#245 Rick Rubin In the Studio



In the expansive music production landscape, Rick Rubin stands as a paragon of innovation and versatility, having co-founded Def Jam Records and launching hip-hop into the commercial realm. Rubin's fearless genre-hopping, from rap to metal and beyond, is exemplified by his work with Slayer and the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Blood Sugar Sex Magik." His most remarkable collaboration, however, was with Johnny Cash, redefining the music icon for a new generation. Rubin's dedication to simplicity and his "production by reduction" philosophy have earned him accolades, including Grammy wins, though he often skipped the ceremonies due to his workaholic nature. Rubin's influence extends beyond production; his core beliefs in simplicity and artist empowerment shine through in his podcast "Broken Record" and are detailed in Jake Brown's book, "Rick Rubin: In the Studio." His approach, likened to seeing the finished product first and working backwards, mirrors that of Steve Jobs and Edwin Land, emphasizing the discovery of pre-existing greatness rather than invention. Rubin's commitment to quality, his relentless pursuit of artistic potential, and his belief in the beauty of simplicity have solidified his status as a living legend in music production.

Summary Notes

Rick Rubin's Impact on Music

  • Rick Rubin is a highly influential figure in record production, known for his diverse work across genres.
  • He co-founded Def Jam Records and produced rap's first number-one album, launching hip hop as a commercial medium.
  • Rubin transitioned from hip hop to metal, founding Def American and producing acts like Slayer.
  • His work with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Johnny Cash are particularly notable.
  • Rubin is credited with inventing, reinventing, or redefining multiple musical genres.
  • Despite success and accolades, Rubin remained focused on his work, often not attending award ceremonies.

"There's no greater enigma than Rick Rubin working in record production today. His career began in hip hop. He cofounded Def Jam Records with Russell Simmons. In 184, he produced rap's first number one album and was widely credited for launching hip hop as a viable commercial medium."

This quote highlights Rick Rubin's foundational role in the commercial success of hip hop and his enigmatic presence in the music industry.

Rick Rubin's Core Beliefs

  • Rubin values the beauty of simplicity, often described as "production by reduction."
  • He believes in recording music in its most basic and pure form, focusing on the essence of the music.
  • Rubin's approach to production is minimalist, starting from his early career.
  • Def Jam, Rubin's iconic hip hop label, was founded in his NYU dorm room.
  • He emphasizes the importance of feeling a connection with the artist after listening to their record.
  • Rubin's work process involves visualizing the finished product first, akin to Steve Jobs and Edwin Land's approach to product creation.

"When Rick enters the studio, his goal is to record music in, quote, its most basic and purest form. No extra bells and whistles. All wheat, no chaff."

This quote encapsulates Rubin's minimalist philosophy, aiming to strip music down to its purest elements.

Rick Rubin's Philosophy of Work

  • Rubin likens his role as a producer to joining a band, focusing on the collective good rather than individual parts.
  • He chooses projects based on a genuine love for the music, akin to Warren Buffett's investment strategy.
  • Rubin's longevity in the music industry is driven by his passion for his work, mirroring the dedication of figures like Buffett and Munger.
  • He prioritizes quality over everything else and is willing to iterate extensively to achieve it.
  • Rubin encourages artists to write extensively to increase the chances of creating great songs.
  • He is open to experimentation and believes that great products are discovered, not invented.

"It's almost more like I join a band when I produce a record, but I'm unlike all the other members of the band who each have their own personal agenda."

This quote reflects Rubin's unique role in the production process, where he serves as a unifying force focused on the overall quality of the music.

Rubin's Advice and Approach to Creativity

  • Rubin stresses the importance of doing more to achieve simplicity, advocating for extensive work to find the essential elements.
  • His approach to songwriting and recording is meticulous, with a lot of preparation before entering the studio.
  • Rubin's confidence is a key quality that inspires artists to believe in themselves and their work.
  • He believes that if a song is strong in its simplest form, it can be adapted in numerous ways and still retain its greatness.
  • Rubin's recording sessions tend to be brief, with most of the work happening in pre-production.

