Sunday, 8 February 2009

Does Rick Rubin Deserve the "Producer Of The Year" Grammy Award ?

It just had to happen.

I knew it would happen.

And then it happened, about an hour ago, right there in my Twitter stream:

What may surprise you, though, is that I'm perfectly happy with this decision. 

Even though Rubin produced Metallica's "Death Magnetic" - arguably one of the worst-sounding records ever made.

Even though some may use this as evidence to say he was right to do so, or that "Death Magnetic" actually sounds OK (It doesn't).

And even though he also produced albums for Weezer and Ours, both also pointlessly loud and crushed, in the mistaken belief that this sounds better on iPod headphones, in cars or on computers. (It doesn't)

Why ? Because being a Producer is much more than deciding how an album sounds.

A producer also works with the band on:
  • Composition
  • Performance
  • Arrangement
  • Subject, Feel, Mood, Motivation, Pace, Atmosphere...
- and many many other, less tangible aspects of the recording process. 

I'll be talking about issues like this in much greater depth on my new site (coming soon !) but as far as this particular producer is concerned, it's also worth saying that Rubin is not an engineer. It has often been commented that his input into a record is much more about things like those in the list above, than how the record actually sounds. (In fact, the engineer responsible for actually pushing "Death Magnetic" into the red is Greg Fidelman, chosen by the band, not Rubin.)

On these musical terms, fans and critics alike are unanimous that "Death Magnetic" is a huge success. Rubin coaxed some of the best songs and performances in years from Metallica, making it a true return to form, and a huge commercial success for them as a result. In this sense his award is fully deserved.

And clearly he knows Good Sound when he hears it - he is a self-professed audiophile who listens to a startlingly wide range of music. Just take a listen to two other albums he produced in 2008 - Neil Diamond's "Home Before Dark" and Jakob Dylan's "Seeing Things". Both sound fantastic (not at all distorted!) and are also highly acclaimed - along with a string of other albums through a long and very successful career.

So I would like to take the opportunity to be one of the first to congratulate Rick Rubin on his Grammy, and to say again that I fully support the decision to award it to him.

I just hope his next album doesn't sound like "Death Magnetic".

Edit to add - I just noticed that Nigel Godrich was also up for this award, for his work on "In Rainbows". Did Rubin deserve to win over and above Nigel ? Hm...