Rick Rubin: Legendary Music Producer (#275) | Lex Fridman Podcast

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Key Takeaways

  • “It seems like music has the ability to bring us so much depth in our soul that’s hard to access any other way” – Rick Rubin
    • The beauty of music is its open interpretation
    • The artist and the listener do not have to share the same meaning or experience
  • There are no rules to music, every idea deserves its own opportunity for trial and error
    • New ideas often sound bad until they are attempted
    • The ideas that breakthrough rarely breakthrough in the predicted way. So give your ideas a chance! You never know how it will turn out.
  • Production and performance are two very different things
    • “The best version is when someone is feeling something internally and we’re capturing it. The other version is they are performing for someone.” – Rick Rubin
    • The best recordings happen in an intimate and isolated setting where the stakes are low
  • Don’t listen to anyone, make the things that you love, whatever they may be. Make it for an audience of one—you.
    • “You can’t make art with someone else in mind, I don’t believe it can be good” – Rick Rubin
  • Continue reading for countless quotes that music lovers from all genres can relate to. Rick Rubin is truly a legend of the industry.

Intro

  • Rick Rubin (@RickRubin) is one of the most iconic music producers of all time, contributing to the works of Beastie Boys, Metallica, Eminem, Adele, Kanye West, Johnny Cash, Black Sabbath, Jay-Z, and many more.
  • Lex Fridman and Rick Rubin discuss their mutual love for music through the lens of history, production, and emotional impact.
  • Host: Lex Fridman (@lexfridman)

The Philosophy of Music

  • “Without music, life would be a mistake” – Lex Fridman quoting Friedrich Nietzsche
  • “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who can not hear the music” – Lex Fridman quoting Friedrich Nietzsche
  • “It seems like music has the ability to bring us so much depth in our soul that’s hard to access any other way” – Rick Rubin
    • Beyond pleasure, music is a window into seeing the world in a different way
  • Music can resonate differently based on your surroundings and geographic location
    • Rick notes how The Eagles and ZZ Top didn’t speak to him while he lived on the East Coast, but they did while he lived on the West Coast
  • The beauty of music is its open interpretation
    • The artist and the listener do not have to share the same meaning or experience
  • There is no greatest album of all time
    • “In the reality of art, there’s no metric that makes sense…it’s a very personal decision” – Rick Rubin

Rick Rubin’s Approach to Production

  • Rick enters every production project as a completely blank slate, he attempts to suppress all preconceived beliefs, habits, and preferences
    • “My goal is not to form an opinion, it’s to understand” – Rick Rubin
  • There are no rules, every idea deserves its own opportunity for trial and error
    • New ideas often sound bad until they are attempted
    • The ideas that breakthrough rarely breakthrough in the predicted way. So give your ideas a chance! You never know how it will turn out.
  • The more simple the production, the better
    • Gives each instrument the opportunity to express its personality
  • For most of Rick’s career, lyrics meant very little to him—he focused more on rhythm and melody
    • If there are no drums, lyrics tend to mean more
    • Today, he does put slightly more emphasis on lyrics if the lyrics are the most important thing about the song
  • The best recordings are isolated from the outside world and the stakes are low
    • Simply adding one camera or an extra crew member can change a special moment into a performance, and that’s not always a good thing
    • “The best version is when someone is feeling something internally and we’re capturing it. The other version is they are performing for someone.” – Rick Rubin
    • As a producer, when something’s great, don’t pop champagne over it. Let it be natural and intimate with the artist.
  • Whether it be mixing a record or moving around furniture, Rick is always looking for creative outlets to make things better

Art vs Business

  • Business has the tendency to trample on little ideas in art, but all little ideas just need time to grow into big ideas
    • Art rarely achieves immediate and substantial results
  • Business people are usually on the artist’s side, but their job just doesn’t start until there is a product to sell—they get anxious to get going, which can stress the creative process
    • “Art doesn’t come in a quarterly way” – Rick Rubin
  • A lack of reality can develop with successful musicians and creators if they don’t surround themselves with the right people
    • You don’t want everyone telling you that everything you do is great
    • “If someone who you respect tells you something isn’t good enough, it’s helpful” – Rick Rubin

Advice and Meaning

  • Don’t listen to anyone, make the things that you love, whatever they may be. Make it for an audience of one—you.
    • “You can’t make art with someone else in mind, I don’t believe it can be good” – Rick Rubin
    • Even if you have to have a full-time job to support your art, do it. Just make things that are important to you.
  • “If you always give all of yourself and do your best, which you’re capable of doing, where can there be regret?” – Rick Rubin
    • It’s hard to look back at a diary entry and say that it is wrong. It’s simply a moment in time where you were doing your best with what you had.

Two Guys Talking Music

  • “The harshest heartbreak songs are always somehow hopeful to me…a song about losing love is a song about the great capacity for love in the human heart. To me, losing love is exciting, because that means you really cared. You sit in the pain and that pain is a reminder of what it means to be human.” – Lex Fridman
  • “When a young person writes a sad song, they almost seem more willing to go to a more hopeless place because they have a long journey ahead. Older artists tend to want to look at the bright side of things. Which comes from the wisdom of aging, it’s a more realistic position.” – Rick Rubin
  • “There’s just something about a powerful voice and the instruments not getting in the way” – Lex Fridman
  • “Hearing ‘Fight For Your Right’ by the Beastie Boys and Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets’, I knew I had to end up in America one day…Maybe now that I’m more mature, I realize that it was the longing for freedom. I felt like if this is allowed, then anything is allowed.” – Lex Fridman
  • “The magic [of music] isn’t how it works, the magic is the magic. And, the magic happens in a way that is intuitive, and accidental at times…you don’t know why it works, and it’s OK not to know why. It doesn’t really matter why, as long as it does the thing you want it to do, whatever that is.” – Rick Rubin
  • “So many artists suffer [from depression] because that’s part of what makes them great—it’s their level of sensitivity. The same thing that makes an artist uncomfortable, other people don’t feel at all.” – Rick Rubin

Musical References

  • Rick would always burn CDs and send them to Johnny Cash as recording ideas—this led to Cash’s emotional cover of ‘Hurt’ right before his death
    • A 70-year-old dying Johnny Cash performing these lyrics of regret & suffering makes it one of the most profound music videos of all time
  • For all Marvin Gaye fans, check out The Detroit Mix of What’s Going On: Deluxe Edition/50th Anniversary
  • Check out the McCartney 3,2,1 documentary miniseries with Paul McCartney and Rick Rubin
  • For more Rick Rubin, check out the Broken Record Podcast where he interviews icons of the industry
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Notes By Drew Waterstreet

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