Put four world-class drummers into a studio with Eric Persing, and you're bound to catch some magic. Backbeat is the second title in the Classic Drumming series from the masters of sound design at Spectrasonics. Offered as a CD-ROM set in Akai/E-mu or Roland formats with Groove Control ($199) and as an audio CD without Groove Control ($99), Backbeat focuses on straight-ahead drum grooves.
Backbeat consists of stereo drum loops only. Individual drum hits are not provided, though cymbal and side-stick samples are included to augment the loops. Each of the 39 grooves contains several loops of basic beats and minor variations, as well as several loops with corresponding fills. The tempos of the original loops vary from 65 to 148 bpm. The main grooves with their variations and related elements fill three CDs with more than a gigabyte of material. That provides a great deal of flexibility for mixing and matching, and the Backbeat loops all sound spectacular.
Together, Persing and Bob Wilson recorded Gregg Bissonette, John Ferraro, Eric Boseman, and Wilson at four world-class studios in Los Angeles. Little space is wasted on esoteric beats; the emphasis is on maximizing the musical usefulness of every groove. The loops are individually processed with the EQ, compression, and room effects that are appropriate for each style, and they are almost all spot-on. The drums sound full and deep on the bottom end and clear and punchy on the top end. In other words, the rest of your tracks better be up to snuff, or these drums could show you up.
The CD-ROM version of Backbeat is in Groove Control format, which means that the loops are sliced up into individual beats that are mapped across several MIDI notes. Standard MIDI Files for each groove are provided to re-create the loop when it's loaded into your sampler and played from a sequencer. The name of each loop indicates the original tempo, but Groove Control lets you change the tempo, feel, and pattern of the loops using the tools and commands in your sequencer. You can make a swing tune out of a straight loop, for example, or turn a funk groove into a speed-metal track.
Because several complete kits were recorded in different studios, you aren't stuck with one “sound” for the entire library — another big plus. The loops consist of great-sounding drum kits, rooms, and processing that make the loops mix-ready. Wisely, no auxiliary percussion instruments such as shaker or tambourine were included in the loops, which could have limited their usefulness.
The loop styles are geared mostly toward rock, funk, modern country, and progressive jazz. I'm using a combination of “88-Solid Rock” and “91-Push Pop” for a modern-country song demo. Thanks to Groove Control, I have no problem combining the loops at my required 92 bpm.
A fourth CD, a Mac/Windows “data” disc, is a real goody box. All of the loops are provided again in WAV format (essentially the audio version of Backbeat), and a custom sound-file player called SoundFinder MVP is included. SoundFinder MVP enables you to quickly audition the individual WAV loops on the data disc so that you don't have to load the loops from the other discs into your sampler to hear them. In addition to SoundFinder, the data disc includes the accompanying MIDI files, PDF manuals for Backbeat and Groove Control (printed documentation is also included), demos that highlight the drum patterns, and a couple of handy utilities.
Get Your Groove On
Overall, I have no complaints about Backbeat, except that I wish I had individual hits from the sampling sessions; the drum sounds are truly superb. You can get individual hits from the Groove Control data to build your own kits, but that's only moderately successful, because you must cull the hits from the existing loops. Nevertheless, Backbeat is an extremely useful collection of loops, and you'd be hard-pressed to find grooves that feel and sound any better.