Chances are if you have paid attention to any of the stuff (or have nerds like us in your life who pay attention to the stuff) that came out at the most recent NAMM Show, you’ve probably heard the scuttlebutt concerning Singular Sound’s Beat Buddy, advertised as the world’s first hands-free drum machine pedal for musicians of all kinds. Some of you geeked out and jumped aboard the Beat Buddy train immediately, and some of you (like me) were skeptical. Partly because I’m primarily a drummer and A), I’ve never dug drum machines for any practical use and B)…I’m not a fan of the theory that drummers can be replaced by electronics. That just smacks of Terminator creepiness to me. Plus, I like drumming. I’m not ready to be replaced by a robot quite yet.
So when a company releases a product that some people initially believed would all but replace drummers, I rolled my eyes. But then, as they do after every NAMM show, the questions and order requests started popping in. So, we bought some Beat Buddies. And let me tell ya…I was TOTALLY RIGHT…. and, also totally wrong about them. Allow me to share with you my personal review of the Beat Buddy, courtesy of Bigfoot Music, and why I think it is way better than I initially thought, and yet still completely separate from drummers. (Don’t worry, fellow shell-beaters…wipe the sweat from your brows and sigh in relief. Our jobs are safe!)
Beat Buddy Breakdown
According to their website (here’s the link) the Beat Buddy was born out of the sheer disappointment that most musicians have when they hear or play a typical drum machine. In recording and especially live, drum machines have always been a bit lack-luster. Most people know what a drum machine sounds like and, in comparison to a real flesh-and-blood drummer, virtual drums sound sterile, flat, and most importantly, overly precise.
When you have a computer brain mathematically calculating a drum pattern or a beat, you’ll get rhythmic perfection, but often at the expense of a natural and authentic sounding dynamic as well as, quite frankly, crappy sounds. There are exceptions, but you usually have to empty your checking account for a decent machine with good sounds. The Beat Buddy’s primary difference from other drum machines is that the sounds and patterns are actual samples from real, breathing, sweating drummers; human, imperfect, and great sounding! It is because of this that the Beat Buddy sounds and plays great both in live and recording contexts, depending on which you'd like to use it. Allow me to elaborate:
Using the Beat Buddy for Live Performances:
The Beat Buddy is pretty ideal for small musical combos or one man band performances (or a full-piece band whose drummer has mysteriously disappeared after a hard night of partying, which happens). In my case, a lot of my own gigging has involved just me or a small duo or trio; in any case, I find the Beat Buddy extremely useful.
The first thing that became very apparent is how intuitive the Buddy is to use in conjunction with another instrument. Granted, it helps to have some sense of rhythm to begin with and there is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to the timing; but when you get right down to it, the Beat Buddy was designed entirely with the mentality of any musician, be it guitarist, cellist, hurdy-gurdy-iest…whatever.
If you tend to categorize yourself with the “rhythm-challenged”, don’t worry! It’s gonna be okay! One of the neatest things about the Beat Buddy is that it’s technically impossible to make a timing mistake or fall off the beat. Regardless of how you use it, the Beat Buddy will always stick to the time signature you chose and patterns will always begin exactly on the “one” of any measure. This is to ensure that if you decide to put an awkwardly placed drum-fill in the middle of the song, the Beat Buddy will only play what makes rhythmic sense with your entire song. The Beat Buddy allows you to have total control of the song, but not to your own detriment: the brain of the pedal is designed to keep time at all times (with all times!), making it pretty forgiving in the event you slip up.
Second best thing about the Buddy: the samples are great! Again, unlike a traditional drum machine, the Beat Buddy does not manufacture sounds using quantized, virtual means. The sounds are real players at real drums sets, thus giving the samples and tones more depth and the patterns more authentic pacing and feel. To do the Beat Buddy justice (and they will reiterate this on their website tutorials, instruction books, etc) that the best sound you’ll get will be through a “neutral, full-range” system, whether a home stereo system or a professional audio system (like a bi-amped power speaker, for example). For my purposes, I was running the Buddy through a Trace Elliot bass pre-amp and 4x12 cab with a graphic EQ, which seemed to sound just dandy for demo-ing. But when it comes to live performances, the Beat Buddy will sound the most natural and un-colored through something more transparent than a typical guitar or bass amp. Guitar and bass amps usually color the tone or can muffle the sounds a little more than desired, but depending on your rig, the Beat Buddy works great all around.
