Why Quantize Everything? Get Rid Of The Grid

This week we're going to take a look at going off-grid. But don't worry- we don't mean the act of living in a remote log cabin, eating voles and fashioning a hydro-electric iPad. No, much more comfortable than that, we're talking about getting away from the quantise grid in your DAW or sequencer. Do you sometimes find it difficult to get the right flow and groove into your beats? Do things sometimes sound too rigid? Well, join us, as we show you a few tips on how to get some more natural feel into your tracks, from the comfort of your own home! You may have heard people talking about that 'natural' or 'human' feel to a beat or a groove. What they mean by this is, of course, the subtle inaccuracies of the timing. No human musician can play bang on the beat, exactly the same every time. They can get close, but even then your ear picks up the differences, and this makes for a much more interesting beat to listen to. So what can you to give your beats and programming a bit more of an organic feel? Well, in summary, start making them less accurate! There are a number of ways you can do this though. The first one is simply to programme your parts as you want them, and then start moving things off the quantise grid. All DAWs have a 'nudge' function where you can move things a tiny bit earlier or later. You usually won't notice one nudge, but try making two similar sounds (like hi-hats) play at the same time, and then nudging one of them a dozen or so times. You'll soon hear what sort of a difference this can make. So to make small, incremental changes, try using the nudge function a lot more. Give your melodies a looser feel, or your beats more of a funky vibe by tweaking certain notes off the strict quantise. In general, it may be worth keeping certain notes on the grid; the first beat of the bar, say, to anchor things a little, and in a drum beat you should normally keep the kick fairly steady – this is dance music after all. But beyond that, you're free to experiment. Listen to a funk track by the likes of Zapp and Roger – they don't just have one clap sound, they'll be two or three, fairly loosely timed, and often making full use of the stereo spectrum. So try using two or more claps or snares, pull one early, one late, and pan them a little bit. See? You're sounding funkier already! If you're a bit more confident with a MIDI keyboard or pad though, you might want to try playing things in yourself. But you don't need to be a hotshot musician to achieve a decent sound – this is where more advanced quantise techniques can really help out. Once you've got your melody or beat recorded as MIDI data, then try partially quantising it. On Cubase, this is called 'Iterative Quantising', while on Logic it just involves changing the Quantise Strength away from 100%. Then, when you press the quantise button, instead of shifting everything onto the beat, your notes will simply be moved closer. They'll retain the character of your playing – so that if you played a note late, it will still be late, but just less so! This is a great way of achieving a natural, human feel without being so loose that it seems sloppy. Another way of keeping a bit of groove and looseness is just to be a bit slack when you're chopping your samples. That might sound like a slacker's charter, but it's surprising how effective it can be! So many programmes these days offer instant sample slicing, editing and tweaking, and they identify transients to the nearest milisecond. That's all very handy, and it can certainly save you a lot of time, but sometimes the side-effect of all this is that your beats come out just a touch too perfect – it's so easy to opt for this option that people forget you can do it by hand. Chop things a little more roughly and throw them into your track with abandon; you'll start to see lots of new opportunities for loose funkiness presenting themselves. Ultimately the challenge of creating a human, organic groove with your tracks comes down to timing. A few gentle nudges here and there, a few parts that feature your own hands playing some MIDI bongo or synth action, and a couple of roughly hacked samples and you'll soon see that when you stop tying everything down to the quantise grid, your tracks take on a new life. So try it – go off grid and see where it can take you!

Related Articles

  • How To Promote Your Music on Instagram

    How To Promote Your Music on Instagram

    In years gone by artists required a marketing budget almost greater than the cost of their studio time to promote their latest album, usually followed by an extensive touring schedule and relentle

    Read More 2
  • Getting Creative With Homemade Foley Drums & Percussion

    Getting Creative With Homemade Foley Drums & Percussion

    When it comes to studio recording, the drum kit can be one of the most time consuming and awkward instruments to get right. With so many variations in mic placements to consider, finding the right

    Read More 2
  • Finding Your Inspiration

    Finding Your Inspiration

    In the creative industries, it can be extremely difficult to rely on your own motivation and inspiration to make sure your projects are truly the work that you intended. Intrinsically linked with o

    Read More 2
  • 5 Tips On Playing A Perfect DJ Set

    5 Tips On Playing A Perfect DJ Set

    Mixing tracks in front of a crowd is a whole lot of fun, and with continuing developments in DJ equipment it is becoming more accessible than ever before. However, it's all too easy for that perfect d

    Read More 2
  • Top 4 Ideas For Creative Inspiration

    Top 4 Ideas For Creative Inspiration

    Sometimes, you're just stuck for ideas or inspiration. But don't worry, as we are on a crusade to help you make the best tune possible! It's possibly the most frustrating part of music production

    Read More 2
  • How To Get Analogue Synths - Cheap

    How To Get Analogue Synths - Cheap

    We're big fans of all things digital here at Prime Loops. From virtual synths to samplers, audio manglers and classic emulations, there's pretty much nothing you can't do with a laptop. But over the l

    Read More 2
  • Ultimate Music Industry Tips

    Ultimate Music Industry Tips

    We recently attended an industry meet-up where some of the most respected producers, DJs and remixers in the game gave their views on where the industry is at in 2014, and how new producers should a

    Read More 2
  • What Are The Physical Limits Of Sound?

    What Are The Physical Limits Of Sound?

    The physical nature of sound is something that we don't really consider too often. And that's not surprising when you think about it – if you're using a virtual analogue synth in a DAW, there is no

    Read More 2
  • How To Become A Professional At Monitoring

    How To Become A Professional At Monitoring

    Studio monitors are something that many novice producers and gear-heads tend to overlook somewhat. And it's not hugely surprising – in the general list of exciting kit available, monitors will alway

    Read More 2
  • How To Always Be Inspired & Beat Writers Block

    How To Always Be Inspired & Beat Writers Block

    Although this blog frequently touches on the technical aspects of music production, that's not the whole story. And while a quality mixdown can help you polish up a new tune, there's still no substitu

    Read More 2