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Drums & Drummers: Two Drum Loop Libraries

A drummer, a drum kit, a room, a set of mics: This is the art of loops at its most basic.

By Chris and Trish Meyer | July 31, 2010

This time around, we're going to step outside our normal realm of song construction kits and review a pair of drum loop libraries to be used in combination with other melodic instrument parts that may have came with your music creation software or other construction kit packs. But even though the subject matter may be the same, the approaches these two collections take are very different.{C}

Vital Drums: The Vitale Collection

This member of the Sony Premium Collection is indeed a top-shelf offering: Take drummers Joe Vitale (with credits including the Eagles, John Lennon, Crosby Stills & Nash and Ted Nugent) plus his son Joe Vitale Junior, add in three excellent Drum Workshop drum kits plus a 1967 vintage Gretsch kit, place them in a sweet-sounding small room with fine collection of mics, and let everyone do what they do best. The result is just under a gig of 24-bit 44.1khz Acidized WAV files of nicely matched loops plus a generous dollop of hits (including enough variations of a few classic snares to create a good multisampled instrument).

The first thing that struck me was the sound quality. These drums were caught at their full dynamic range - no artificially-compressed loudness here. Although the engineers used virtually one mic per drum, the result is very cohesive - it sounds like you're standing in the room right in front of the kit. The sound is very present, but not overbearing; I have to say the snare and hats had less attack than I was expecting - but the results sit very nicely in a mix. The drums themselves are very "live" rather than damped and are allowed to sing, both for better and for worse - the kick on the 1999 black maple DW kit is positively subsonic while the deep toms on the 2002 red maple DW kit really ring out, but you will also hear a bit of snare buzz (plus an unfortunate rattle on some of the Gretsch loops). But hey - this is what drums sound like in real life.

Both Senior and Junior take shots at the different kits. The fruits of their labor are divided by kit and tempo (ranging from 90 to 140 bpm) but not style or "song" name, leaving it to you to make notes as to where styles switch. That said, there are numerous variations presented for each style (each typically 2 to 4 bars long, with additional 1 bar bridges and fills), and the similarity in drum kit sound inside a given folder gives you a lot of leeway to mix and match loops to distinguish different sections in the songs you may compose. All told, there are over 600 drum loops, nearly 200 hits, plus folders with a few count-offs (nice for adding a natural start to a song) and hi-hat loops (to layer on top of other rhythms). The styles themselves are hard to pin down, sitting comfortably in the pop/rock genre; you'll hear the drums more than the drummer, making them flexible to adapt to a number of situations. Sony's license is pretty standard, with the quirk that you cannot credit the original creator without their permission; that's a shame as songwriters would love to say they had Joe Vitale play on their album (although obviously it's less of an issue for those just creating soundtracks and underscores).

Topping off this Premium Collection is a nice booklet (oh, how I miss those in sample libraries these days) with an interview of the Vitales, a 13 minute video including performances plus mic tips, a sample song in Acid format, and a free copy of Acid Express. Overall, a very nice package well worth the $99.95 list price ($69.95 direct from Sony).

LA Drum Sessions Volume 2

This offering from Big Fish Audio promises an assortment of first-call session drummers recorded with a variety of kits, mics, and techniques - but alas, there is no documentation to identify of any of these aside from the producer (Jeremy Sweet), mixer (Matt Haines), and editors (Mark Rinwalt and Steven Bolar).

This $99.95 DVD contains nearly 750 drum patterns plus 120 hits of 16-bit 44.1 kHz samples provided in AIFF, WAV, and REX2 formats (due to limitations in REX, you don't get the hits in that format). The styles cover a reasonably wide spectrum, centered in the pop/rock vein. The loops are divided into folders based on tempo (50 to 170 bpm), and then further into "songs" at each tempo (note that other instrument parts are not provided). Even though the loops are only 1 bar each, on average there are over 10 loops per song folder, so you still get a lot of variations on each basic groove to create your own evolutions with - plus the general vibe of many of the songs are close enough that you can mix and match to create different sections and transitions (indeed, some folders are identified as being fills).

An interesting touch is that nearly every loop is also presented in dry, room, and wet variations. I feel a bit like Goldilocks in evaluating their respective quality: "dry" sounded too close-miked to me (although still oddly muffled); "room" sounded like standing in the back of a large hall; "wet" sounded just right to me most of time, including a brighter, stronger-attack version of the drums plus a bright small-to-medium room ambience.

For a collection driven by the concept of studio drummers, the lack of longer loops (so you could hear an individual drummer's style in their fills, hi-hat patterns, and the such) and sound quality (the fidelity is okay, but not as top-notch as other collections focused on individual drummers such as the Vitales) is puzzling. But if you're looking for a songwriting toolkit that contains a broad number of tempos and styles - plus enough variations to go well beyond the "drum machine pattern" feel - this collection is a good buy. Big Fish's license is fairly standard, giving you the right to use the loops in your own "derivative" live performances or recorded compositions, but not in a sample or music library.

As noted earlier, I'm reviewing music construction kits that can be used with desktop audio software to create underscores and soundtracks for video and motion graphics. Click here to read a primer on creating music using "loops" and other audio snippets such as these.

(FTC Disclosure: All of the sound libraries I'll be reviewing were given to me by their vendors in the hope - but not expectation - that they would be reviewed. I have no other relationship with these companies.)


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