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

  • A History of Distortion - Disgusting!

    A History of Distortion - Disgusting!

    Distortion. What does it make you think of? If you're a rocker you'll jump to guitars, a drum and bass head then you'll spring to some violent synths... a studio engineer and you'll head for the

    Read More 2
  • The Rise Of Reggaeton

    The Rise Of Reggaeton

    It looks like summer has finally arrived here, and our thoughts turn to Caribbean music as usual – the sun-kissed charms of reggae, soca and dancehall. But there's another flavour out there which ha

    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
  • Why Make Music With Your Smartphone?

    Why Make Music With Your Smartphone?

    Your mobile phone has more computing power than all of NASA in 1969. NASA launched a man to the moon. Now we launch angry bird into pigs. Only 10 years ago people were playing ‘Snake2’ on Nokia p

    Read More 2
  • Are You Maximizing Your Musical Income?

    Are You Maximizing Your Musical Income?

    Have you ever had your music played on radio or TV? Or have you ever performed an original piece of music live? Then chances are you could be collecting some money from it. What is PRS for Music?

    Read More 2
  • Writing Live -  A Different Approach To Producing

    Writing Live - A Different Approach To Producing

    It's one of the most familiar problems to anyone who writes electronic music. You've written a great beat, a solid bassline, and a couple of decent ideas for hooks. Your embryonic track now stands

    Read More 2
  • What is Circuit Bending?

    What is Circuit Bending?

    There are some things you hear about that can just boggle your mind. This is one of them. Circuit bending is an art form unlike any other - it requires intelligence, creativity and a smidgeon

    Read More 2
  • How To Use MP3 Tags To Promote Your Music

    How To Use MP3 Tags To Promote Your Music

    So you're about to give your music to the world. You've conceived your idea, used some freakin' awesome samples (you're welcome) and created your masterpiece. But hold the phone!   Before you c

    Read More 2
  • How To Get Creative With Distortion

    How To Get Creative With Distortion

    Try, for example, taking a simple percussive pattern or loop a couple of synth notes, and run them hard through your mixer (even a DJ mixer will do). Record them back in, and you'll have a nasty dis

    Read More 2
  • How To Produce The Cash In A Flash

    How To Produce The Cash In A Flash

      Most budding producers have a fairly straightforward idea of how they'll eventually make their living from music - write a selection of irresistible 12" releases, set the world afire with some

    Read More 2