SessionBand Drums review – UK Music Apps bring ‘drums only’ model to their SessionBand series

Download from iTunes App StoreSessionBand Drums logoAs I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, developer UK Music Apps Ltd have recently added a new app to their extensive SessionBand series; SessionBand Drums. As I described in the ‘news’ piece, the SessionBand apps are a little like a ‘mini’ iOS equivalent of PG Music’s (often derided but actually quite powerful) Band In A Box desktop software. And, while BIAB covers dozens of musical styles within a single piece of software (and has a much broader feature set than would be practical in an iOS app), each SessionBand app is genre specific – blues, jazz, country, etc. – to keep things focused and compact.

I’ve now got a selection of the SessionBand apps lined up for reviews but, given that it is the most recent release, I thought I’d start with SessionBand Drums. It is, however, somewhat different to the other apps in the series; it is focused on just drums and covers a range of musical styles in a single app. The obvious application is for a singer, songwriter or music producer who is looking for a source of acoustic drum tracks and wants a combination of ease of use with flexibility in terms of creating arrangements (sequencing patterns and fills to construct your full drum track).

SessionBand Drums; easy to assemble acoustic drum tracks in an app.

SessionBand Drums; easy to assemble acoustic drum tracks in an app.

So, with the launch pricing still available (and all the other SessionBand apps still on sale at 50% off), at UK£2.99, is SessionBand Drums a useful addition to your drum track creation options?

Set up the kit

When it comes to creating an acoustic drum track for your next iOS song or recording project, there are a number of possible approaches. The obvious choices are (a) record a real drum kit, (b) assemble a track from pre-recorded commercial drum loops (for example using the Drum Loops HD app) or (c) program your own parts using a sample-based virtual drummer tool (for example, using DrumPerfect).

Using SessionBand Drums is, in essence, an example of (b) in that the app contains around 800 drum loops organised into a number of common musical genres and, within each genre, you get a small number (half a dozen or so) of sub-styles. However, the ‘added value’ with SessionBand is that you can (within some limits) easily adjust the tempo of the loops, easily arrange them into a song format (adding fills and choosing different main loops) and adjust the drum mix balance between the kick, snare, hihat, toms and overhead mics.

SessionBand Drums covers a range of different musical genres.

SessionBand Drums covers a range of different musical genres.

This last element is most certainly different from working with standard stereo loops and, if you like the ease of loop assembly, but miss that extra bit of control in terms of tweaking the mix, then perhaps SessionBand Drums has something of an edge. Interestingly, there is also some capacity to automate the drum mix within the app.

As with all audio loop-based approach, additional audio processing aside (effects, EQ, reverb, etc.) you are stuck with the sound of the recorded kit. In the case of SessionBand Drums, this has been very nicely recorded indeed; the sound is very solid and punchy but (very sensibly so it suits a number of styles) is also fairly ‘standard’ in nature. If you want to be able to tweak the sound so it is more ‘heavy rock kit’ or more ‘jazz’, then you have to do that with external processing; otherwise, in terms of the kit sounds, therefore, what you hear is what you get.

The app includes some useful built-in help/tutorial material to get you started.

The app includes some useful built-in help/tutorial material to get you started.

The app itself is universal (as are all the SessionBand apps), requires iOS8.0 or later, is a 340MB download (this is, after all, an app build around an audio loop sample library) and includes support for both Audiobus and AudioCopy (although not IAA at present) so, once you have assembled a suitable drum track within SessionBand Drums, you can easily move it across to something like a DAW/sequencer app (I had no problems with this using Cubasis) for inclusion in a full musical project.

Hit the kit

Building a drum track within SessionBand drums is pretty straightforward once you have grasped the main concepts. Within each of the sub-styles, you get a choice of three main loops (A,B and C) and three drum fills (A, B and C). Having selected your sub-style (for example, Bonham Beat or We Will Rock You from the rock category), you then have to build your drum track from just these six loops.

This is obviously somewhat more restrictive than you might find with a commercial loop library where you can, if you choose, mix and match from potentially hundreds of drum loops in different musical styles or even (if the mood takes you) from different sample libraries.

You can select drum loops and fills with the two 'dials' at the base of the editing screen.

You can select drum loops and fills with the two ‘dials’ at the base of the editing screen.

However, in practice, given that you have the fills, and that you can also adjust the mix of the different drum tracks (kick, snare, etc.) you can coax enough variety out of the app to supply a solid full performance. No, it will not be as varied as a ‘real’ drummer but all the styles are well played here and what you will get is a ‘no fuss’, very workman-like, performance. And it will not get in the way of what might be more high-profile musical elements such as your vocal or lead instrument.

