Rick Rubin is without a doubt one of the most influential producers of the modern era. From his groundbreaking work in the emergence of hip-hop as one of the founders of Def Jam Records and a pioneer in the sound of early acts such as The Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, and Run-D.M.C., to his transparent guidance in rock and popular music with bands as varied as Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Dixie Chicks, Black Sabbath, Sheryl Crow, Lady Gaga, and Rage Against The Machine, there is no doubt that Mr. Rubin has had a significant impact on the world of music over the last 30 years.
Some have asked what his secret is. Does his power come from his majestic flowing beard and wizard-y good looks? Does he hold some coveted secret crystal record that gives him the unlimited power to produce amazing music? Well, no. Not exactly. Rick Rubin is actually a rather simple, humble individual who accredits much of his own success to years of trial and error and striving to forge a connection with the artists he works with. But he does have one semi-mystical power under his control: his practice of Transcendental Meditation (or TM for short).
TM is a branch of the larger philosophical and psychological world of meditation in which an individual seeks to clear their mind for a given period of time in an effort to reach a higher spiritual plain, reduce stress and pain, or become a more mindful human being. Transcendental Meditation began as an offshoot started by the famous Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who began to teach the techniques of TM in the 1950s and 60s as a spiritual practice and later a psychological exercise. As his following grew, he began to teach celebrities and prominent figures of the era, some most notably including The Beatles, whose journey to India led to one of their most productive periods of music writing for The White Album and Abbey Road.
And this is where young Rick comes in. When he was 14, he went to see his doctor for neck issues he was having. His doctor figured the cause might be stress and prescribed a dose of meditation. As a devotee to The Beatles, Rick was willing to do anything his idols were doing and thus looked into the art and practice of TM. He practiced for years through high school until he went to attend NYU and then stopped for sometime (as a “backwards version of trying to find out who [he] was”), before starting up again upon his move out to California. Rick cites his meditation practice as giving him a deeper insight into the world around him, and in his work an ability to be completely present and focused with the artists he’s producing–in fact he’s practiced meditation before sessions with a number of artists including RHCP during their work in Californication.
Mr. Rubin continues his practice to this day, and while I’m not prepared to account his success to sitting in bed for 20 minutes each morning, it certainly hasn’t hurt him much either. You can read more in his recent interview with Rolling Stone, and discover more about meditation and the research into it if you’re interested in starting your own daily practice.