Robert Kubey was one of the three founding fathers of The Professors and had
a distinguished career on drums from 1995-2000. Professor James Katz remarked that Kubey had an impressive "command
of the skins."
THE PROFESSORS IN FLOW
BY ROBERT W. KUBEY
From Radford, G. P., Cooper, S. D., Kubey, R. W., McCurry, D. S., Millen, J., and
Barrows, J. R. (2002). Collaborative Musical Expression and Creativity Among Academics: When
Intellectualism Meets Twelve Bar Blues. American Communication Journal [Online] Volume 6, Issue 1,
Merge the two stereotypes of a fractious faculty meeting and prima donnas in a rock band fighting over
status issues and you will gain a glimpse, but just briefly, of the worst moments of the first five years of The
Professors. In reality, the great percentage of the time, it was a terrific creative experience of exciting
performances, camaraderie, and regular escape and tension release from the daily conflicts and minutiae of
Only rarely has a musical band sent and received more email messages to one another, both about the
band’s creative direction and always over the play list prior to each gig. Email helped most in quickly
communicating when and where we would next practice. But being verbal and critical folk by training, if
not by nature, there were all too many attempts in The Professors to also work through creativity issues by
One lesson from The Professors’ efforts to manage collective creativity is that too much email time and too
little face time does not a happy band make. And I rather suspect the same goes for many academic
departments, although the adage that familiarity breeds contempt may also be one of the reasons that
academics gravitate to email, i.e., interaction without really interacting. The Professors never tired of one
another’s physical company. Things were much better in person than in cyberspace. Sometimes email did
give us a way to deftly deal with a conflict that couldn’t be dealt with in person. Private phone time
sometimes seemed conspiratorial.
We too often incorrectly assumed that we could apply our critical minds and verbal abilities through email
to resolve our creative differences when over and over we learned that things were better worked out in
session and through the music itself. When in doubt, play! Having worked and written a good deal with
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, I, for one, should have known this, realizing that the band needed to spend more
time deeply involved in session obtaining the “flow state” that Csikszentmihalyi describes in Beyond
Boredom and Anxiety (1975) and Creativity (1997) than trying to work things out via email.
Flow is the state of enormous engagement that each of us experiences when intensely involved in an
activity where challenges and skills are equally matched and where positive feedback comes regularly and
quickly. “In flow experiences, people report very high concentration but ease of concentration - they feel
active, strong, and in control. Concentration is so focused during flow activities that people typically report
a diminished awareness of their surroundings and they lose track of time (‘time flies’)” (Kubey &
Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, p. 141).
Musical performance is one of the prime activities that will engender flow. In a band, when a group is
improvising and “in the groove” and the music just keeps getting better there is nearly nothing better in life.
The Professors were often in flow, especially when we would abandon the playlist and just jam, or
improvise within a well structured blues progression. We found that one of the hardest things to do is to be
in flow and feel free and creative when recording in the studio. We learned a lot from that experience.
Trying to capture our best, live funky garage-band sound when layering tracks in the studio was nearly
One of the great advantages that well funded musicians have is vast amounts of time in the recording studio
so that they can become familiar enough with the surroundings that their creativity is no longer constrained
by the $50+ an hour fee of renting someone else’s space and the precious time of a sound engineer and
producer. As audience members we all learned this from the Beatles creation of Apple Records and even
more so from The Band’s Big Pink album. As older readers will recall, The Band rented a large pink house
in the Catskills, moved in together, and recorded many classics that would never have been produced in
someone else’s alien studio.
Studio recording, we found, was an enormous challenge that we never had the time or money to even begin
to master. The drummer (me) is cordoned off in a separate glassed-in room, and so too are the singers.
Everything that makes a band a band is broken down (deconstructed?) and interfered with in the recording
studio. One is separated from others. One could not even see all of one’s fellow musicians in the studio we
used. Everyone wears earphones to hear the track and the other musicians. All the chances for the
interpersonal contact needed to creatively collaborate and work off of each other are muted or removed.
And layering the tracks means that you aren’t even playing together any more in real time. No wonder the
sound seemed more synthetic and less live. It was the biggest mistake we made, trying to layer tracks rather
than simply recording live; although we did have a great professional producer who did his best with us and
our limited resources (all profits from gigs were plowed back into recording and the purchase of our own
Over analysis also impedes flow. For most of the years of the band’s existence there was jostling over our
oeuvre and in the definition of our sound and image. Some members wanted to play more identifiable cover
songs that audiences could readily dance to, while members on the other extreme wanted to do originals
only. Unless you really hit a groove, unless they are already warmed up, audiences are reluctant to dance to
material they’ve never heard before.
Art and creativity can be a struggle and collaborative art involves particularly complicated interpersonal
struggles. While managing creativity in a five person band may not be as complicated as what television
and film producers do routinely (Ettema & Whitney, 1982), a lot of good communication, whatever that is,
is necessary to maintain a band’s creative edge.
This page last updated September 16, 2014
by Gary Radford.
Many thanks to Kurt Wagner,
Marie Radford, and Jon Oliver.