"Ruben's most valuable quality is his own confidence. The reason that's important is because you can transfer that feeling, that confidence that you have to other people."

This quote stresses the impact of Rubin's confidence on the artists he works with, enabling them to deliver their best performances.

Preparation and Pre-Production

  • The importance of preparation before entering the studio.
  • Extensive pre-production can range from weeks to years.
  • Rick Rubin emphasizes getting as much done before studio time.

"It's the pre production time that really makes all the difference."

The quote underlines the significance of thorough preparation in creative processes, highlighting that the groundwork laid before actual production is crucial to success.

High Expectations and Belief

  • Artists should set high expectations for themselves.
  • Believing in the importance of one's work is essential.
  • Rubin likens his role to that of a coach or teacher, focusing on listening and collaboration.

"You combine really high expectations with the belief that your life depends on this work."

This quote captures Rubin's philosophy that commitment and high standards are key to producing great work, suggesting that one should approach their work with the utmost seriousness and dedication.

The Role of a Producer

  • Rubin sees his job as a listener and creative decision-maker.
  • He recognizes his strengths and limitations, focusing on taste over technical skills.
  • Rubin's goal is to make music that he personally loves.

"My primary asset is I know when I like something or not."

Rubin clarifies that his primary skill as a producer is his taste, which guides his creative decisions, rather than technical expertise.

Early Life and Influences

  • Rubin's early love for music, magic, and professional wrestling.
  • His approach to music was influenced by the minimalism of AC/DC.
  • Rubin avoided drugs and alcohol, focusing on discipline and his passion for music.

"I loved AC/DC, he said the group's minimalist approach would show up years later in his sonic approach to recording rock records and even in the way he constructed hip hop albums."

The quote reflects how early musical influences shaped Rubin's production style, favoring minimalism to capture the essence of the music.

Founding of Def Jam

  • Rubin started as a DJ and moved to producing due to a lack of good material.
  • Def Jam was born from Rubin's desire to fill a gap in the market with music he loved.
  • The label's success began with a single that sold 100,000 copies but did not initially yield profit.

"The key to it is doing what you believe in as opposed to what you think is going to work."

Rubin's quote illustrates his entrepreneurial mindset, focusing on authenticity and passion rather than following trends or predictions.

Partnership with Russell Simmons

  • Rubin and Simmons shared a vision for hip hop's direction.
  • Their partnership combined Rubin's production with Simmons' promotional expertise.
  • Def Jam overcame business obstacles by taking responsibility for their work.

"No one promotes rap records better."

This quote, referring to Simmons, highlights the importance of having a partner whose strengths complement your own, which was key to Def Jam's success.

Launch of LL Cool J

  • LL Cool J's demo led to his discovery and launch by Rubin.
  • Def Jam's early days were driven by passion, with no expectation of commercial success.

"There were no stars in rap music. It was really just a work of passion."

Rubin's reflection on the early hip hop scene emphasizes that the industry was built out of genuine love for the music, not for fame or fortune.

Business Acumen and Growth

  • The partnership with CBS records and subsequent film "Crush Groove" were strategic moves to grow Def Jam.
  • Creative marketing and exposure were crucial to the label's success.

"Russell really cared about finding new ways to expose their music to a bigger audience."

The quote exemplifies the innovative strategies employed by Simmons and Rubin to promote their artists and expand their audience reach.

Def Jam's Development Deal and Early Success

  • Def Jam signed a $2 million distribution deal in 1985, a significant increase from their previous $600,000.
  • Warner Bros. financed $3 million for a movie as content marketing, which made $11 million at the box office.
  • Rick Rubin's production of the Beastie Boys' album marked the first hip hop album to go number one.
  • Rubin's crossover song between Run DMC and Aerosmith exemplified his self-confidence and vision for music.

"the original development deal with Def Jam, signing Def Jam to a $2 million distribution deal in what Russell Simmons described as the greatest opportunity in the whole world."

This quote highlights the significant financial leap Def Jam took with the distribution deal, emphasizing its importance as seen by Russell Simmons.

