A big problem when using prefabricated MIDI grooves is that almost all the various drum samplers (such as EZdrummer, DFH Superior, BFD2 and Addictive Drums) use their own note mappings rather than a standard such as General MIDI (GM).
This being the case, it's impossible to use a beat programmed for BFD2 in DFH Superior because the wrong sounds will be triggered. Toontrack's EZplayer Pro offers a solution to this, along with many more handy tricks.
EZplayer Pro runs as a standalone application or a VST, AU or RTAS plug-in, and is used in conjunction with your existing drum/percussion virtual instruments (or hardware, if that's your thing). It makes no sounds of its own, though it does come with a load of MIDI grooves.
The GUI is split into Browser and Arranger sections. You audition MIDI files in the Browser, and then drag them into the Arranger. If your drum sampler doesn't follow the GM standard, EZplayer Pro uses its 'map-wrappers' to convert files to play back correctly – these also ensure that the MIDI output will trigger the intended sounds in your drum samplers.
The Arranger is a multitrack affair that will be familiar to anyone who has used a MIDI sequencer before, enabling you to order grooves, play them simultaneously, stretch them and more.
Each track in EZplayer Pro can have several layers, enabling you to stack up multiple grooves. The Play All mode plays them all at once, while Step Through goes the layers one after another. The Random mode, meanwhile, is sure to give unexpected results.
Unusually, each track has its own loop region and time signature, which makes crafting polyrhythmic material a doddle. You may also have spotted that every track has a Play button – this and the velocity setting can be controlled via MIDI for live performance (it's easily configured using MIDI learn). The Sync At option means that triggering happens on the subdivision of your choice – it's a bit like Ableton Live's clip launching.
You can set a different map-wrapper and MIDI channel for each track, enabling control of multiple drum samplers at once. When combined with EZplayer Pro's ability to split grooves into component parts, this enables you to have the kick drum playing via BFD2, with the other drums coming from DFH Superior, and so on.
This isolation option also means it's possible to extract the hi-hat pattern from one groove and place it with, say, the snare drum part of another.
One thing to note, though, is that EZplayer Pro can't be used to remap incoming MIDI (from an electronic drum kit, for example) on-the-fly and spit it out to your chosen drum samplers).
You can't edit grooves on a note-by-note basis, either, which is a bit of a shame, but there's still a cool way of embellishing them: the Accents tool. This lets you add (but not remove) single hits, and is great for adding cymbals to the first beat of a bar, or plonking an extra bass drum in.
A velocity dial enables you to adjust the dynamics of grooves, and you can also transpose the MIDI, so a kick part plays on the snare, for example. Once you have your part down, you can throw it back into the Browser for later use, or drag grooves – or selections from the Arranger – into your DAW. You can also use the Record functions to 'fuse' tracks into one part.
At present, EZplayer Pro doesn't actually sync to your host, but Toontrack say that this functionality will be added to the app in an imminent update.
If, like us, you have several billion MIDI files from different drum samplers spread across your hard drive, then EZplayer Pro can act as a central point from which to browse and combine them. Additionally, it offers plenty of groovy creative possibilities – and it's cheap, too!