I’m watching Peter Gabriel’s Growing Up Live Tour DVD with my daughter Suzy right now. We both appreciate Ged Lynch’s bright red Premier kit, but I think for different reasons.

Anyway, I am noticing how much more rocking the older tunes are on this DVD,  at least compared to Gabriel’s Secret World Live tour.  I’ve narrowed it down to Lynch’s tendency to wash on the ride more often than Manu Katche, and the fact that David Rhodes is playing a much cleaner sound overall in the 1993 tour. (Not an LP vs Strat issue like I formerly thought… thanks for the correction Joe!)

This reminds me of a perspective I’ve arrived at recently regarding where energy really comes from in music.  At this point I’m pretty sure that it’s tone and tone only… and I’m not talking about composition.  I’m talking about taking a given drum part and, without changing the pattern, playing it with more energy than someone else might play it.  When I was younger I thought bringing energy came from my muscles and my strength, which then morphed into the belief that volume was the real issue.  I acknowledge that of course your strength does contribute to how hard you hit the drum, which of course contributes to a higher volume (and technique fits somewhere in there too), but I think the reality is that the TONE produced by hitting hard/loud/well is the real difference maker in the energy department.

This is easily observed in the fact that a recorded drum track can be placed at any volume within the mix, but the energy of the drum track will remain the same regardless.  If a lightly-played brushes groove is cranked in the final master, it still won’t have energy.  But you simply cannot dial down the sheer power of a wide open Dave Grohl slam fest, even if you make it the softest track in the tune.  This is even more apparent when I consider Rhodes’ guitar choices mentioned above. His playing is the same volume in both DVD’s, but the additional saturation and grit in his 2003 tone brings so much more juice to the overall sound.

Ok. Hitting hard produces volume, but more than that it produces a particular tone that has energy. So what?

Well, I take this observation and apply it to my quest to play at the appropriate volume in every acoustic situation I’m in, without sacrificing energy. That’s what.

Is there a way to create an energetic snare and cymbal tone without a high volume?  I think so.  It may not be the exact same tone that the high volume produces, but it can still be energetic.  But, achieving this requires that you actually pursue tone and not volume.  Some players are convinced that volume is the only thing creating energy, and as a result they work on techniques and approaches that only pursue volume. Therefore getting energy seems hopeless when they’re in a situation where they can’t be loud.  I used to be that guy, but the observations listed above have made me think differently, and it seems to be producing a lot of fruit… which makes me think I’m right.

PS.  Growing Up Live is a killer show.  You really need to check it out.  The production is ground-breaking and completely rad and the performances are super inspiring.  The crowd is actually one of the coolest parts… they participate in very moving and unsolicited ways throughout the entire show.