Drum loops are as common as ants at a picnic, and for good reason. They provide a basic rhythmic template for songwriting, they're the foundation of contemporary dance music, and they work great for broadcast and multimedia projects in which deadlines are a concern.
However, electronic, quantized drum loops can get old fast. Producers always look for new ways to spice things up and offer something different. Big Fish Audio's Performance Loops Drums, vol. 2 ($99.95), fills that need, employing actual acoustic-drum performances instead of the usual highly processed drum-machine sample approach.
Drummers on Acid
The drum loops collection pairs an audio CD with a CD-ROM of Acidized WAV files. This provides the ease of use of a CD-ROM and the backup and auditioning amenities of an audio CD. Twenty folders of WAV files contain the essential material, and you get four additional folders of bonus tracks. The main folders are organized according to tempo, from 73 to 140 bpm. They include the body of drum loops along with breaks, fills, hits, and endings. The performances were recorded to full-length songs, so they contain the natural musical inclinations of the drummer.
A few folders also contain drum loop variations: there are full kits, some with kick and snare only, some with room mic ambience, and some without. The additional material includes a smattering of miscellaneous hits, processed loops and hits, and a bunch of bonus loops.
Three drummers recorded the tracks in different studios under differing conditions and using different setups. Nonetheless, the quality of sound is consistent throughout. The collection presents a good cross-section of styles and beats, including straight-ahead rock, funk, and pop rock; straight blues and blues shuffles; various ballads; and solid dance grooves. I was delighted with the variety of brush performances — busy brush beats, folk-rock styles, and on-top-of-beat, danceable grooves. I really enjoyed the Brush Folk Rock loops with their deliciously in-the-pocket groove and syncopated snare patterns and the occasional addition of a side stick with the brush hits.
The loops are well mixed. Many of the snares, particularly those played with brushes and side sticks, have an excellent timbral quality. The side stick on the 87 bpm ballad, for instance, has a crisp and clear presence with just the right amount of room reverb. The kicks are punchy and nicely compressed overall. I heard some slight headphone bleed in some tracks, but Big Fish mentions this in the documentation. Otherwise, all the material is as clean as a whistle.
Can't Be Beat
As I sit and listen to the 77 bpm Groove Beat tracks, I remember just how much the subtleties of a real drummer can add to a piece of music. The little drags and ruffs, the slight variations in the velocities of snare hits, the way the hi-hat is played, and the way a drummer uses ride and crash cymbals — chaining these loops and fills together in various ways can provide lots of understated intricacy to a drum track. Whether you use them alone or combine them with electronic loops, they'll breathe a bit of life into your music. Go to Big Fish Audio's Web site and do some auditioning.