Drum Tracks- To quantize or not to quantize?
Remember the good old days when records were cut using only the finest session players around? Rhythm sections would record a take after take until THE take would satisfy the producer.
Well, many things have changed in the last two decades. While computers have enabled most musicians to bring their ideas to fruition, so have they enabled mediocre musicians to fake their way through.
The most notorious of all the modern techniques, courtesy of DAW's, is quantizing of drum tracks.
Apparently, you no longer need a great drummer in order to achieve tight and grooving drum tracks. Or so you may think!...
Drum grooves of the past.
Why were some of the funkiest and grooviest songs recorded in the 70's and 80's? The drums, the bass, the rhythm section... it just feels so good, so good. It makes you want to get up and dance and that's certainly what happens every time those songs get played in clubs.
Well, those grooves and beats were recorded by real drummers, real great session drummers. No quantizing was used as such things didn't exist. If you were to put them to the grid in your DAW, would they mathematically align to each beat? Definitely not! That's why they sound as great as they do. They have a FEEL. Do they sound as great to us today as they did back then? Damn right they do. So, why is it that so much music is "robotized" and perfect?
“Feel” is the word that record executives of current music industry are yet to learn.
It is unfortunate that the people that are making the executive decisions as to what gets released can only make their judgment by using robotic quantizing of drums and other instruments. As far as they are concerned, as long as it is all mathematically perfect and perfectly in tune, it is good for release.
Any kind of emotional connection with the music seems to be unmeasurable and therefore un-important to these all “important” folks.
So, should you be quantizing the drum tracks you recorded for your album?
It all really depends on how good or bad they are. There is no “one-fits-all” solution here. If you are lucky enough to have a great session drummer record for you, he will give you such a feel and performance they you would never be able to recreate from a bad recording or by programming drums.
However, if you are stuck with a performance which is obviously very sloppy, not-grooving and disrupting of the flow of the song, then by all means some quantizing is in place.
If it sounds good and it feels good, leave it alone! Don't bother analyzing under the microscope whether the snare falls perfectly on 2 and 4.
And here is the revelation for you: often times snare drum is not supposed to be perfectly on 2 and 4.
Why not to quantize drum tracks.
One of the greatest session drummers of all time, John “JR” Robinson has demonstrated in drum workshops why he gets paid the money he does. He would play a simple groove the way it would sound when quantized or programmed and then play the same groove with his feel. The $1000 difference is the slight delay on the snare drum! While the kick is exactly on 1 and 3, the snare drum is not. He plays it slightly behind the beat. So, to quantize his track would be kind of like redrawing Picasso's paintings using a computer.
Quantizing of tracks will most times sound very wrong, as it is. In Jazz, the ride cymbal is not supposed to be exactly on the beat, but rather slightly ahead of it. The triplet is not supposed to be an exact triplet.
In Funk, the snare may be played up on the beat and thus give the forward motion and excitement. Just listen to James Brown's recordings and hear it for yourself.
In Pop and Rock, snare feels good when played slightly behind the beat.
There are many more variation including kick, hats and fills on toms. What makes a performance special and unique are those slight variations that we humans do. After all, we are still creating music for humans, no?
In summary, drum track quantizing is just a tool to remedy a poor performance. It will not make the tracks sound as good as if a great session drummer played them. It will rather just salvage the session. So, if you are looking for best results, then hire the best session drummer you can afford.
What do you think about drum quantizing? Leave a comment bellow.