Quantizing drums and other instruments have long been a source of contention among producers and drummers alike.
Purists exist in all forms of art — those who refuse to compromise their integrity. Quantizing is just that to them.
I’ll explain why there’s a case for both sides, whether you’re for or against it. Quantization is a production decision that must be made depending on the circumstances.
But exactly, what is quantization?
The meaning of quantization
In music, quantization is the process of shifting and aligning waveform transients to a predetermined grid.
A form of quantization is aligning the transients (the initial attack of each hit) of the kick and snare drum to eighth notes.
The quantification argument
Despite the negative connotations associated with part alignment, there are numerous beneficial reasons to do so.
Capabilities for sampling and poor rooms/mics
Producers can use sampling software such as Slate Trigger2 with greater accuracy and better results by aligning the transients to the grid.
When the recording process is less than ideal, quantization comes in handy. When using quantization with samples, a recording done in a basement or a bedroom may produce a more professional result.
The method eliminates a limitation that many home studio owners face.
A producer who only has a limited selection of microphones can also benefit from using sampled drums.
Quantification and efficiency are inextricably linked. Engineers no longer have to wait for hours for the artist to finish the perfect take.
Time is money, and we don’t always have a lot of it.
Improving a recording
Samples are frequently mixed in with the original recording. Engineers can now be creative with the vast libraries available today.
Drumshotz, a Drumforge product, is one example of such a library. These samples improve drum recordings, particularly in choruses where extra punch is required.
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The musicianship is poor and lazy
The method is also beneficial for lazy musicians who should not be in the recording studio at all. Those with poor timing should continue to practice with a click at home.
Unfortunately, many musicians aren’t ready to record an album despite having the resources to do so. Quantizing provides a way for the studio to produce a quality product without jeopardizing the studio’s brand and reputation.
The required software
Many digital audio workstations include audio warping and quantization software. Cubase, for example, includes a quantization panel. Beat Detective is a feature in Pro Tools. Which one you choose is up to you, as they all produce similar results.
Specific section quantification
Quantization also does not have to affect the entire recording. Individual sections can be aligned to save time instead of recutting the entire take.
Back in the day, engineers punched in parts in real-time, a practice that many people still use today.
*** Read more: How To Read Drum Notation: Quick And Simple To Learn
The argument against quantization
The case of John “JR” Robinson
John “JR” Robinson, one of the greatest session drummers of all time, has demonstrated in drum workshops why he is paid what he is. He’d play a simple groove as it would sound when quantized or programmed, then play the same groove with his own feelings. The slight delay on the snare drum accounts for the difference! The kick drum is exactly on 1 and 3, but the snare drum is not. He plays it slightly off-beat. So, quantizing his track would be akin to redrawing Picasso’s paintings with a computer.
Track quantization will almost always sound incorrect. In jazz, the ride cymbal is supposed to be slightly ahead of the beat rather than exactly on it. The triplet should not be an exact triplet.
The snare drum may be played up on the beat in Funk, providing forward motion and excitement. Just listen to James Brown’s recordings and you’ll see what I mean.
Snare feels good in Pop and Rock when played slightly behind the beat.
There are numerous other variations, such as kick, hats, and tom fills. The slight variations that we humans make are what make a performance special and unique. After all, we’re still making music for humans, aren’t we?
The absence of feel
Without stating the obvious, quantizing parts frequently results in a lack of feel, resulting in music that sounds robotic and inhuman. I’d go so far as to say he’s voiceless.
Rick Beato, for example, released an excellent video in which he quantized John Bonham’s parts from a Led Zeppelin recording.
As a result, the product is stale and mechanical.
Why were some of the funkiest and groovy songs recorded in the 1970s and 1980s? The drums, bass, rhythm section… Everything just feels so right. It makes you want to get up and dance, which is exactly what happens when those songs are played in clubs.
Those grooves and beats, on the other hand, were recorded by real drummers, great session drummers. There was no quantizing because such things did not exist. Would they mathematically align to each beat if you put them on the grid in your DAW? Certainly not! That’s why they sound so fantastic. They have a FEEL to them. Do they still sound as good today as they did back then? They certainly do. So, why is so much music “robotized” and flawless?
Record executives in today’s music industry have yet to learn the word “feel.”
It’s unfortunate that the people making executive decisions about what gets released can only make their decisions by robotically quantizing drums and other instruments. They believe that as long as everything is mathematically perfect and perfectly in tune, it is safe to release.
Any emotional connection to the music appears to be unmeasurable and thus unimportant to these all-important people.
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The argument for both
Quantization is here to stay, whether we like it or not as artists. There are valid applications for both methods of recording music, but each situation is unique.
I prefer to see quantization in a positive light rather than a negative one.
Should you be quantifying the drum tracks for your album?
It all comes down to how good or bad they are. In this case, no “one-size-fits-all” solution exists. If you’re fortunate enough to have a great session drummer record for you, he’ll give you a feel and performance that you’ll never be able to replicate from a bad recording or by programming drums.
However, if you’re stuck with a performance that’s obviously sloppy, non-grooving, and disrupting the song’s flow, then, by all means, some quantizing is in order.
- How does quantization function?
Quantization is a production technique that allows you to make your imperfect timing perfectly in time. When you quantize a note or a group of notes, the notes are snapped to the “grid,” ensuring that all notes land exactly on the beat and/or subdivisions.
- What is the goal of quantification?
Quantization is the process of converting continuous infinite values to a smaller set of discrete finite values. It is about approximating real-world values with a digital representation that introduces limits on the precision and range of a value in the context of simulation and embedded computing.
- Should the drum be quantized?
To summarize, drum track quantizing is merely a tool for improving poor performance. It will not make the tracks sound as good as if they were played by a great session drummer. It will merely salvage the session. If you want the best results, hire the best session drummer you can afford.
- How does one go about quantizing live drums?
Choose Quantize-Locked if you intend to quantize your drum tracks. Double-click the group name at the top of the Groups inspector to rename it. To assign the other drum track channel strips to the group, open the Mixer and Option-click the group slot of the other drum track channel strips.
*** Read more: Learn How To Play Drums Without A Drum Set!
What are your thoughts on quantizing drums? Should we keep doing it or try to get more live recordings?
Please leave a comment with your thoughts and feel free to share this article if you enjoyed it.