It stretches ones ear to ask it to listen to the percussion parts in a song. Surely it is the music or lyrics that draws one into the song first and foremost. Often it is by the 2nd or 3rd time that a person hears more details of lyrics and or musical nuances. For each person it is a different experience.
Yet, most people aren't aware of how the percussion puts the 'frosting on the cake'. Percussion instruments in pop/rock and country usually include tambourine, shakers and maybe stretching it to add cabasa, cowbell and congas. The sky is the limit really for the artists/producer.
Yet these spicy percussion instruments add SO MUCH!!! When I put my 'producer' hat on, which means that I totally separate myself from the songwriter and singer, then I am able to shift gears to ASK THE QUESTION: WHAT SONGS WOULD FLOURISH WITH PERCUSSION? OF THOSE SONGS, WHAT PERCUSSION INSTRUMENTS WILL BEST BE SUITED AND WHERE?
So once I ask this question in my mind, MIND YOU, that all the other production has been addressed, then this 'ICING ON THE CAKE' matter can be entertained, delightfully so! Again, I play the songs one by one, preferably while I'm driving. I literally can start hearing where a song could benefit from tambourine, shaker or what not. Usually, these tasty treats are best on a Chorus and Tag..
Once I decide what percussion instrument(s) will be on a song, I write the rhythm out in a short-cut style on the music charts. Each of those instruments will have a particular colour. So that when I am in the studio recording, I can quickly discern on the chart what instrument to pick up to play. For example, the shaker parts are in orange, tambourine is in green ink and the cabasa is in red ink.
There was one song that I literally played three different percussion parts in one take, at different parts of the song! This meant picking up each of these instruments gracefully, quickly and quietly,
I diligently practiced the rhythms for each song with the demo before that particular studio date for percussion. When it came time to record percussion parts, I discussed the specific song order with Mark, the engineer as well as telling him what instrument would be on each song. Once I was the sound booth (A sound booth is an isolation booth that is a standard small room in a recording studio. It is both soundproofed to keep out external sounds and keep in the internal sounds) we got a sound check for the instruments. I also had the charts on the music stand in front of me, along with the instruments lying on a cloth towel in orderly fashion, so that I could pick each one up efficiently. My head phones were on and I had set the volume up just right in my ears, with the balance of the recording and level of the percussion instruments dialled in perfectly.
Once I recorded all the parts within about an hour, Mark commented jokingly that he was pleasantly surprised that I recorded the percussion parts myself, as well as being so proficient. I didn't tell him the hours it took outside the studio to compose and practice the umpteenth parts! Shh - that will be our secret. Lol. Whew., what a job!
Like I said, a person really doesn't direct their ear so much to listen for the percussion parts in a song. The levels are dialled back in the mix, so they're just 'icing on the cake'.
It's fun figuring out the intricate parts for the songs. Some songs however do not call for any percussion whatsoever. Percussion is a delicate matter, and the producer along with the percussionist must be careful not to have these parts over-played, to where the parts overshadow the lyrics and song content in the delivery to convey a clear message to the listener.
There was one song whereby the cabasa parts I played just didn't fit like I desired. Yet with Mark's help, we found a perfect digital percussion sound called a Crunch. It fit perfectly!
Recording is a creative process in and of itself. Oftentimes after the multiple parts have been recorded, the producer will decide that a particular instrument needs to change it's delivery so that the whole song gels better. With so many moving parts - instruments recording their parts, the complexities of tones and rhythms become quite cuisine where all the spices, textures, flavours must fit well together.