Does Rick Rubin Deserve the "Producer Of The Year" Grammy Award ? - Mastering Media Blog

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...


Anonymous said...

I must admit I'm surprised you think Nigel Godrich should receive an award for 'In Rainbows' - personally I feel this was the most unadventurous and frankly rather bland sounding album of Radiohead's career - when I first heard it thought it sounded rather demo-ish and really lacked the depth and wonder of their previous work. Compare it to the production on Ok Computer and Hail To The Thief and I'd have thought you would agree.

ianshepherd said...

I really like the production of "In Rainbows", but I don't know how much input Godrich had in the ways my post mentions (writing, arrangement etc).

Sonically there is no comparison with DM, obviously, but the whole point of this post is that there's much more to production than just sound.

Overall, Rubin produced 4 great albums and deserves the award, IMO. Of course it was awarded because of sales, not merit, but that's a whole other discussion...

Anonymous said...

Hey Ian
Yeah Rick Rubin deserves it. He's brilliant. But I agree with everything you said about Death Magnetic and the other RR stuff you mentioned. The production elements are there, but sound is brick-walled and distorted.

iron_gr said...

I just want to share a "making of" I just read about Tool's last album here:

I believe you should make a subject about this as it is an awesome way of doing things right!

And last but not least, an excerpt:
"‘We don't care if we're the loudest thing on the radio. We just want you to maintain our dynamics.’ You have to really respect that in a band."

ianshepherd said...

Great article, thanks for the link ! That could be very useful for my new site (launching soon). You guys will be the first to know.


Pete Bilderback said...

He may have deserved it for Neil Diamond's Home Before Dark, which was excellent in every respect, including sound quality. For Death Magnetic...not so much.

Evan said...

Frankly, the only good album he did last year was Death Magnetic. The last Weezer album was HORRIBLE. And frankly, if some kid on the internet can take the GH3 version of DM and make it sound better than the retail version that he produced, he doesn't deserve a Grammy.

Raymo said...

Ian what did you think of Nigel Godrich's production on The King of Limbs?

After hearing the basement performance I was pretty annoyed at how polished the album was, of course that's his thing but I hardly ever listen to the album I always listen to the Basement tracks now, its got so much more life and energy to it. I feel it all got lost in the album.

Ian Shepherd said...

I was really underwhelmed by the King Of Limbs, especially since the master is so crushed and lifeless. Have to be honest, I haven't watched the whole basement session yet, I should do that !

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