Quantization drums is a well-known process in the music of shifting and aligning the transients of waveforms to a pre-determined grid. To give you an example, aligning transients of the kick and a snare drum to eight notes is one of the common forms of quantization.
Since the dawn of time, people have learned to constantly produce two sides of a single story, and that is the same with quantizing drums. Some musicians believe this process is good, and some say it is terrible.
In some sense, musicians who refuse to compromise are purists, and their opinion is valid as the opinion of others. I firmly believe that the process of quantization is necessary only in certain situations.
Also, it is an excellent time to use quantization after editing, recording and merging since there will be a need for timing correction.
Here is a straightforward piece of advice. You should choose the tracks that will be the Q-reference tracks for the group if you want to quantize your drum tracks. In addition, enable Flex Mode on the tracks, and apply timing adjustments.
Now, we need to showcase both sides of the story, side by side, and see if you should quantize your drums or not. In addition to upcoming sections, I will also add my piece of advice and personal experience that will be most relevant and helpful to the reader.
Reasons why you should Quantize Drums
There are numerous reasons why you should quantize your drums. The following sections will clarify the most obvious reasons and benefits of quantizing.
More often than not, samples are blended with the original recording, and engineers are free to share their creativity with the vast amount of libraries today.
For example, there is one product from Drumforge, and its name is Drumshotz. It is an excellent example of a library.
The primary goal of this product is to enhance the drum recordings, especially in choruses where an extra punch is necessary.
The Case for Software
Both free and paid digital audio workstations have software to wrap and quantize audio. One of the excellent examples of such digital audio workstations is a Subase with a dedicated quantization panel.
One more example would be Beat Detective, featured by Pro Tools. Which one you choose is totally up to you. The reasons why you might choose one over the other are subjective since all of them yield a similar result.
Specific Sections Need Quantization
There is a myth that quantization needs to affect the entire recording. In reality, it needs only to affect it partially. Aligning individual sections will save you time.
Since quantizing specific sections is newer, some engineers still punch in parts in real time.
Efficiency: Quantization as a tool Between Engineers and Artists
There is a good case for efficiency since quantization and efficiency go hand in hand and are not separable.
The time has come when engineers don’t need to spend countless hours waiting for the artist to complete the perfect take.
Quantization is an excellent way to save time, which is one reason why it is preferred to be included.
Aligning the transients to the grid allows producers to use sampling software with higher accuracy and better outcomes. When the recording process is not ideal, quantization comes in handy.
There is a case where recording in a bedroom or even a basement may produce professional results when utilizing quantization with samples.
Many studio owners have these limitations, and this method removes them completely. In addition, producers with limited microphone selection can benefit from sampled drums.
Quantization for Musicians with Poor Timing
Poor timing is often a result of lazy and unprofessional musicians who probably shouldn’t be in a recording studio yet.
They should spend more time at home practicing with a click. Today, everybody thinks that they deserve and have the capabilities to record an album, but that is not true. Quantization provides a better way to produce more quality products without hindering the results, reputation, and the studio’s brand.
Why you shouldn’t Quantize Drums
There are a few reasons why you may decide to not quantize your music.
Uniqueness of Playing
There is no doubt that we lose something very unique to our playing when we quantize our music. It doesn’t matter which factor we are taking into consideration.
We need to accept that we still may change because of the quantization. Internal clocks, swings, and grooves usually become lost in the process of quantization.
Quantizations should be used only on certain occasions, with the goal of not losing the original playing style. Here is one good example.
If you make house music, you need to quantize the cake or hi-hat, or your DJ will start to hate you. A good piece of advice would be to quantize the kick and let the rest of it just be you. Your grooves on the hi-hats and your grooves on the baseline.
Also, your swing on the clap and your swing on the percussion. That is what nobody can replicate. It is something individual to you and what makes your music yours.
My Thoughts and Experience on Quantizing Drums
My most significant consideration in quantizing drums is the lack of feel. It is evident that quantizing leads to music sounding robotic and not human. Some musicians go as far as to say that quantizing lacks a voice.
I only quantized drums when necessary and always aimed to do it as little as possible. However, we can dispute the nature of quantizing, but it is here to stay, and we need to adapt and use it as best as we can.
How to quantize in Ableton?
Quantizing in Ableton is quick and straightforward, and you have three options.
Record Quantized Midi Notes
This is the function that quantizes MIDI notes while recording. The first step is to enable Record Quantization from the Edit menu.
Then, select which meter subdivision the notes will snap to when recording from the chooser.
This feature will save you the time of fixing notes that are not in sync. In addition, after you finish recording, you are always free to add a groove to humanize the recording.
Moving Midi Notes in the Midi Editor
There is a feature in Live’s MIDI Editor that allows grid snapping. The feature will snap MIDI notes to the grid lines when moving them.
There is also an option to enable or disable it, depending on your needs. If you want to adjust specific notes rather than every note, I suggest manually quantizing MIDI notes because it is easier.
Some examples are fixing the timing of a recording or applying a groove by your hand.
Correct Note Timing with the Quantize Command
Let’s give an example.
If you are quantizing at a 16th note resolution, it will move the selected notes to the nearest sixteenth note.
If you are using Live’s Quantize command, it will automatically shift selected MIDI notes to the grid.
Is Quantizing Cheating?
I wouldn’t categorize quantizing as cheating mainly because it is a tool for correcting timing errors. You can use it for recording, which is handy for recording bass and drum parts. Also, if it helps you to record quickly, you should use it.
The only thing we should focus on is the recording quality, which may be the primary reason quantizing is not considered cheating. The mechanical and robotic feel gives a sense that it may be cheating, but it is necessary to quantify the music for its performance. In addition, quantization is a fundamental part of MIDI.
One of the most important things is the ability to slide performances and vary degrees into tighter rhythmic precision. However, there is no need to quantize every performance automatically, and most experienced composers don’t quantize the initial recording.
Quantizing drums is an excellent way to improve your performance and make it more precise. There are numerous reasons why you should quantize drums. Efficiency is one of them, as it is great to save them and comes in handy for engineers since the don’t need to spend countless hours waiting for the artist to complete the take.
There are also benefits for musicians with poor timing, sampling capabilities, specific section, software etc. Quantizing offers many benefits and reasons why you should do it. However, there is always a different side of the story. If you happen to quantize your drums more than you should, you will make your sound more robotic and not human.
To avoid this, only quantize certain parts of your drums, and leave the rest for your style. Quantizing too much will come as a sacrifice to your unique playing style. The things like internal clocks, swings, and grooves are the ones that become lost in the process of quantization.
It would be best if you quantized only in certain situations with the goal of not losing your original playing style. Lastly, quantizing your drums is not considered cheating. It is essential to every musician’s performance and should be treated accordingly.