How To Create a Tempo Map in Pro Tools

In this video I’ll show how I create a tempo map in Pro Tools to sync with a natural, non-clicked recording. Watch my entire tempo mapping process as I prepare for overdubs on a song by singer-songwriter, Zelda.

Topics & Techniques Covered In This Video:

Why Would You Ever Record Without a Click?

Recording an artist’s performance without a click track allows me to capture the natural essence and spontaneity of their music, and is how I begin every new session.  After all, why force an artist to play to a click if it’s not needed?

Each time an artist performs their song without a click (especially when it’s their first time performing it that day) I get a glimpse into not just the song but also the artist’s emotional state. 

If the they had a chill morning they might play more slowly, more gently; if they’re anxious about an upcoming concert on the other hand they might play faster or more aggressively. Free from the confines of a click track, the song becomes a vehicle of artistic expression rather than a task to be completed accurately.

Performing without a click also provides leeway for the artist to speed up a bit in the choruses or slow down in the bridge, or perhaps add a dramatic pause or ritard leading into the breakdown section.  None of these expressive options are possible when tracking to a static tempo click. 

Now, I hear you thinking:

"Yes, but ... when it comes to adding additional elements like drums and bass later on, I know those musicians will want a click track. What then?!"

I got choo!  Once we’ve chosen (or comped) the artist’s best free-flowing non-clicked take, all we need to do is map the tempo changes.  The resulting click track will follow the artist’s performance in perfect sync.

The Importance of Tempo Mapping

A tempo map serves as a guide for maintaining consistency and synchronization in a recording session. It establishes the tempo and rhythmic structure of the song, providing a reference for overdubbing and editing.

Key Steps in Tempo Mapping

Challenges and Solutions

Maintaining consistency in tempo can be challenging, especially in sections where the performance deviates from a strict rhythm. However, with careful editing and adjustment, it’s possible to overcome these challenges and create a cohesive tempo map.  Here are a few tips for decoding a daunting section of music or tempo.

Finger Tapping:

I find it extremely helpful to tap my finger on a nearby surface in sync with the music.  This roots me physically in the groove of the music and highlights any discrepancies I hear (and feel) against the click.  When I hear a click that doesn’t line up with the physical feeling of my finger tapping I know the tempo map has fallen out of sync with the musical performance and may need adjustment.

Half-Speed Playback:

Slowing things down can also be a big help when you’re unsure of what you’re hearing.  In Pro Tools, holding the Shift key while pressing the Space Bar will initiate Half-speed Playback.  Just try not to spend too much time in half-speed or else you might start trying to make every click perfect and lose sight of the goal.  Here’s a tip:

A good rule of thumb is to use as few tempo changes as needed when creating your tempo map

The Benefits of Tempo Mapping

Creating a tempo map for non-clicked recordings allows for greater flexibility during the initial recording process while ensuring control and consistency during the overdubbing process using your custom mapped click track. 
Plus, once your tempo map is in place you can utilize the power and speed of Grid Mode for future overdubs and editing tasks – all without ever sounding like you’re “quantized’ or “on a grid!”
Tempo mapping is a crucial aspect of my recording and producing workflow, particularly in non-clicked recording sessions. By creating a tempo map in Pro Tools, producers and audio engineers can enhance their recording and overdubbing processes, ensuring synchronization and consistency while preserving the natural essence of the artist’s performance.

Heads up!

Building a tempo map takes time, so it’s a good idea to make sure all comping and editing of the non-clicked performance is completed before you begin mapping.

If you’d like to learn my complete process for comping, editing, tuning, mixing and mastering non-clicked performances like this one, my Natural Vocal Production course has everything you need to master these skills like a pro!

You can even download a FREE 10-minute sample lesson … just fill out the form below and it’s yours!

Special thanks to Zelda, whose music is featured in this tempo mapping video!  Be sure to follow her on Instagram @officiallyzelda and on TikTok @officiallyzelda

Learn more about me, and hire me to produce, record, and/or mix your next project at www.dananielsen.com

And if you’d like to learn HOW I produce, record and mix so you can follow along and do it yourself, you are in the right place!  Right here on Mixprotege.com 

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My latest video shows how I create a tempo map in Pro Tools to sync with a natural, non-clicked recording. Watch my entire tempo mapping process as I prepare for overdubs on a song by singer-songwriter, Zelda. This is one of my best-kept secrets for recording natural live performances: let the artist record freely, without a click, then build a custom click track that follows their performance for use during…