If you’ve ever heard of the company Harmonix, you likely know that anything music rhythm related is their jam. The game development studio originally worked on some of the first Guitar Hero games, before splitting off to work on the Rock Band series, and are undeniably one of the major forces behind the rise and fall of the bulky plastic peripheral music rhythm genre during the 2000’s.
Outside of Guitar Hero and Rock band, Harmonix have also had a hand in the creation of a series of less globally well known music rhythm franchises, from Dance Central to Amplitude, but until a few weeks ago I had never heard of their attempt at entering the mixed media tabletop space, Dropmix.
Released back in September 2017 for a whopping £130, now reduced to £30 or lower on many sites, Dropmix combines NFC chip based physical cards, a plastic playing area, and your smartphone to create a setup for competitive two player music gameplay, as well as solo music mixing. The basic idea behind Dropmix is that the board comes with sixty cards (more available separately), each containing a piece of a music track. You might have a card that’s the vocals for Bring Me to Life by Evanescence, a card that sets the tempo and key of the track to that of the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers theme tune, the drum beat to Chvrches’ The Mother We Share, the melody to Run DMC’s It’s Tricky, and the bass track to Scenario by A Tribe called Quest. By placing these cards onto the Bluetooth connected playing area, you can create your own mixes of tracks that should hopefully have some level of cohesion, played live from your phone or a Bluetooth speaker.
While these mixes are certainly not guaranteed to sound great every time, the instant feedback nature of play means you can quickly swap in a new part until you find something you like. The included smartphone app does a great job of tweaking the parts of the tracks so they at least match as best they can, so the heavy lifting of mixing a track is done for you.
Dropmix can be played in a few different ways, either as a competitive party game, or solo as a freestyle playspace. Starting with multiplayer play, the basic idea is that you and another player take it in turns to add two cards to the board, changing the sound of the track as you go. You make a thirty card deck each, with each card having a point value from one to three, keeping your deck’s total points below a point threshold. The board makes creating a deck really easy as you can stack up to 40 cards on the board at once and it will keep track of the size of your deck, the current point value, and what mix of song parts you have included.
The card game aspect itself is pretty simple, you are trying to keep placing cards on the board to score points, shutting out your opponent from playing cards, while not shutting yourself out. Each spot on the playing board supports only specific song parts, for example one spot only supports drum tracks. if the current drum track in play is a level 1 drum track you can play a level one or higher to replace it. The higher the level of card you play, the more likely it is your opponent will be unable to play their cards there, but the more limited your options will be too. It’s a simple competitive game of resource management, made more interesting by the inherent urge to make the music fit your personal tastes at the same time.
However, to me perhaps more interesting is freestyle mode, where you simply sit and play around with making songs my mixing cards. Now, I theoretically know the basics of beat matching and could probably make mixes of tracks if I had to with traditional software, but to me the barrier to entry is my inability to pick apart music in the moment. I struggle with sensory processing, particularly picking specific audio out of a mix, as a result of being on the autism spectrum. More traditional music remixing takes long enough to do properly that you really need to know what you think will work before trying to make a mix, it’s not the kind of thing where you can simply throw ideas quickly at a wall and see what sticks. Dropmix really breaks down that barrier to entry.
Because Dropmix allows users to build and dismantle tracks one piece at a time, by simply throwing cards together or playing with basic sliders, it makes it much easier to identify which parts of a track are having what kind of effect. I can pop a bass line down, pick it back up, pop it back down again to my heart’s content, and get a much better feel for what effect it’s having on the resulting track very easily.
As someone who often struggles to pick music apart, Dropmix has just really helped me to understand music composition better, while having fun making tracks.
Any tracks you enjoy, either in competitive or freestyle, can be saved for later playback with the tap of a button, and easily exported to social media, as shown by a few of my favourite early examples embedded earlier in this article.
While the original asking price for Dropmix, around £130, is prohibitively expensive for what this is, the price drops to the game in the years since release make it a much more inviting prospect. I picked my copy up for £30 with the base 60 cards, plus an additional nearly thirty cards, which for me was good value for money to be able to play around with music creation from time to time. The additional cards can be a bit pricey if bought new, at around £5 for 5 cards (not five new tracks, but five pieces of tracks). You can find bundles of cards cheap online if you look around, patience can make picking this up pretty reasonable.
So yeah, if you like the idea of tactile music mixing where it’s easy to pick out parts of the music from the overall mix, Dropmix is well worth giving a look.