For the latest episode of his podcast, author/investor/renaissance man Tim Ferris sat down for a frank interview with producer/reducer/beard-grower Rick Rubin. Rubin apparently agreed to have the conversation on the condition that it took place in his sauna—no small request, seeing as the discussion lasted roughly 80 minutes, with a few breaks that allowed the producer to jump into an ice bath. But the extreme heat did not impact his speaking ability: he talked frankly about weight loss, meditation, and most importantly, his career in music. Check out some highlights from the episode below, and listen to it in full here.
On the job of a producer: "I don't know what music producers do. I can tell you what I do. I help get the best performance from an artist. Help them pick their material or develop their material. And help set the course for the direction of what they're doing creatively."
On impediments to art-making: "There are so many things that get in the way of the artistic process. For example, any commercial considerations usually get in the way. If you're thinking about making songs that get on the radio, chances are you won't be using your own voice… [It's about] getting closer to the source and not being distracted by any nonsense that would get in the way of the art being as good as it could be."
On nonsense: "Concern about what other people think. Competition. Self doubt. Ego—if someone thinks that everything they do is great, they might not be willing to edit themselves enough."
On the importance of incremental progress: "I think if your goal is to be better than you were, if you're competing only with yourself, it's a more realistic place to be."
On the heart vs. head: "It really is small steps and trying not to think too much. It's more emotion and heart work than head work. The head comes in after to look at what the heart has presented and to organize it. But the initial inspiration comes from a different place, and it's not the head, and it's not an intellectual activity."
On the importance of "submerging yourself in great art:" "Going to museums and looking at great art can help you write better songs. Reading great novels… Seeing a great movie… reading poetry… The more you can do to get out of the mode of competition, where you get out of what other people are doing and wanting to be better than them or be inspired by them. The only way to use the inspiration of other artists is if you submerge yourself in the greatest works of all time, which is a great thing to do. If you listen to the greatest songs ever made, that would be a better way to work through to find your own voice to matter today then listening to what's on the radio now and thinking, 'I want to compete with this.'"
On mainstream success: "The idea of watering things down for a mainstream audience, I don't think it applies. People want things that are passionate, that are the best version they can be. And often the best version they can be is not for everybody."
Advice for his 30 year old self: "Don't beat yourself up."
You can read FADER's 2004 cover story on Rick Rubin here.
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