Your GuideNovember 29, 2008 6:00 am Home Recording
Most home recording engineers are accustomed to recording a metronome-like “click track” to keep all the parts on the beat as the song is built up. The click track serves as a “rhythm guide.” It gets erased when the track it’s on is needed, which is OK because by then the drums are usually on there keeping the beat.
Let’s take this “guide” idea a little farther. Some of my more exotic arrangements are rather complicated, with repeated segments (a little different each time, natch), shortened or lengthened lines, very long solo sections, untoward key changes, etc. When I’m recording tracks for this song - the rhythm guitar, let’s say - the hardest part is remembering which segment is coming up next (is it the bridge?) and exactly when the change occurs (now? now?). This makes it hard to concentrate on the music. What I need is someone to signal me somehow when these changes are coming….
Cue the Cue Track
The answer (have you guessed?) is to record a cue track in addition to the traditional click track. What I do is to first record the click track, making sure to record it for long enough to cover the whole song! With the click track on Track 8 (or wherever), I then route a microphone signal onto Track 7 and record me guiding myself through the song with helpful cues and remarks.
One common thing I do on the cue track is to count off the bars in an extended segment, especially if there is an oddball number of them like 36 or something. I don’t want to be counting those off in my head while I’m trying to be musical. So I’m there as guide on the cue track going “21…22…23…”
The other thing I do a lot is to announce upcoming song segments, saying something like “bridge starting with G in 1, 2, 3, 4.” If there’s a key change or chord variation I may say “F#m here this time” or something like that. The beauty part is, it doesn’t matter what you say or how much guidance you give. Like the click track, it will all be erased before the song is done! (Actually, I have occasionally kept parts of the cue track, deeply layered, on certain excessively artsy songs.)
Yet another handy use for the cue track is to provide you with a note, perhaps from the keyboard, that will help you come in on pitch when your part begins. This can be extremely handy, especially if there is a key change and you are supposed to come in on the right note in the new key right on the 1-beat. Right! Help yourself out by playing the starting note just before it’s scheduled to start!
This “give me the note” approach is especially good for recording harmonizing backup vocals. I sometimes forget which of several possible notes I am supposed to come in with in this take. It’s easy to just set up the note on the cue track. Then I’m always right. It’s almost like having a personal guide to the song holding my hand all the way through. And the coolest thing is, it’s me!Tags: song structure, studio practice, vocals -->