The other advantage of the A, B, C pattern format is that it is the same across all the sub-styles. If, therefore, you create a sequence of drum patterns along the timeline (as described below), what you can do is than switch styles and play that same sequence back using a different sub-style. Indeed, as many iOS musicians will then copy/paste their SessionBand Drums tracks into an app such as Cubasis for further work, this is a means by which you could easily mix and match drum patterns from more than one sub-style in your finished production.

The main genres covered are Rock, Funk/RnB, Jazz, Blues/Country, Latin, Reggae and ‘Odd Meter’ (i.e. some ‘not in 4/4 time’ styles). Nope, no thrash metal or indie angst or bluegrass or prog or… well, you get the idea… but what is here is good and very useable.

Got the time(line)?

SessionBand provides you with a timeline-based approach for constructing your tracks and organising the loops and fills. In the main screen, you can view the timeline and start/stop playback of the current pattern sequence. You also get left/right markers that you can set if you want playback to loop (simply tap on the dark grey ‘bar number’ strip to set the position of the loop markers or to disable looping altogether).

The timeline based editing is very easy to use and includes some neat options for adding variations into your arrangements.

The timeline based editing is very easy to use and includes some neat options for adding variations into your arrangements.

Aside from the transport controls, the bottom section of this main screen allows you to set the tempo. Tap the tempo button and you can then adjust it within a +/- 15% range. Obviously, there is some time-stretching being performed here and, while I found modest tempo adjustments still produced good results, slowing loops down by the full 15% did, on occasions, reveal the stretching. Speeding the loops up from their default tempo was, as might be expected, less likely to create any serious difficulties.

If you tap the pencil (edit) icon, a two-dial drum pattern selector appears at the base of the screen. If you tap on the timeline (in the area where the blue loop graphics sit) a double-headed ‘insertion’ arrow will appear, you can then just dial in the loop and/or fill combination required and it will be added at the insertion point. If that happens to be between two existing patterns, these are simply shifted along the timeline to make room.

With a pattern/loop selected (it will be dark blue while non-selected items are light blue) while in edit mode, you can delete a loop (the small ‘x’ icon located top-left of the loop) or, by using a pinch or stretching motion, you can shrink or expand the loop with the shortest length being 1 beat. The maximum length is 2 bars; just insert another instance of the same loop if you want it to play for longer.

You can adjust the length of a loop section between 1 and 8 beats.

You can adjust the length of a loop section between 1 and 8 beats.

You can copy and paste multiple patterns so, if you have create a verse/chorus structure and simply need to copy it for the second time around, that is possible. Equally, you can also create ‘stops’ – gaps where there are no drums playing. Simply tap on a loop in edit mode until it turns red and you can then drag left/right to create or adjust the size of the ‘stop’. Combine this with a fill – and make sure the ‘Crash Cym’ button is selected over on the Mixer screen (see below but this adds a crash cymbal hit at the end of each roll) and what you get is rather a nice roll/stop/overhanging cymbal crash… very neat.

Tap on a loop until it turns red and you can then drag left/right to create a 'stop' section where no drums are playing.

Tap on a loop until it turns red and you can then drag left/right to create a ‘stop’ section where no drums are playing.

There is, however, another way to approach this. If you resize a loop to a one bar length, a further loop type becomes available in the ‘drum fill’ dial; the ‘end’ loop. This essentially gives you a kick/cymbal hit on beat 1 of the bar and then nothing until the next loop is triggered. You can, of course, use this to end a song or even to end a song section.

If you set your loop to exactly one bar in length, the 'end' option can be applied to it.

If you set your loop to exactly one bar in length, the ‘end’ option can be applied to it.

Mix it

If you hit the ‘mix’ icon button, you can access the SessionBand Drums mixer options. As mentioned earlier, this gives you the ability to mix, solo and mute any of five different drum mics. These are ‘real’ mics through….   so even if you kill the volume of everything but (for example) the kick – or just solo the kick mic – you will still hear something of the ‘bleed’ of the other drum sounds into the kick mic. This is exactly as you would get with a real drum kit in a real studio with a real set of mics…. That, said, it does give you some control over the balance of the kit which many will find useful.

Usefully, you can also use the Automation panel to enable mixer automation. This allows you to record different mixer settings for each loop block along your timeline. These level/mixer settings are not continuously variable (you can not, for example, gradually automate an increase the snare volume as a loop block plays back). However, you can have different mixer settings for ‘loop C’ at bar 1 than for another instance of ‘loop C’ at bar 12. This does, therefore, add some extra versatility. Buttons enable you to switch on/off the (already mentioned) crash cymbal options and there is also a metronome on/off switch (the button with the triangle-shaped icon on it).

