Rick Rubin: The Music Man

Glorious Noise reads the 8,000-word New York Times magazine feature on Rick Rubin so you don’t have to.

“The most important thing we have to do now is get the art right. So many of the decisions at these companies have not been about the music. They sign artists for the wrong reasons — because they think somebody else wants them or if they need to have a record out by a certain date. That old way of doing things is obsolete, but luckily, fear is making the record companies less arrogant. They’re more open to ideas. So, what’s important now is to find music that’s timeless.”

Actually, you should still read it. It’s good.

The rest of the good quotes after the jump…

“There was a time when if you had something that wasn’t so good, through muscle and lack of other choices, you could push that not very good product through those channels. And that’s how the music business functioned for 50 years. Well, the world has changed. And the industry has not.”

Rick Rubin, 1987

“In the past, I’ve tried to protect artists from the label, and now my job would also be to protect the label from itself. So many of the decisions at these companies are not about the music. They are shortsighted and desperate. For so long, the record industry had control. But now that monopoly has ended, they don’t know what to do. I thought it would be an interesting challenge.”

“Columbia is stuck in the dark ages. I have great confidence that we will have the best record company in the industry, but the reality is, in today’s world, we might have the best dinosaur. Until a new model is agreed upon and rolling, we can be the best at the existing paradigm, but until the paradigm shifts, it’s going to be a declining business. This model is done.”

“You’d pay, say, $19.95 a month, and the music will come anywhere you’d like. In this new world, there will be a virtual library that will be accessible from your car, from your cellphone, from your computer, from your television. Anywhere. The iPod will be obsolete, but there would be a Walkman-like device you could plug into speakers at home. You’ll say, ‘Today I want to listen to … Simon and Garfunkel,’ and there they are. The service can have demos, bootlegs, concerts, whatever context the artist wants to put out. And once that model is put into place, the industry will grow 10 times the size it is now.”

“I was an only child, and I think that had a big impact on me. I always had grown-up friends even though I was a little kid. I would take the train from Lido Beach into Manhattan, and I’d hang out in magic shops. When I was 14, I had magician friends who were 60. I learned a lot from them — I still think about magic all the time. I always think about how things work, the mechanics of a situation — that’s the nature of being a magician.”

“At every stage of my career, there have always been people telling me not to do whatever it is that I’m doing,” Rubin said. “After my initial success in rap, I started making rock records, and people said, ‘Why would you do this?’ I made a comedy album, and they said, ‘Why this?’ Now people ask me, ‘Why do you want to do this Columbia job?’ It’s always the same answer: ‘I’ve always liked doing the stuff that I like.’ I just like good music or comedy or whatever it is, and now I have the chance to bring that to a big record company. I have no training, no technical skill — it’s only this ability to listen and try to coach the artist to be the best they can from the perspective of a fan.”

“I do not know how to work a board. I don’t turn knobs. I have no technical ability whatsoever,” he said. “But I’m there when they need me to be there. My primary asset is I know when I like something or not. It always comes down to taste. I’m not there to hold their hands and baby-sit, but I’m there for any key creative decisions.”

“I grew up in the independent music business, and you still really need the muscle of the majors. A record company call can still get you heard like nobody else.” Rubin paused. “That’s the magic of the business,” he said. “It’s all doom and gloom, but then you go to a Gossip show or hear Neil in the studio and you remember that too many people make and love music for it to ever die. It will never be over. The music will outlast us all.”

Read the rest here.

5 thoughts on “Rick Rubin: The Music Man”

  1. I read this yesterday. Interesting. I wonder if the dopes who run the music business will actually listen to Rick Rubin. His faith in a subscription model is also surprising but I love that he understands that GOOD content is king. He wants artists to make demos and live clips available, which was always the draw to p2p networks for me. I wanted the original mix of Tonight’s the Night that only existed as a cassette in David Brigg’s car. You post that shit on Reprise’s network and I’ll gladly pay $9.99 to get it.

  2. Leftsetz comments “But the way out isn’t hiring an iconoclastic, bearded guru, but by changing the INFRASTRUCTURE!”

    I always thought Rubin was a little overrated; it looked like all he did for Blood Sugar Sex Magic was make the Peppers listen to Physical Graffiti, at least that’s what it looked like on the video Funky Monks.

    I asked Dave Sardy once about Rick Rubin’s role as “Executive Producer” for an album that Sardy engineers and, ultimately, produced. He explained that Rubin basically told him to edit the songs down a couple of minutes because they were too long.

    Sounds like a major label exec to me.

  3. But Rubin IS talking about changing the infrastucture–completely. Throwing out the old business model.

    But i agree that Rubin MAY be a bit overated. Having read the NYT Magazine article, I am not sure what he does other than creative consultation, which I guess is fine when it works, but it doesn’t always work. I think he does a really good job of understanding an artist’s strengths and then focusing on them, but I haven’t read an article yet that convinced me that his production is anything special. He seems to be more of a life coach than a producer.

    just the same, I love Rick Rubin and am damned glad he’s in the music business. I am glad that somebody who is so passionate about music (as opposed to profit) is in a power position. I am hoping that brings good things.

  4. Right. Even before the Johnny Cash albums, Rubin had already earned his sainthood for his work with LL, Run-DMC, and the Beastie Boys. He could’ve been run over by a bus in 1988 and he’d still be a god.

    But his work with Johnny Cash made him into a legend as someone who takes an artist and gets them back to their essence. This doesn’t always work (Donovan, Weezer) but when it does, it’s fucking amazing (Neil Diamond).

    The role of producer is pretty slippery. Back in the day, the producer was the guy who hired the musicians and the arranger and everything like that. More like a producer in the movie business where the director has the vision, does the work. In music, we now see the producer as the “director” but that’s a fairly recent thing.

    I have very little faith that Rubin will be able to turn around Columbia Records. I’m guessing his actual position is more like a glorified A&R guy. He gets to sign the bands he likes. Which is fine. But even he admits “the reality is, in today’s world, we might have the best dinosaur.”

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