Despite the Timbaland branding, the game is suitable for all genres, with a lot of the samples and loops provided by Timbo suiting pop, rock, electro, garage and more.
The "game" is divided into three key modes: Live Play, Studio Session and Song Crafter. Each of these modes are designed with different elements of production in mind. Live Play allows you to trigger samples at the hit of a face button; this can be useful for taking your tracks into a live environment. It's also the easiest way of recording a performance into the Song Crafter mode if you have a rough idea of a structure for your track. Studio Session allows you to tweak the samples and loops that are in your song. Timbaland provides a number of loops for you to include in your tracks, but if you want to be unique you'll need to use the Drum and Melody Crafter tools, which are essentially Midi piano rolls. Here you'll be able to actually create the different elements of your track and edit the drum and synth samples to your liking. Finally, Song Crafter mode allows you to place your loops into an arrangement. This gives you a simple stave like platform to work on, where you just drag and drop your loops into place. There's even effect automation included to give your track panning and reverb.
Compositions can be exported as Midi or .wav files, for either further development in PC based applications or sharing with friends. You can also share files with other Beaterator users via the Rockstar Social Club.
Beaterator is not Reason, Cubase or Pro Tools. The interface is less intuitive and the options are fewer. But that's fine because Beaterator is portable. For us, Beaterator is the perfect accompaniment to our home studio. Whilst reviewing the "game", we found ourselves in numerous situations where previously we didn't have a solution. For example, during our numerous weekly train commutes, we often think about music. It's in these times of mostly solitude that the best ideas are struck up. Not being real musicians, we've never been able to jot down the notation of our ideas while on the train. The best solution we'd come up with previously was using the MP3 record option on a mobile phone to store ideas. But this week, reviewing Beaterator was the ultimate test — our train had been delayed and we had a bassline. Could Beaterator save our idea? The answer is yes — we loaded up our PSPs and dropped a bassline into a really simple synth patch we programmed. And that was it. It was saved. But still with a 50 minute journey ahead we were able to flesh that idea out into a more or less complete chorus, with lead synths and drums. This is where Beaterator shines. The ability to export as .wav files or individual midi tracks means it's a perfect complement for a travelling musician. Because you can have the PSP with you at all times, you'll never lose an idea. And then the ability to export those ideas into a more powerful program like Reason or Cubase can result in tracks that might never have been. The fact that we actually think it's easier writing music away from the distraction of the computer makes Beaterator an even great prospect.
So, we've tackled why Beaterator is a great program for existing musicians, but what about beginners? Again, this is where we think Beaterator shines. It's a low barrier of entry (unlike computer based DAW packages) and yet it features many of the tools in a "fuller" package. Thanks to Beaterator's conceptual similarity with bigger programmes, it means any time spent learning the application will be useful when eventually moving on. Thus Beaterator is the perfect starting point for anyone trying to get into music production. It may be a bit overwhelming at first, but tutorials and glossaries cover many music production techniques. Couple that with the portability of the application and you'll probably find yourself more tolerant to the learning process.
Beaterator is jam packed with useful ideas to get you started. There are a complete library of tracks made by Rockstar employees to give you a base point. You can really dissect these if you like, and as a learning process, tweak them. The included synth patches are less useful, but you can create and store your own if you're happy to fiddle with oscillators and what-not. It's more of an option for experienced producers, but it's great that it is there.
As far as drum hits go, you'll find plenty of content within Beaterator. As a neat aside, it's also worth noting that you can import your own .wav files into the game should you have "borrowed" a kick drum from a noteworthy source. Finally, you can use the PSPs microphone to record audio into the game. You may want to use these as actual loops in your track, or perhaps for recording your thought processes if you intend to export your loops into Reason, etc.
Interface is close, but not quite perfect. It's obvious Rockstar did absolutely the best they could with Beaterator's interface. Still, it does feel a little claustrophobic. That's not the fault of the product at all. In fact it's not even the fault of the PSP. It's just what's to be expected when putting a music production suite on a handheld system. After some initial concerns, the interface becomes surprisingly intuitive rather quickly. Yes, there are three or four more button presses to every task than you'd expect on a PC but whatever, you can't take a PC on a train can you?
After messing around with Beaterator's synth for a while we've found it to be pretty pleasant. So we're not quite sure why Rockstar included so many poor sounds in their synth library. For the beginner, the libraries will be the best place to get loops up and running but, if you want anything remotely useful, you're going to have to craft your own synth patches.
We spent about 25 hours with Beaterator constructing this review and our biggest problem came during loop composition. As far as we can tell there's no way to play back other loops in your track while your composing another. That means you have to go back and forth a lot to check everything is fitting together fine.
Look out for a follow-up article as we deconstruct a particular composition recorded while writing this review for more on Beaterator.
Beaterator is not a game, but a portable music studio inside your Playstation Portable. While being a particularly powerful tool, Beaterator succeeds mainly because it's aware of its strengths. If you're a beginner with an interest in music production or an experienced musician looking to compose on the go — you'll be hard pushed to find a more complete package than Beaterator.