Video Length: 5:29 min
Rick Rubin has been called "the most important music producer of the last 30 years." Rubin has appeared on Time's 100 Most Influential People in the World three times, and has won eight Grammy Awards. Rubin has worked with a diverse group of artists including AC/DC, Adele, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Dixie Chicks, Ed Sheeran, Eminem, Jay Z, Johnny Cash, Justin Timberlake, Kanye West, Kid Rock, Lady Gaga, Led Zeppelin, Linkin Park, Metallica, Mick Jagger, Neil Diamond, Public Enemy, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Run-D.M.C.,Shakira, Sheryl Crow, Slayer, The Black Crowes, The Cult, The Smashing Pumpkins, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Weezer, The Black Keys and ZZ Top.
Rick Rubin is a co-founder of Def Jam Records and is recognized as a key influencer in the rise of hip-hop and rap music in the 1980’s. In 1986, rap music clawed its way to worldwide respect with the release of LPs Rubin produced, Licensed To Ill (Beastie Boys') and Raising Hell (Run-D.M.C.). A year later, he produced Public Enemy's "Yo! Bum Rush the Show", which is considered by music historians as one of the most pivotal acts in hip-hop history. In 1991, Rubin produced the Red Hot Chili Peppers' breakthrough effort, "Blood Sugar Sex Magik." In 1993, he produced Mick Jagger's "Wandering Spirit" and in 1994, he produced Johnny Cash's huge comeback album "American Recording".
A producer with an incredible ear for music and feel of the times, Rubin's trademark sound is a "stripped-down" recording style that limits strings, backing vocals and reverb for more of a pure, live sound. Dan Charnas, former vice president of Artists & Repertoire (A&R) for Rubin's record label said, "He's fantastic with sound and arrangements, and he's tremendous with artists. They love him. He shows them how to make it better, and he gets more honest and exciting performances out of people than anyone." Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks praised Rubin’s style and methods saying, "He has the ability and the patience to let music be discovered, not manufactured." Dr. Dre described Rubin as, "hands down, the dopest producer ever that anyone would ever want to be, ever.” One trademark of Rubin's production is that he encourages artists to genre-bend. An example of this would be Run–D.M.C. covering Aerosmith's "Walk This Way" or country music legend Johnny Cash covering "Hurt," written by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails.
Design, Discipline, & Decision:
Rubin is one of music’s most influential people and he has made a name for himself by salvaging the careers of flailing musicians. Being able to work with legendary musical icons when they are down in the dumps has given him amazing insight into being a leader. Rubin was a master of bringing the best out of artists, even when they were feeling their worst. To quote the late, great Johnny Cash, “I’ll always trust Rick because he believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.”
From artistic success to numerous groundbreaking musical creations and awards, Rubin refuses to be put into a genre of music. From interviews, podcasts and his own personal reflections, Rubin’s "Lessons in Leadership" can be summed up in five short thoughts.
1. Don’t Be Afraid To Take Risks
"Every step of the way, people tried to talk me out of what I was going to do next." When he jumped into the rap scene after starting up Def Jam records, people said "What are you doing? You’re into punk!” But without artists like Run DMC and LL Cool J, music may have never thrust into modern Hip-Hop. Then as he started the American Recordings label, people asked "Why would you sign a rock artist, when you've had so much success with Rap?"
Rubin summed it up very neatly, because it “felt right” to him. It seemed the correct direction to go in order to push himself and music in the new directions. Without those risks, we would have never had iconic albums like ‘Californication’ by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, or Johnny Cash’s ‘American Recordings’.
Being a leader is trusting yourself and having the resolve to make the decisions that will take you into an unknown direction without the fear of failing. As a leader, it’s your job to pave the way for your followers and show them that risks are there to be taken – even when people say you’re wrong.
2. Have A Clear Vision
Rubin’s focus is always on the art, no matter what the label or the marketing teams say. Sales and financial charts don't mean much to Rubin. All that mattered was that he worked with his artists to create the best possible version of the music he was working on. His vision, whether working with someone at the beginning of their career or near the end has always been the same. Creating music itself, creating music the artist is proud of, and music the fans enjoy.
As a leader, are you asking yourself, "What's my vision, where am I leading my people?". No matter what you're trying to do or who you're trying to lead, you must have a clear view of where you're trying to go and howyou're trying to get there. Something to invigorate your team, to inspire, to motivate, a common goal to work toward is a necessity. What’s your vision, and can you clearly articulate it to your team?
3. Know When To Change Course
Rubin is known to be a risk taker, but he also knows when something isn’t working out. On more than one occasion, he has talked about his strained relationship with Russel Simmons and his battle regarding "Business over Music". He confronted the problem and decided to leave Def Jam Records. It wasn’t out of malice or from a position of bad will, but because it was the right thing to do for both of their future endeavors.
As a leader, it’s up to you to recognize and understand when a battle can’t be won. It is foolish to expend energy in the wrong direction. You wouldn’t steer your car into a tree on purpose, and you shouldn’t do it to yourself and those who follow you. Be strong enough to understand when something is wrong and change the course. Step back, look at the problems, and realign your efforts. If you can't fix it, take the bold step to change course.
4. Your Way Isn’t the Only Way
Rubin’s way of producing has taken him to the top of the music charts, and has put different genres of music into an entirely new perspective. However, in his early thirties, many of the relationships he had with artists broke down because he fought to make sure it was done his way. This resulted in depletion of sales, blunt criticism, and broken relationships. Sensing a need for change, Rubin stopped pushing his way onto the artists and started asking them for their input. What were the sounds they were hearing in their heads, and what were the sounds going through the band. He began to take their ideas, and he adapted to the best idea that came along for all parties involved, even if it didn’t parallel with his original ideas.
This resulted in better albums, better relationships, better ideas, and better sales. A leader’s goal is to facilitate, coordinate and guide the people they work with. They are responsible for leveraging the resources at hand and harvesting the best ideas available. Most of the time, a single focused idea won’t be the strongest or the best. Look around, someone on your team may have a better suggestion. Put your pride on the shelf and listen to those around you, they may have the answer you’re looking for.
5. Not Everybody Is Going to Like You
Rubin may be one of the most revered music producers in history, but he isn’t without his critics. The lead singer of Slipknot, Corey Taylor, is an extremely harsh critic of Rubin, even though he produced one of their best selling and critically acclaimed albums ever. Rubin takes it in his stride saying "It’s strange to me, Corey and I were so much on the same page, but the rest of the band, not so much."
As a leader, not everyone is going to agree with you on a multitude of decisions. They won’t always agree with how you follow through on those decisions. You could be the best in the world at whatever you do, but people still won’t like it. It’s impossible to please everybody and appeal to everyone on every level, so don't try.
A good leader is willing to take reasonable risks. They have a clear and clarified vision. They know when to change direction to get a better outcome. They understand their way isn't the only way. They recognize they will not always be liked. What shouldmatter to a good leader is that as long as they can be proud of the outcome. What matters is that it’s done with honesty, integrity, and it’s done for the right reasons. Nothing else really matters.