Setting a goal “could be a limitation” in music creation, Rick Rubin says

“Having the goal – that’s not going to help you get there. It’s more like, start finger painting and see what happens.”

Rick Rubin (Photo by Rob Latour/Variety/Penske Media via Getty Images)

Credit: Getty/Rob Latour/Variety

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Rick Rubin has discussed the value of not setting goals when it comes to creative pursuits in music, saying they can act as “limitations”.

The topic was brought up during a recent episode of NPR’s All Things Considered show. On it, the Grammy-winning producer, Def Jam Recordings co-founder and well-respected creativity guru talks about working with Johnny Cash, spirituality and his role in music.

Show host Rachel Martin reveals she’d recently tried – and failed – to learn the piano to create music similar to Ludovico Einaudi’s soundtrack for the 2021 film, Nomadland. She asks if there’s still “creative value” in “setting an artistic goal and not meeting it”.

“I tend not to set goals,” Rubin responds. “I feel like a goal could be a limitation. Like, I can remember a big successful artist, a singer in a band saying to me, “I’m excited about our next album. We haven’t started writing any songs yet, but we want it to be this kind of sci-fi punk rock thing.” And I was like, OK, I’m listening. And then I said, “What happens if the best songs you write turn out to be more like Neil Young’s Harvest?” And he’s like, “Oh, that’d be great.”

“So then it’s like, having the goal — that’s not going to help you get there. It’s more like, “start finger painting and see what happens”.

“Did anything come from your piano experience? Did you feel more connected to the piano? Did you feel like you liked hearing yourself playing the notes? Was it a nice meditation being at the piano?”

“Yes,” Martin replies.

“Can you go back to playing the piano for five minutes a day, 10 minutes a day, whatever – you pick the window without having this goal, but just, ‘I’m gonna have fun?’ That might be a really nice gift to yourself.”

This is not the first time Rubin has imparted his wisdom in a podcast. Speaking on his own show, Tetragrammatron, in October, he discussed with producer Kenny Beats’ his background at Berklee College of Music, saying, “There’s a real difference between being a technically great player and creating music – those are two different things”.

Although not particularly a musician, Rubin has in the past pointed out that he acts as more of a listener when working with artists, creating inspiring environments that allow for artists to “go fucking mental” in the studio, as Kesha once said. In January, he bravely admitted on the CBS show 60 Minutes, that he has “no technical ability” and that he “knows nothing about music”.

Read more Rick Rubin stories via MusicTech.


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