Rick Rubin's Self-Confidence and Vision

  • Rick Rubin's self-confidence likened to Steve Jobs' reality distortion field.
  • Rubin's approach to Run DMC and Aerosmith's collaboration was driven by his belief in his abilities and vision for music authenticity.
  • His vision was to capture raw, rough, and authentic music, akin to a documentary rather than a polished movie.

"Ruben's desire to work with Rum DNC dated back to the early 80s when Ruben, upon hearing the group's first music, had boldly commented, this is the real shit, but I could do it better."

Rick Rubin's ambition and self-confidence in his ability to improve upon what he considered "the real shit" are evident in this quote, setting the stage for his future collaborations and success.

Rick Rubin's Creative Process and Industry Insight

  • Rubin's creative process is not rushed, focusing on quality and perfection.
  • He holds a no-regrets philosophy, believing that something is only done when it can't be any better.
  • Rubin's historical knowledge of the music industry informs his work, and he encourages artists to learn from the past.

"It's only done when it can't be any better, but once something's done, just give it the time to be what it needs to be, but then move on."

This quote encapsulates Rubin's philosophy of perfectionism in the creative process, emphasizing the importance of recognizing when a project is complete and moving forward without dwelling on what could have been.

Rick Rubin's Influence and Persistence

  • Rubin's persistence was instrumental in signing Chuck D and forming Public Enemy.
  • His ability to see potential and tirelessly work towards realizing it has had a lasting impact on the music industry.

"Feeling that Chuck D was the next greatest artist, Ruben had to convince Chuck D of all that."

Rick Rubin's determination to sign Chuck D, whom he saw as a pivotal artist, showcases his persistent nature and ability to influence artists' careers.

The Significance of Def Jam's Early Days

  • Studying the beginnings of industries, such as Silicon Valley and the American automotive industry, provides insights into patterns of growth and opportunity.
  • Jay Z's recognition of hip hop's potential for growth highlights the importance of foresight in the music industry.

"Think about this ten years later, right? Jay Z is still looking at, that's why it's so important to, in my opinion, to go back and study the very beginnings of industries."

This quote stresses the value of understanding the origins of industries to comprehend their development and potential, as illustrated by Jay Z's perspective on hip hop's growth.

Rick Rubin's Philosophy and Methodology

  • Rubin's "ruthless edit" approach emphasizes the importance of simplicity and focus in creative work.
  • He does not harbor an engine of constant dissatisfaction, instead finding pleasure in the creative process.
  • Rubin views his work as a reflection of a moment in time, akin to a diary entry, rather than striving for unattainable perfection.

"Do you have an engine of constant dissatisfaction? Like, do you have this constant self criticism that, oh, I could have done better, which is very common that I've heard a lot of people have. But his answer was really surprising. He says, no, I'm pleased with the work that we did."

Rubin's contentment with his work challenges the common narrative of self-criticism and dissatisfaction, suggesting a healthier and more fulfilling approach to creativity.

The Role of History and Learning in Success

  • Knowledge of history and the lessons it provides is crucial for success and avoiding the pitfalls of ignorance.
  • Rubin's extensive knowledge and use of history as a classroom demonstrate the depth of his understanding and its influence on his work.

"To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child."

Highlighting the importance of historical awareness, this quote suggests that understanding the past is essential for maturity and success, both personally and professionally.

Marketing and Self-Belief

  • Rubin's use of professional wrestling marketing tactics in promoting the Beastie Boys showcased his innovative approach.
  • His unwavering self-belief and confidence were key factors in his success and influence in the industry.

"Using over the top professional wrestling marketing efforts, did it matter to you that a lot of people didn't understand what you were doing?"

The question and Rubin's dismissive response, "Never," underscore his indifference to others' misunderstanding of his marketing strategies, reinforcing his strong self-belief.

Rick Rubin's Confidence and Influence

  • Rick Rubin's confidence is infectious and he transfers it to others, an act of service to instill belief in them.
  • Rubin's interest in producing rock records led to the split of Def Jam.
  • His philosophy of simplicity in music production applies universally, regardless of genre.
  • Rubin's departure from Def Jam was due to divergent visions with Russell Simmons.

