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YouTuber uses quantization to “fix“ Van Halen… and it sounds awful

Eddie Van Halen
(Image credit: Richard E. Aaron/Redferns)

Quantization is a wonderful tool that allows musicians and producers to fix timing errors in their recordings. Using a digital grid, it can transform sloppy takes into damn-near perfect ones, but it's not without its drawbacks.

In music, we often hear about the intangible concepts of 'feel' and 'emotion'. Well, as YouTuber Bobby Huff – aka Dr Bob – is here to show you, quantization has the ability to utterly erase these from your recordings.

In a recent installment of his Music Surgery series, the intrepid audiophile lays Van Halen on the operating table, showcasing the havoc quantization wreaks on the band's 1978 single, Runnin' with the Devil. “I know this is going to border on blasphemy,” he explains, “but that's the point.”

After Dr Bob works out the track's average tempo of 95 beats per minute, it's immediately clear that even the first four bass notes are out of time. He “fixes” this, but as you'll notice, the life of the track is sucked out. As Huff says: “The danger and swagger are gone and the heart and soul of the band [have] been surgically removed.”

“Almost every new song you've heard in the past 20 to 30 years has been time corrected or programmed, which means every part of the song is in perfect time and locked to the grid or metronome to non-human standards of playing,” the YouTuber explains.

“The aspect of doing this to rock bands started in the '90s, and came about mostly because of Pro Tools, and because so many bands couldn't play to recording standards.”

He continues: “For some things, I love this sound. In 90 percent of the work I do, I use this type of approach. But the point I want to make is to make sure the artist and the song call for gridding up everything. If it feels great, don't feel bad about leaving it alone.

“Imagine Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones perfectly lined up: two of the greatest-feeling drummers to ever play would have never been heard properly.” 

The moral of the story? Huff explains: “Don't kill a groove just because you have the tools to.”

To check out more Music Surgery, head to Bobby Huff's YouTube channel.