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Blogging with the Experts: Kevin Bowe on Production Habits

Wisdom is often hard to come by, but Kevin Bowe strikes a note here that many of us have wrestled with as creatives, and he does so with the deft agility that can only come from experience. After all, you don’t become an audio philosopher overnight; it takes years of tweaking knobs and gobs of applied technical knowledge, with a fair amount of musical skill, to get to a place where a statement like “habit is the enemy of art” even makes sense to formulate. So dig a little deeper on this one and see if you can answer the questions Kevin poses at the end. Kevin and I look forward to reading your responses.

Habit is the enemy of art – by Kevin Bowe

This is one of my favorite expressions and one I need to repeat to myself often. Sometimes we spend so much time (and money) to learn how to do something that it’s hard not to become overly attached to our process. You can get to a point where you can’t see or hear the actual MUSIC being made because your process, your gear, and possibly your ego is standing in between you and the art, blocking your view.

Let’s put it this way, you rarely hear an engineer talking about how someone ELSE’s fancy mic pre sounds better than THEIR fancy mic pre. I think it’s important to remember “ears before gear” and this goes for process as well. Just because you learned a cute studio trick doesn’t mean it SOUNDS GOOD in any one specific application. You can’t allow yourself to fall in love with your new microphone or your new recording trick so much that you love it MORE than the art you’re trying to make. And it’s also hard to remember to treat every session as if it’s your first, with fresh ears, making decisions solely based on what’s coming into your ears, especially if you’ve been doing this for a while. The new trick you learned is not always the best way to go but the time-tested method isn’t always best either.

The best way is the way that sounds the best. You never want to confuse randomness with true creativity. Sometimes there’s a REASON no one has done something before, and the reason can be that it sounds horrible! Peanut butter is good. Steak is good. But peanut butter on steak is maybe not so good, even if you’re the first person to do it.

I think the artistic process requires a certain amount of humility, i.e. not placing yourself above the art. Ironically it also demands a certain amount of arrogance, in that you need to believe that YOU are the person that should be PRODUCING the record, not lined up at the store to BUY the record. So, as with many things, the key is balance. The willingness to try new things but also the willingness to say “wow, that was a dumb idea and it sounds really bad, let’s move on”.

So feel free to weigh in with your definition of this phrase, what does it mean to you? (see blog title) Do you agree or disagree?



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