Yeah, it can be hard to digest at first, cause we tend to be in love with sustain, and sustain is nice and musical in the right places. But if you only have sustaining sounds, it means you have a serious lack of transients and dynamics. Now I’m not saying that creating an arrangement out of percussive sounds is the sure fire way to score a hit song, because if the song itself sucks, you can’t really do much to make it sound more pleasing; that’s the typical case of polishing a turd, and there are many examples out there that shall remain unnamed.
Get the arrangement right first
But hey, we only have control over certain things, so once you have your song and it comes to make an exciting arrangement, you better try to reach for percussive sounding elements. Why? Because you will have much greater control over the transients that way, and it will be harder to kill them with compression. What will compression do to a quick sound with a short decay time, the kind of sound that comes and goes? Those are the kind of sounds that will become “punchy” once you compress them reasonably, and if you happen to overcompress them, well… you’ll still have more of a transient-like something to work with, than if it were a sustaining one to begin with. In other words, you can’t fuck it up as easily.
Clicky guitar, sparse drum hits
So come up with percussive guitar and keyboard parts, sparse drum and percussion tracks that work together nicely, support it with a tightly played, but not overplayed bass line, and get used to the perpetual grin on your face, cause it sure won’t go once you start hearing the above shit doing its job properly, as it should.
Don’t go overboard
One thing you can do though is overdo it, and use way too many little percussive elements coming and going, and create an overproduced song that’s gonna sound sort of shallow and forced and smell like tired sweat flowing out of a boy band’s private gym. Something that’s simply too much for the listener to digest, so most of the people just won’t make the effort.
Anyway, this whole “percussive-is-your-friend” thing seems to be a forgotten art since about the end of the 80s. Remember that even the more popular, then new FM synthesis-based synthesizers like the Yamaha DX7 were unique kind of instruments that made a lot of percussive, quick decay sounds readily available to the musicians.
As the venerable zen master would say between two deliberately aimless “ommmms”: Make music pop to make good pop music. -.-
Billy Ocean – “Carribean Queen”