Eric Darken's percussion has been a part of hundreds of recordings over the last few decades. A model of a successful freelance musician, the Nashville session great took a few moments recently to answer a few questions:
Mark: What is your background / training as a percussionist?
Eric: I started out playing drum set at the age of twelve. I played timpani and mallets in high school. I attended Brevard College in North Carolina and studied with Mario Gaetano who was a wonderful orchestral percussionist and educator. He really got me started into the whole orchestral percussion world. After a two year degree, I transferred to Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK. There I studied with Roy Smith who was the principal percussionist for the Tulsa Philharmonic. At ORU, I was asked to be a part of the Richard Roberts "live" TV show which aired five days a week. This was a great experience because it taught me how to sightread and perform charts very quickly. We would rehearse a few songs for the show and then tape "live" an hour later. This was not only a wonderful experience, but quite an education.
How about name dropping some artists with Eric Darken percussion on their recordings?
I have had the opportunity over the years to record for a variety of artists and bands. Steven Curtis Chapman, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Gaither Vocal Band, Taylor Swift, Bob Seger, Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Bon Jovi
You've been involved in a variety of aspects of the music business. In addition to playing percussion, what else have you done in your career?
I started out years ago copying music for various music arrangers. It was a lot of hard work and long hours but I learned a lot by doing it. Over the years, I have composed music for TV and film and continue to do so as time permits. You can hear some of my music on such television shows as Dateline, 20/20, NFL Films, National Geographic, and Fox Sports.
How has your work as a percussionist changed / evolved over the course of your career?
I'm always trying to learn and grow as a musician and by doing so that includes keeping up with the electronic world as well. Years ago, I began recording projects of my own in my studio and that has moved into people sending me their tracks to play on . I'm constantly trying to stay up to date with the latest recording and software gear. I do the same with my acoustic percussion as well. My set up incorporates both acoustic and electronic options. I use samples and can create original loops in the studio as needed. On any given day or song, I can incorporate all types of percussion, some electronics and even some drum set parts if needed. By having my own studio, it forced me to not only keep up with things percussion-wise but also recording as well. There is always something to learn!
I'm sure that there are many times in the studio (or preparing for a live event) when there is no written chart. What is your method for creating a percussion part?
I don't have a formula per se when there is no written part. I try to communicate with the artist or producer on what he or she might like or what they want to accomplish with percussion. A lot of times, a producer will give specific instructions or often times, they will just tell me to "do my thing." I try to listen to the "big picture" with a track. If there is a lot of motion going on within the track then I might adjust what I do from a shaker or hand drum part. I tend to try to blend into what the drums are doing and not stick out in any way...even if there are a bunch of different parts! Ultimately, I would like to believe that what I bring to a track is inspired by God.
Eric uses Meinl Percussion, Paiste Cymbals, Mike Balter Mallets, Remo Heads, and the Trash Kat Drum from ThunderEcho Drums.