On the Right Track

Depending on who you ask, the CLICK TRACK was invented in the 1930s by the “Father of Film Music” Max Steiner, or Carl Stalling or Scott Bradley to accompany their memorable animation scores. However, it is usually credited to Steiner.

As George Burt explains in his book, The Art of Film Music, in the early days of film, “a click track was prepared by punching holes along the edge of a film. These holes produced a clicking sound that the conductor could hear through his headphones. The clicks represented beats timed at a specific tempo. Clicks are now produced by a digital metronome that can be switched to any tempo, down to a hundredth of a second. This device replaced the laborious task of punching literally thousands of holes in the film.”

Many composers and musicians decry the click track for its rigidness. But with the need for split-second film timings, especially in action cues, a click track can be a film composer’s best friend. The click track has also become part of standard recording technology, for better or worse, and is often used in live performance by drummers to keep a consistent beat.

So why name this site Film Score Click Track when the latter half of the title engenders such ill will among some musicians? First, I liked the title. Second, I got what I think is a kick-ass tagline from it. But mostly, it is an essential film scoring technique from the very beginning of the sound era that is still in use today.

A click track may not be the ideal answer to creating “art” out of film music. But the click track can keep the difficult process of performing a film score on the right track. And a good composer and conductor can coax a very satisfying performance out of his musicians even within the confines of the click track.

Though I’ve never had to play to a click track, memories of hours and hours practicing scales with nothing but my ever-increasing insanity and the steady tick-tock of that bloody metronome haunt me still. I am in awe of those musicians who create such lasting aural film score memories while a track clicks directly into their skull.

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