All that being said, the Beat Buddy can be hooked up or run through almost anything. The pedal itself is both MIDI-In and MIDI-Out (which I’ll explain a little bit more in a sec), but can be hooked up to pretty much anything with 1/4 inch or 3.5mm inputs (such as a mixer, audio interface, directly into an amp or powered speaker, laptop, so forth). This also makes the Beat Buddy an invaluable recording and composing tool, but before I end the breakdown on the BB’s live uses, let me talk about the footswitch…
Sold separately from the Buddy unit itself, the Beat Buddy footswitch may be the best thing you invest in for the sake of your Buddy’s live use. To ensure that your Beat Buddy set-up is entirely hands-free, the programmable two-button switch allows you to add accents during the song or pause/unpause for breaks. You can also program it to help you scroll to the next song on your preprogrammed set-list, which is extremely helpful to avoid those awkward “Hey, thanks for coming out to see me fumble with my equipment” speeches we’ve all had to do at one time or another. The official footswitch is another forty bucks, but I highly recommend having it to fully flesh out your Beat Buddy rig.
Using the Beat Buddy for Recording & Writing:
Probably one of the most difficult parts of writing a song on your own is the fact that you can realistically only do one thing at a time (well, we mere mortals anyhow. Some people have all the talent). Over the last couple decades, and especially in the last few years, the music industry has teamed up with the computer industry to create some really clever solutions to bedroom rockers who want to write and record their own music independently of other people. I would say the Beat Buddy is one of those clever solutions.
And let’s face it, when you’re dealing with other people and their own opinions, creative differences can make it difficult to really get into the substance of what you’re writing. So for those of us who prefer (at least, initially) to work on our next chart-topping hit in the secret oyster shell of our own creativity, it’s nice to know that we can have a great sounding, easy-to-use way of fleshing out our melody lines with a beat.
Seeing as how the Beat Buddy comes equipped with over 200 drum patterns (“songs”) and ten different drum sets, chances are you’ll find something to get you started for your next writing project. EVEN if that isn’t enough for you, the Beat Buddy Manager Software allows you to crack into your Buddy’s brain and either program your own MIDI patterns or download brand new samples and songs from their soon-to-come online library. The Beat Buddy is conveniently both MIDI-in and MIDI-out (meaning you can use the pedal itself as a MIDI controller, or use most other MIDI controllers with it). Even if you’re not into the whole MIDI thing and would just like to jump right into recording with the Beat Buddy, you can use it with any audio interface that has 1/4 inch or 3.5mm inputs.
But let’s say you don’t do much writing, you just want a way to practice your ensemble chops or your soloing skills in a context to save face. The Beat Buddy is one of the best jamming tools I’ve ever used and I believe it can help make you a better overall musician, whether you consider yourself primarily a guitarist who needs a never-ending drummer that won’t tire of your monotonous noodling, a bass player who is looking to practice locking in with drummers more solidly, or even a drummer. That’s right! The Beat Buddy can actually help you practice and improve on your own drum chops, and yet still probably won’t steal your job. I hope. ….uh oh…
Anyway, there’s plenty more I could get into about the Beat Buddy, for the sake of my typing fingers, I’d encourage you to come on down to the shop and ask one of us to tell you about it and give you the grand tour of the pedal (you can also check out their website at www.mybeatbuddy.com). I’m allowing you to say that you have the official endorsement of a life-long drummer for the Beat Buddy itself, so feel free to come in and test my opinion of it!
Stay excellent and have a good week!
Also, here’s a video: