I write for PushSquare.com but I also try to make music in my spare time (check out Sammy's "single" Gin & Tonic here/iTunes). As an experienced amateur music producer - I say experienced because I spend most of my time getting angry that nothing sounds right - I really wanted to give Rockstar's Beaterator a go. Expecting little more than a portable loops tool Beaterator has impressed me no end, and I'm here to share with you my experience putting together the PushSquare song that was written while I was reviewing the game.
The first thing that struck me about Beaterator was that it was so much more than I expected. I don't want this to come across like an advertising piece, but genuinely I expected some pre-made Timbaland loops that you could just chop up and arrange in the order you like. Beaterator is not that (though it can be if you want it to be), it's instead a full music production suite, if you like. The game's beefiest two modes - Studio Mode and Song Crafter - allow you to programme your own beats, melodies and synths via a Midi piano roll, and that's where I started with the review song; in an interesting situation.
I've spent a lot of time trying to find a way to store musical ideas while travelling. I've hummed into MP3 recorders. Phoned my parents' voice mail and sang ideas into it. I've even spent an entire day singing a hook over and over again to ensure I didn't forget it by the time I was home. When I got my Beaterator review copy, it was almost fate that waiting at the train-stop my train was delayed by twenty minutes.
Observing everything around me, as so often happens, I started humming to myself. Weird, I know, but it's how I roll. I eventually stumbled upon a bassline that kinda stuck, and it was there and then that I put Beaterator to the test. Knowing I had the review copy in my bag I pulled out the PSP and started to store my idea. A simple three note bass line. I deciphered the notes and created a quick synth patch in Beaterator. The synth in Beaterator is quite simple, allowing three basic wave forms and a host of mixing options. It's not going to come up with the most insane of patches, but after two minutes or so tweaking, I had the bassline written. I saved my project and got a sense of delight — I'd finally found a solution for storing my musical ideas.
30 minutes later (my train was further delayed) and a drum beat later I had the basis of a song (which by now I was codenaming "Pushing Square"). It wasn't until I got into bed later that night that I spent more time with Beaterator's song creation tools. The Chord Mode allows you to select your song's key and automatically generates four matching chords within that key. The four chords are applied to the PSP's face buttons, allowing easy playback. It's a great design choice because chords could be time consuming if they had to be punched in on the piano roll.
It wasn't long before I realised my track had to have a drum solo and to test out the actual beat making facilities in Beaterator — after all, my song had the most basic drum beat imaginable in place; so I needed something better to showcase that. You can easily create your own drum beats by bringing in samples from the menu, mixing them, and painting them on the screen, again in a Midi piano roll way. I picked some big toms and lots of claps to create my drums solo. You can import your own drum sounds if you like, or you can beatbox into the PSP. The choice is yours.
With all the individual elements to my track in place, I took over to the Song Crafter mode to come up with a basic arrangement. Here you take your loops and paint them onto a divided stave, much like in Reason or Cubase. The arragement didn't take long to come up with, it's a fairly simple piece. I added some automated flanging to the bass at the start just to give it more interest. The effects can be a little cluttered under menus, but are pretty powerful providing various reverb, flange, phase and chorus effects. You can also apply EQs and compressors.
It's here that I decided to stop. I could have totally mixed my song -- compressors, EQ the works, but I decided to pause at this point. The track was in a usable state for this article, and while creatively it doesn't really show all that you can do with Beaterator, I hope it gives a good example of what can be done.
Beaterator is essentially Reason or Fruity Loops in your pocket. The options are less, without doubt, but the creative possibilities while on the train/bus/car/walk whatever are very practical. And the ability to take those ideas into other platforms make it essential for travelling musicians.