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How Quantization Can Ruin Music

Updated: Feb 21


What do we mean with Quantization?



Quantization in music production is the process of fixing expressive timing of a performance to a musical grid divided by beats.



Quantization has been used regularly since the early 2000s aided by the rise of the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) as the primary method of recording and editing music. With quantization you can fix any timing issues whether they be an audio recording of a real instrument or MIDI data from a MIDI controller, you can shift early and late notes/hits to land exactly on the grid, giving a impossibly ‘perfect’ sounding performance that will help machine like precision.



Quantizing audio in Cubase




How Can Quantization Ruin Music?


Now we get into how quantization can ruin music, by overusing it.

When you fix every note to the grid you lose the groove, expression and ‘human’ element of the musical performance, a musician’s groove is a part of their identity along with their tone, dynamics, pitch and phrasing. By erasing a part of a musician’s identity, we end up losing what makes them stand out, all recordings start to sound the same.


This has become a problem in music production over the last 20 years, with the majority of recordings being over quantized thus losing their groove, this drives people to listen to older music and lament that modern music doesn’t have the same ‘feel’ and quantization plays a part in it.


Now quantization does have its place when used subtly, being able to fix the odd out of time note on an otherwise flawless performance is a useful time saving tool when recording music, in addition to this certain genres are expected to sound more ‘tight’ than others for example EDM and Modern Metal compared to Classical music or Jazz.


In order to achieve a tight performance the best approach is to practice a lot ahead of the recording process, and then to record several takes and to ‘comp’ the best parts between them, this means that all of the parts would have been physically played and the resulting groove will feel much better.



Setting the quantization division in Logic Pro X




Conclusion



Quantization like most innovations in music production is a useful but addictive tool, you have to be careful not to overuse it, and accidentally ruin your music.





Thomas Rickerby

(Music production and WKMT Guitar teacher)


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