The Mixer screen; not stuffed with features but being able to balance the kit and automate the mixer settings on a per-pattern basis is very useful.

The Mixer screen; not stuffed with features but being able to balance the kit and automate the mixer settings on a per-pattern basis is very useful.

The mixer doesn’t offer you much more than the basics though and, if I had one observation about the selection of mics, it is that it would have been great to see a ‘room’ channel. Indeed, I think I’d have lived with a combined toms/overheads channel if that meant being able to add a stereo room mic channel. This would have allowed you to add a greater sense of room ambience (reverb) into your drums which might have been nice for some styles. You can, of course, simply send SessionBand Drums output through your favourite iOS reverb app (as I did with AltiSpace in the screenshot below) as an alternative so this is easy enough to workaround.

Get the gig?

Technically, I had no problems with SessionBand Drums. The app performed very solidly indeed when used standalone (while I was putting together my drum tracks). Equally, I then had no difficulties exporting my completed drum track and getting it into my DAW/sequencer of choice, whether that was via AudioCopy or via Audiobus. That whole part of the process was pretty straightforward.

SessionBand Drums worked very well within Audiobus.

SessionBand Drums worked very well within Audiobus.

As mentioned earlier, the range of musical styles within SessionBand Drums, understandably, only covers so much territory. That said, because the loops are kept unfussy, and the basic sound of the kit is fairly neutral, you could easily put many of these loops to good use in other, related, styles. This is not flashy ‘notice me’ drumming; it is solid, dependable, keep the beat, don’t get in the way drumming.

And that is most certainly exactly what is intended in the design and what most real session drummers are asked to do; don’t get in the way of the top line….. SessionBand Drums does exactly what you might expect a decent session drummer would do. OK, maybe with not quite the versatility or a real drummer but it gets a solid job done with a minimum of fuss.

All the styles were very useable including the selection of reggae styles.

All the styles were very useable including the selection of reggae styles.

In summary

At what is a pocket money price, you can think of SessionBand Drums as a generic drum loop library with some rather useful bells and whistles. Those bells and whistles are what makes it so easy to create your custom drum track and, while the range of loops will not suit every musical style and, like all loop-based drum tracks, you have to work with the drum sounds you are supplied with (although they are very well done here), it is not a difficult process to knock together a complete drum track to sit alongside you latest song idea. And it is certainly easier than micing up a full drum kit in what might be a less-than-ideal ‘home studio’ setting.

SessionBand Drums might not be for everyone; it perhaps doesn’t have the more flashy or extreme styles that some would like. However, if you are a one-man band/song writing/music production entity, and you use acoustic drums as part of that process, the app is a very useful tool for quickly assembling a drum track. Whether that will be the ‘finished article’ (the audio quality is certainly up to the task) or simply used as a guide while the song takes shape, this is a pretty painless tool that, for non-drummers, will get the job done. The results may not have the character of a real drummer – nor perhaps the versatility of a top-end sample-based desktop virtual drum tool such as BFD3 or Superior Drummer – but neither does it come with the blown ears or price tag.

Easy to use and capable of some polished and dependable drum tracks, as a somewhat different take on the ‘working with drum loops’ approach to building a drum track, SessionBand Drums has a lot going for it. Even at full price it would be good value for money but, while the UK£2.99 launch pricing holds, this is a bit of a bargain for those needing instant acoustic drums without any programming involved.

SessionBand Drums v.1


and don’t forget that the other SessionBand apps are still at 50% off sale pricing for a limited time….

SessionBand EDM v.1


SessionBand Acoustic v.1


SessionBand Piano v.1


SessionBand Blues v.1


SessionBand Rock v.1


SessionBand Jazz v.1


SessionBand Jazz v.2


SessionBand Country v.1






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    Comments

    1. This app is 8.0 only fyi. The earlier apps are okay with ios 7. Before this app was introduced I would go to their Jazz app (their first app) everytime I needed I jazzy drum track. I thought maybe they should just do a drum app…

      These apps are big, like half a gig big, so grasp that before you buy. Great sounds.

      • Hi Claude… yes, I did mention the iOS8 requirement in the review…. but it’s a good point about some of the earlier releases only requiring iOS7. And, yes, the sounds are pretty good around…. :-) best wishes, John

    2. I hope that developer will change drums samples from .mp4 to .caf (Apple Loops) files (like is in Drum Loops HD app) on next update all SessionBands then every change tempo will be have a perfect quality in Garageband :-)
      This app will become the best.

    3. eustressor says:

      Thanks for the weekend heads up, John! Any way you slice it, tremendous value for less than a pack of gum :)

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