"That's another example of him transferring his confidence, the abundance of confidence that he has on other people."

This quote highlights Rubin's ability to instill confidence in others, which is seen as a form of service.

"The reason I left Def Jam had to do with mine and Russell's vision of our company growing apart."

Rubin's departure from Def Jam is explained as a result of conflicting visions for the company with his partner, Russell Simmons.

The Wave of Change and Timing

  • Rubin compares his timing in the music industry to the technological revolution that motivated Bill Gates and Paul Allen to focus on Microsoft.
  • The recognition of a wave of change and the decision to lead rather than follow is a pivotal moment in history.

"The wave was coming. And that was really interesting, because the way he said, he's like, listen, I was just the right person, the right set of skills, the right point in history."

Rubin acknowledges that while he was a key player, the hip-hop movement was inevitable and he was just at the right place at the right time.

"They could either lead the revolution or be swept along by it."

The quote from the biography of Bill Gates reflects the idea that recognizing and seizing the moment is crucial to success.

Differentiation and Timelessness in Music Production

  • Rubin stresses the importance of creating a unique product and serving the song, not being fancy for its own sake.
  • He aims to produce music with a timeless quality, avoiding chasing fads.
  • Rubin's approach to production focuses on the overall impact rather than individual prowess.

"It's not about being fancy. It's about serving the song."

Rubin's philosophy in music production is to prioritize the song's needs over adding unnecessary complexity.

"The newest sounds have a tendency to sound old when the next new sound comes along."

This statement emphasizes Rubin's focus on creating music that remains relevant and timeless, rather than following transient trends.

Rick Rubin and the Red Hot Chili Peppers

  • Rubin's production style with the Red Hot Chili Peppers focused on simplicity and the essence of the music.
  • He encouraged Flea, the bassist, to play in a way that served the songs rather than showcasing individual talent.
  • Rubin's work with the band exemplifies his belief in the importance of the collective over the individual.

"That bass playing that made him one of the best didn't necessarily serve the songs in the best way."

Rubin's influence led to a change in Flea's bass playing, prioritizing the music over individual skill.

Rick Rubin's Career Evolution and Challenges

  • Rubin continually seeks new challenges, such as working with Johnny Cash to rejuvenate his career.
  • His "production by reduction" approach led to Cash's first platinum success in years.
  • Rubin's ability to instill confidence in legendary artists past their prime is notable.

"It seemed like it would be a fun challenge to work with an established artist, but I wasn't interested in working with a legend at the top of their game."

Rubin's interest in revitalizing the careers of artists who are not currently at their peak demonstrates his desire for challenging projects.

Persistence and Reduction in Production

  • Rubin's philosophy involves persistence and a "less is more" approach to production.
  • He emphasizes the importance of hard work and recording multiple takes to achieve the desired dynamics.
  • The process of creating great work involves extensive unseen effort and discarded material.

"Less is more, but to get there, you have to do more."

This encapsulates Rubin's approach to production: stripping back to simplicity requires extensive effort and refinement.

Rick Rubin's Personal Business Philosophy

  • Rubin values freedom, vision, and a personal touch in his work.
  • His focus is on making great music first, rather than selling music.
  • Rubin's success stems from understanding culture, surrounding himself with passionate people, and being true to his loves.

"Ruben wanted freedom and not to have to punch a clock or work in a traditional corporate way."

Rubin's business philosophy is centered around freedom and a full vision of projects, including marketing and brand building.

Collaboration and Selectivity

  • Rubin is selective in choosing people he likes, admires, and trusts to work with.
  • His production style involves bonding with artists and providing insightful suggestions to improve their work.
  • Rubin's ability to focus and provide undivided attention to one project at a time is key to his success.

"You have to make sure you like them. You have to make sure you admire them."

Rubin believes that personal connection and admiration are essential for successful collaboration in music production.

What others are sharing

Go To Library

Want to Deciphr in private?
- It's completely free

Deciphr Now
Footer background
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon

© 2024 Deciphr

Terms and ConditionsPrivacy Policy