Recording technology has advanced whole light-years in the 43 years since Van Halen's self-titled debut album hit the airwaves in 1978.
One practice that first became popular around 30 years ago, and – in the words of audiophile and YouTuber Bobby Huff, aka Dr Bob – can be found in "almost every new song you've heard in the past 20 to 30 years," is quantization, a tool that allows musicians and producers to fix timing errors in their recordings.
As with many things in life though, quantization is subject to the "just because you can, doesn't mean you should" rule. Need proof? Check out the video above, in which Huff commits an offense that "borders on blasphemy,” and applies the tool to Van Halen's classic 1978 hit, "Runnin' with the Devil."
After finding an average tempo of around 95 beats per minute, Huff sets to work, discovering that the song's simple-but-powerful bass line falls almost immediately out of time. Though he "fixes" it, he notes that “the danger and swagger are gone and the heart and soul of the band [have] been surgically removed.”
As Huff continues, this somewhat depressing, dynamically flattening effect on the music becomes increasingly obvious.
“For some things, I love this sound (quantization)," Huff says. "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,” he points out.
The bottom line, according to Huff? “Don't kill a groove just because you have the tools to.”
Food for thought...
For more of Huff's videos, check out his YouTube channel.
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