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Poor Richard's Almanack: Benjamin Franklin's Incredibly Popular Book of Aphorisms, Forecasts, and More
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Rick Rubin is an American record producer and former co-president of Columbia Records. Along with Russell Simmons, he is the co-founder of Def Jam Recordings and also established American Recordings. With the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Geto Boys, and Run-DMC, Rubin helped popularise hip hop music.
He also produced a number of top-selling artists from a variety of other genres including heavy metal (Danzig, Slayer, System of a Down, Metallica), alternative rock (The Strokes, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Weezer, The Cult), country (Johnny Cash, The Chicks) and R&B (Adele).
In 2007, MTV called him "the most important producer of the last 20 years," and the same year, Rubin appeared on Time's "100 Most Influential People in the World."
Here's what I've learned about how Rick Rubin works with artists and musicians:
All of these quotes are Rick Rubin in his own words describing his philosophy of making music and his creative process.
“I’m not a producer. I’m a reducer.” — Rick Rubin
“It’s only done when it can’t be done any better.”
“I would love for it to be done. But the reality of the creative process is that it takes however long it takes.”
“Less is more. But you have to do more to get to less.”
The Ruthless Edit: “You made 25 songs, you need 10. But do not pick 10. Ask yourself, ‘What 5 songs can I absolutely not live without?’ And then before you add anything else think, ‘What could I add to these 5 songs, that I cannot live without, that would make them better and not worse?”
“If it could be better, it’s not done.”
Rick Rubin asks every musical artist he’s about to work with the same question: What the first thing that got you into music?
“Negativity is the enemy of creativity.”
“The amateur mind possesses a valuable lack of knowledge about rules. When matched with passion and gumption, gravity ceases to exist and new things take flight.”
“All the most interesting things happen when you are making stuff no one else is making.”
“Mainly, I’m a researcher. I am always looking for a better way to do everything. And I never accept, whatever the accepted version of something is, as the way anything is supposed to be.”
“It doesn’t matter who I am working with. I use the same basic formula: keep it sparse. Strip down the sound to something straightforward but powerful.”
“It’s not about being fancy. It’s about serving the song.”
“The newest sounds have a tendency to sound old when the next new sound comes around. But a grand piano sounded great 50 years ago and will sound great 50 years from now. I try make records that have a timeless quality.”
Some of the best insights into Rick Rubin come from the musicians and artists that he's worked with including:
Johnny Cash and Rick Rubin had a special relationship. Rick Rubin pitched Johnny Cash on working with him after he decided that he wanted to find older artists who weren't making new music but had spectacular early careers. After Johnny Cash said yes the pair produced two albums, American Recordings and Unchained, of which American Recordings won the Grammy for Best Country Album in 1998.
After Johnny Cash's second album (American Recordings) with Rick Rubin won the Grammy in 1998 for Best Country Album, Rick Rubin took out a full page ad in Billboard magazine to say thank you to the country radio stations who refused to play any of Johnny Cash's new music. The ad alone is an all-time great.
All of the books, documentaries, and podcasts I used to compile these quotes: