Producer Rick Rubin Opens Up on How He Deals With Disagreements in Studio, Discusses How ’Ego Tends to Get in the Way’

Late last year, the legendary producer Rick Rubin, known for working with various names in many different genres, sat down to talk with Nihal Arthanayake of the BBC Radio 5 show called “Headliners.” Since Rubin has worked with some big names in the music industry, it’s only obvious to ask how famous artists’ egos can affect the creative process. Presented with the question, the producer replied (transcript via Ultimate Guitar):

“I think it takes a certain amount of ego to get up on stage in front of people. It just comes with the territory of being a performer. Being an artist, sharing an idea – that seems maybe scary. There is some sense of ego… More often than not, the ego tends to get in the way.”

“But if there’s not some sense of it – maybe ego’s not the word for I’m [looking for]; the self-worth or self-belief to allow you to do it in the first place — that has to be there.”

“I tend to think of ego more in terms of when it’s a disruptive force, but I imagine that’s just a linguistic choice. Yes, I would say there’s a balance to all of it.”

Of course, with someone of Rubin’s caliber — working with Metallica, Slayer, Run DMC, Slipknot, Red Hot Chili Peppers, ZZ Top, and Black Sabbath, just to name a few — it’s interesting to think how his own ego could potentially interfere with the whole process. When asked about that, Rick replied:

“There could be a feeling, in the moment, of, ‘Oh, we might be missing an opportunity here.’ That’ll be the feeling I’ll have. It’s like, if I can see something clearly [that could be] interesting – and not following it.”

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“But then, because I’ve been doing it for a long time, what ends up happening is, something else happens, and maybe something else and something else. And eventually, something really interesting happens. And it may not be the thing that I was originally thinking, and that’s fine. And it may be better.”

As of this moment, Rick Rubin is promoting his new book titled “The Creative Act: A Way of Being.” According to Google Books, the summary reads:

Many famed music producers are known for a particular sound that has its day and then ages out. Rick Rubin is known for something else: creating a space where artists of all different genres and traditions can home in on who they really are and what they really offer.”

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“He has made a practice of helping people transcend their self-imposed expectations in order to reconnect with a state of innocence from which the surprising becomes inevitable. Over the years, as he has thought deeply about where creativity comes from and where it doesn’t, he has learned that being an artist isn’t about your specific output; it’s about your relationship to the world.”

“Creativity has a place in everyone’s life, and everyone can make that place larger. In fact, there are few more important responsibilities. The Creative Act is a beautiful and generous course of study that illuminates the path of the artist as a road we all can follow.”

“It distils the wisdom gleaned from a lifetime’s work into a luminous reading experience that puts the power to create moments – and lifetimes – of exhilaration and transcendence within closer reach for all of us.”

Over the years, Rubin has gotten a reputation for his unconventional ways of work. But although very successful, there have been some complaints, or just remarks, about the producer’s way of work.

For instance, during a last year’s interview, former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, who exited the band in late 2019, spoke negatively of Rubin. When asked to give his honest opinion on the two albums that he did with the band, the first of which was produced by Rick Rubin, Klinghoffer said:

“I feel like this could be a long answer. Perhaps we can do a sit-down tell-all someday. I’m serious; someday, that’d be fun. At this point, however, I might be a little too close to leaving to look back without a heavily biased and potentially warped opinion.”

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“I’m incredibly conflicted about my output with that band because I feel like, in both circumstances, producers got in the way of us truly making great music or a great record. I like almost all of the songs that we wrote together, but seldom did we capture them in the best way.“

Going over to the album that the band did with Rubin as a producer, 2011’s “I’m With You,” he said:

“I will say that in the case of ‘I’m With You,‘ I feel Rick Rubin was way more a hindrance than a help. He told me once, ‘I just want to help the songs be the best they can be.‘ I should’ve said, ‘Well, then get your driver to come and get you.‘”

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Among other artists to present Rubin in a more or less negative light was Black Sabbath bassist and main lyricist Geezer Butler. When asked about what it was like to work with Rubin for Sabbath’s final full-length record “13,” Geezer replied:

“Some of it I liked, some of it I didn’t like particularly. It was a weird experience, especially with being told to forget that you’re a heavy metal band. That was the first thing [Rick] said to us.

“He played us our very first album, and he said, ‘Cast your mind back to then when there was no such thing as heavy metal or anything like that, and pretend it’s the follow-up album to that,’ which is a ridiculous thing to think.”

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And when reminded that other musicians have also said more or less the same things about Rubin, Geezer commented:

“I still don’t know what he did. It’s, like, ‘Yeah, that’s good.’ ‘No, don’t do that.’ And you go, ‘Why?’ [And he’d say], ‘Just don’t do it.’ I think Ozzy one day went nuts ’cause he’d done, like, 10 different vocals, and Rick kept saying, ‘Yeah, that’s great, but do another one.’

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“And Ozzy was, like, ‘If it’s great, why am I doing another one?’ He just lost it. And that’s the way it was. Tony wasn’t happy with some of the stuff he was trying to make him play. He was making Tony get 1968 amps — as if that’s gonna make it sound like back in 1968. It’s mad.

“But it’s good for publicity and it’s good for the record company. If you’ve got Rick Rubin involved, then it must be good, kind of thing.”

Photo: Jason Mogavero (RickRubinSept09)

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.