One of the biggest disadvantages of using stereo drum loops is the difficulty of processing or changing the mix of the individual sounds. Discrete Drums addresses this issue with its 12-disc set, Series 1: Rock/Alternative ($299), by providing drum loops in an 8-channel format with the drums broken out into individual tracks. This approach is similar to recording a drum set in the studio. The 24-bit, 44.1 kHz WAV drum loop files are split into kick, snare, overhead left and right, toms left and right, and compressed-room left and right (no separate hi-hat track is provided).
Series 1: Rock/Alternative showcases a collection of 31 “songs” suitable for music styles implied by the series name. Each song contains several basic grooves and variations, averaging close to a dozen loops with which to build your song. The term loop is really not accurate; these are typically 8-bar or 16-bar phrases that you load into a digital audio workstation (DAW) and copy and edit within your software to build the desired performance.
The audio files of the 31 songs are contained on nine discs. As you can imagine, multiple 8-bar or 16-bar drum loops of 8-track, 24-bit audio can add up to a lot of data. Two audio CDs contain all of the loops and variations in 16-bit stereo. Individual hits are provided for those who wish to add hits on top of the phrases. The final disc contains both 24-bit and 16-bit samples of the individual hits in AIFF format.
The performances utilize session folks from Nashville, and the quality of the playing and engineering is very good overall. The drum sound is big and expansive and some creative editing makes for a great drum track. The ability to balance the ambient/dry sounds of the overhead and room mics and to experiment with different EQ, compression, and reverb settings on the snare is a luxury usually not available to those who use drum loops in their work.
This library has a good game plan, despite some drawbacks and limitations. First, the performances of Series 1 are very much geared toward rock/alternative songs, so don't expect a lot of stylistic variety. (Four more collections covering additional styles are due for release in the first quarter of 2002.) Next, though the songs include bpm data for the grooves, I found that sometimes I had to nudge the tempo in my DAW by a small amount to keep them in time.
In fact, plan on a lot of editing to make the tracks work to their potential — they are not ready for simple play and loop. Several phrases include pickup notes, so simply dropping eight tracks of data into the downbeat of a bar doesn't guarantee that it will land in the correct spot. Many phrases begin or end with a crash, so to create a continuous groove, you will need to extract a few bars from the middle of a loop.
Take a Hit
The individual hits sound good and come in dry and ambient versions — there just aren't enough of them to satisfy me. The brush rides sound great, and I love many of the kicks and hi-hats. The tom hits aren't great, however, and there are not enough snare hits for my taste. However, the hits are intended to supplement the main grooves and are successful as add-ons.
Generally, the kick patterns are a little too busy for my taste, and many of the variations between patterns are not subtle, which often makes it a challenge to use two basic grooves in the same song. You get a lot of musical material in each phrase to pull from, though.
The overhead of loading and editing this much data is not to be discounted. While working in demo mode, I preferred using the stereo, 16-bit versions of my favorite loops because they were easier to manipulate. (I still had the option of rebuilding the performance using the 24-bit, 8-track versions.) Many times, the stereo loops sounded great on their own for a demo or jingle.
I love the concept of this library. The end result could potentially blow away other methods of achieving realistic-sounding drum tracks. Check out the audio disc of the loops to determine if the grooves would work in your musical context. You might find it to be an excellent addition to your songwriting or production arsenal.