Heroic Musings

Random and sometimes deep thoughts from the staff at Heroic Productions

It's not the Gear, it's the Ear.

Michael Challeen - Thursday, October 23, 2014


I can’t take any credit for that little turn of phrase. In fact, a quick Google search using that sequence of words will easily show a dozen hits, spanning many articles over several years. But it was a recent trade journal column on that topic that got me thinking about the debate and how it relates to my own habits as well as the event industry we support at Heroic Productions.


If you’ve never heard it before, the phrase, “It’s not the gear, it’s the ear,” was originally coined to promote the notion that in the end, it’s not fancy or expensive equipment that is required to create a great-sounding music track, but rather the skill and talent of the musicians, producer and engineer doing the mixing/mastering. 


That analogy can easily be related to the creation of graphics and art, and yes, even event technology support.


Let me back up and start with my own experience and tendencies. I’m a musician and a graphics guy, and I’ve been doing both for longer than I care to admit.  So what’s the issue? Well, as an active participant in these two areas, it becomes dangerous when you’re also a “gadgets” guy. 


Why? I love gadgets. All kinds of gadgets. (I lump software, hardware, peripherals and the like into the gadget category.) If Gadgets Anonymous existed, I’d belong to the group. 


“Hi, my name is Mike, and I have an abnormal obsession with gadgets.”


“Hi, Mike.”


If a new keyboard synthesizer hits the market, I probably want it. (Never mind that my current one has an internal preset library with hundreds of sounds I probably haven’t even heard yet.)


New iPad app for manipulating photo imagery? I should probably get it just in case I need it. 


Fancy plug-in for Photoshop that allows me to extract the background from wispy strands of wind-blown hair on the beautiful model? Of course, I’ve gotta have it.


But, in actuality, I haven’t totally lost my senses. I’m quite aware of my gadget proclivities, so whenever I’m presented with the urge to add to my gadget bag, I stop, take a deep breath, and ask myself whether I really need this new “whatever.” 


Will it save me significant time? 

Do I already have a tool that does nearly the same thing? 

Will it really make me better at my particular craft? 

Does the end justify the cost? 

If I challenge myself creatively, can I accomplish the same goal?


Then, whatever the answers, I wait at least 24 hours and again ask myself the same questions. Nearly always, I’m able to take a pass on the object of my desire. Crisis averted. One less item stoking my gadget addiction fire.


So how does this relate to Heroic? I think it’s safe to say that our Production Experts also have my tendencies. It’s almost a given. If you’re in this industry, it’s probably built into your genes. Who wouldn’t want the latest mixing board, the newest 4K Laser Projector, some new speaker arrays, or a large, state-of-the-art 7mm High-Res LED Video Curtain? The challenge with gadget envy in the “sound, light and video event-support world” is the sheer price of these items. A single piece of new gear can easily cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. With that kind of money on the line, the first question almost always has to do with ROI. I don’t wonder though, if we shouldn’t approach it with the “It’s Not the Gear, It’s the Ear” mentality.  I’ve seen and heard some amazing setups that were born of less-than-optimal conditions, whether dictated by the room, budget or some other constraint. The experience, talent, imagination and maybe even pride of the lighting, video and/or sound designers transcended the limitations of what they had to work with. Their “vision” was realized or even exceeded.


And so, even though I’m tempted by the clean interface of an updated iPad app, or the several-million-more pixels I can capture by getting the newest camera on the market, I need only remind myself of a couple of absolute truths. First, the greatest masterpieces were not created with Photoshop and a bunch of expensive plug-ins, but with simple brushes, paint and a canvas. Second, the world’s finest symphonies were written using a quill pen, ink, paper, and a primitive version of our modern-day piano, not with a fancy sequencing program and expensive software utilizing exquisitely sampled orchestral instruments.


You see, it really IS the ear, and not the gear.



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Michael Challeen is the Communications Director for Heroic Productions. He used to be a lenticular printing prepress guru, is named as a co-inventor on Patent #US 20080088126, played sax and synth in the now-defunct but formerly popular Twin Cities band, “Temporary Heroes Orchestra,” and likes a good doughnut now and then.


 

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