In true DIY style, UK-based engineer/producer Mike Pelanconi has been building up his Drum Drops catalog via word of mouth over the last few years to become the premier online source of top quality drum loops, tracks, and samples for musicians, producers and remixers worldwide. What sets Mike Pelanconi apart from all the other beat makers out there is that he is not only able to capture amazing drum sounds, but he also manages to coax a stellar performance out of each drummer-these beats are soaked in sweat! All the Drum Drops beats are recorded to analog tape using a stunning array of the most legendary vintage gear imaginable: Neve, Helios, and API consoles; Pultec and Lang tube EQ's; Pye, Neve and Fairchild compressors; plus all the classic mics like the U 47, Ela M 251, and AKG C 12. For good measure, you get an occasional helping of EMT plate and spring reverb thrown in. Drum Drops has recently taken things to a whole new level with the introduction of their multitrack DVD series featuring top drummers laying down inspired grooves. What you get with each performance are separate tracks as 24-bit AIFF files (typically broken down as kick, snare, hat, stereo overheads, toms, room mics, click track, percussion, and effects) which you can drag into the DAW of your choice or open right away in Pro Tools LE, Logic 6, or Cubase SE using the conveniently supplied session files.
I have been having a great time for the last few months with their Dub Drops Vol 1 multitrack DVD release, featuring the classic reggae drummer Style Scott. The newest release in the multitrack series is Drops in the Bronx Vol 2, featuring legendary session drummer Keith LeBlanc (Sugarhill Gang, Trevor Horn, REM, Seal, Tackhead, Nine Inch Nails, On-U Sound). This beat collection hearkens back to Leblanc's seminal New York City hip-hop and funk pedigree with Sugar Hill Records, such as his classic performance on "The Message" by Grand Master Flash. The 15 drum performances range in BPM from 88 to 112 and are generally around four minutes in length (though a few clocked in at just over two minutes long). So in fact, what you get is a "keeper" live drum take to use for a bed track "as is"-or sample, loop, or otherwise rearrange. The individual track breakdown is as described above (kick, snare, room, stereo overhead, etc.) with the addition of an occasional clap track and minus any effects tracks.
Being a Logic user, I opened up the Logic 6 session files and was immediately struck by how slammin' the performances and sounds are. Right off the bat, the balance between the individual tracks in the supplied Logic set up sounded perfect to my ears, with a healthy emphasis on the ambient room mics and overheads. The quality of the recorded sounds is amazing; the vintage drums used are really well tuned, the room sounds are great, and even the cymbals and hats are super sweet. Everything just sounds very musical and "analog." This is how drums were meant to sound! Also, the kick drum sounds are simply not to be believed-especially on "101 BPM 3," which has the most low end I have ever heard in my life on an acoustic kick (yet it's in control and musical). Incredible! The presence of analog tape hiss on the tracks may be surprising to those used to ultra-clean digital recordings. Personally I find it to be part of the fun, and it helps introduce even more of an authentic analog vibe, even if one were to work with these tracks entirely in a DAW.
What's great about the multitrack concept is that it leaves a myriad of options open for the user, aside from the obvious advantages of track separation when mixing. For example, say you wanted a more close-mic'ed sound; simply mute the ambient mic tracks. Say you liked only part of the groove or want a fill in a different location; just edit in your DAW to create your own arrangement. Or use PT Sound Replacer to change or stack sounds if you so desire.
While the overall emphasis is on classic old-school hip-hop, the style of the beats (played with loads of attitude by LeBlanc) is actually quite diverse. At times, the flavor contains rock elements with a great big "Bonham-esque" feel that I could imagine working really well in a wide variety of settings, including straight-ahead indie rock or styles with more of a funky tinge. (Acts like Jon Spencer Blues Explosion or Jack Drag come to mind.) The quality of the tracks and the ready-to-use nature of the provided session files could also prove very useful for songwriters or even as study material for aspiring engineers on how drums can sound.
Drum Drops has just upped the ante even further with the latest addition to their beats package: the tempo map. Incredibly, they've gone in by hand and painstakingly created a midi tempo map for each groove, beat by beat, which means that your sequencer, drum machine, or software like Reason will run perfectly in sync with the subtle variations of the live drum performance.
Drops in the Bronx Vol 2 is yet another triumph for Mike Pelanconi and Drum Drops in their ever-expanding library of quality beats. I think they have succeeded in creating the most usable and musically-inspiring drum-sample series around-by a considerable margin. ($100 direct; www.drumdrops.com)