Who is Rick Rubin?
Rick Rubin is one of the greatest music producers of all time. He's worked with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kanye West, Johnny Cash, Jay Z, Metallica, Shakira, Black Sabbath, Neil Diamond, and many more legendary artists.
I wanted to watch an interview with him to understand how he thinks, especially in terms of his creative process. This interview didn't disappoint. It's full of nuggets about how he works, and I think his approach is insightful not only for music, but for any creative field.
Some insights from this interview
"We never judge an idea based on the description of an idea. We always try it musically. It's a pretty important point."
In design, we call this prototyping. But we're often guilty of not letting ideas incubate long enough to make it to the prototyping phase. Of course we can't prototype every single idea, but I thought Rubin's commitment to the ideas themselves (rather than the description of ideas) was admirable. There is a certain fearlessness and discipline in this approach, and I think when we work like this as creatives, we ultimately have more fun because it's more in line with how a child would work. It reminds me of a famous zen quote that "in the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few".
"The goal is to create a setting where an artist can be completely vulnerable, and feel completely free to be themselves 100%, with no shame, with no feeling of needing to perform a certain way, and no expectation, just really a safe place to be naked, basically. Show their inner most soul."
I thought this was a really beautiful thought, and I suspect this is the core of Rick Rubin's genius. He is kind of like a trusted therapist for these artists. He digs. Artists come to him with some concepts and he digs into the soul of those ideas and lets the essence show itself. This is a powerful skill to have, and we can keep this idea in mind when collaborating with other creatives. We have to allow each other to be vulnerable and work fearlessly.
"[Meditation] has played a tremendous role in my life. It's really formed who I am. It builds the muscle to allow you to focus intently and look very very deeply into something."
This goes back to the idea of Rubin digging. Meditation helps us cultivate a way of looking at things that is not just surface-level observation. We can dig deep in to abstract concepts and pull out insights. We can notice the tiniest subtleties (which often turn out to be not tiny at all), and I believe that when we practice this mindful way of looking at the world, we can't help but develop a skill for talking about abstract concepts in a way that translates the abstract into more concrete and relatable terms.