Rick Rubin — Timeless Methods for Unlocking Creativity, The Future with AI, and More | Transcription
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That's because most people reconciled the into the month or 30 periods so having a couple of days of cushion helps folks out so 34 days with no credit card required at you need a budget dot com slash Tim. This altitude I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking. And I also post a question. Now we're the same. I'm a cybernetic organism living tissue will never end the scale. Ladies and gentlemen this is Tim Ferris welcome to another episode of the Tim Ferris show. My guest today needs no introduction but I will provide one regardless Rick Rubin you can find him on Twitter at Rick Rubin is a nine time Grammy winning producer one of time magazines 100 most influential people in the world. And the most successful producer in any genre according to Rolling Stone he is collaborating with artists ranging from Tom Petty to Adele Johnny Cash to the Red Hot Chili Peppers BC boys to Slayer Kanye West of the Strokes and system of a down to Jay Z that is just the tip of the iceberg believe it or not you can find my 2015 interview seven plus years ago was right on the back of the wall in that crazy Tim dot blog slash Rick Rubin is new book is the creative act subtitle away of being we're going to dig into that Rick seven plus years ago. I can't believe it was that the first year of the podcast how many years the podcast that would have been the second year of the podcast and we reported it in your sauna which was a condition of yours. We did a lot of heat we did a lot of cold.
Creative Process And Collaboration
Why Rick wrote The Creative Act. (06:28)
So the creative act why make this book and I've had some close up seats to watch the seeds germinating for quite a while now. I feel like we may have talked about this even back in the song I don't know if we talked about it on the podcast but we did the same day. Talking about this is a book I want to write and I remember you amongst others you are not the only one you were one of everyone else who said that sounds like a bad idea. The general consensus was that sounds like a lot of work and it's not the book that anybody necessarily wants from you. Why don't you just do the one that's easy hold on hold on let me let me defend myself here for one second. I definitely said the first part I think what I probably said was Rick you have a lot going on if you put this book out in the world you're going to have to live with it forever so are you sure you are willing to put. Or can find the time in the space to create this book I wouldn't have said I don't think this is the book people want to read I would have just said man you have a lot of optionality in your life are you sure this is the path that you want to take I could see saying that. But here we are well I'll say this is the book that was interesting to me to write and they were definitely simpler books to write but I wasn't interested. So and that was a general consensus with everyone I talked to including publishers at that time. Who just said well you know why don't you do a biography why don't you do the stories of your life it's like if that was the book I wouldn't do the book. Right totally this is the only book that was interesting to me to work on what the purpose of it is is over the course of a year I might get to work with a handful of artists, probably the most albums I've ever produced in a year would be eight which is a lot for a record producer. But in the world of artists to tiny fractions so even though I've been doing it for a long time even though I get to work with a lot for someone who does my job. I'm still talking to a very few people and it seems like what goes on in the studio is helpful for the artists and the idea that maybe there's some way that this information can be shared and it's difficult because I don't know what it is you know that was maybe part of when I describe it to you. I remember that you know I don't know. It's like I don't know what's in the book I don't even know where to start. Publishers love that pitch. No I remember you saying that though and I was like okay that's interesting I mean you have the ability at this point in your life and at that point in your life to actually play with that emergence though and I guess you've done that a lot in your life not limited just to this book project. That's the way I like to work it's like I go in with the with kind of a blind belief that something good will happen and until it's proven impossible I will continue banging my head against the wall. So I want to talk about banging against the wall I want to talk about creative process how you work with artists how you work with yourself also in the case of this book I must say something before I forget to mention it which is I was reading the book I didn't read all of it because I didn't want to spoil it for myself but I was reading the book and I thought you know this reminds me of something something that I have and something now that I think about it the Rick Rubin has mentioned before this is not the exact book you've mentioned but the touted about absolutely that bears a resemblance just in terms of the flow and the bite size nature and the lyrical prose if I can put it that way the way that you can encapsulated your thinking and the writing.
The Tao of Rick Rubin. (09:24)
Am I totally off base or is this is that an echo that was always one of the wishes was to have a dull like experience the material in the book isn't very much like the Dow and there's a lot more content in this book. Then is in the Dow. Yeah. The Dow is 81 short pieces this is 400 and some odd pages. That was one of the threads another one was the artist way even though I don't think the books like the artist way but what's special about the artist way is that it's not Julia Cameron story in any way it's a book with things that might be helpful. And I wanted it to be like that I didn't want it to be about any of my experiences any of my projects any of the people I've worked with I wanted it to be about the mindset that allows the creation to happen. And because it comes to me intuitively and I don't know how it works. It took since seven years ago to get to this point of understanding it and even now. I don't know that I could clearly explain it to you because the nature of the stuff that we're talking about is fleeting it's like if you read the Dow every year you'll get something completely different out of it. Like that it's not vague it's pretty specific. But it is open to interpretation in the best way where it's inviting you the reader to see your picture. I'm not telling you what to think. I'm setting up a world that you can participate in yourself. What strikes me that you are in a of course metaphorical sense explaining how one can calibrate their instrumentation you're not telling them what to read or what to sense but you're saying this is how you might increase the spectrum of frequencies or inputs that you are able to register and then what you choose to do with that is up to you but let's talk about sensitivity let's talk about awareness. And I was struck by a number of examples there were examples in the book of opening other books and flipping to say a random page and finding a line and using that line as a catalyst at some time.
Making the creative toolbox multi-purposeful. (12:16)
If you don't mind me hopping around a little bit I wanted to go back to our first conversation to discuss how the very small can lead to the very big. So this is an anecdote that you shared after I asked you how you helped musicians break through barriers the same way that Lared Hamilton helped you break through certain physical and psychological barriers often interrelated. And what you mentioned then was that in some cases you give artists homework very small doable tasks and you told the story of working with a musician with a very good career at one point was trying to get back into songwriting and he had all these unfinished songs. And I think the homework assignment was come back tomorrow with one word that you like and then you were able to string those together and help him to build a certain momentum that then led to of course larger finished pieces. You use that yourself with this book at all and or is there another example you could give breaking something down into very small pieces that then produce their own momentum. In the case of the book the way that I was able to get to the information in it was through doing hundreds of hours of interviews, either about specific projects, or on the day of a studio session I would come home from the session and I would make notes on okay. This happened today, I would take whatever happened in the specific of whatever happened in the studio that day where something good happened where no one knew what to do, and the next thing you know we're all talking about it and then something happens and we like solve the problem altogether everyone, wherever the idea came from it was solved. And then I would look at that and see is there a principle at work in that solution, bigger than this problem where it's applicable to other problems. It's the same you could imagine in any work that you've done. If you solve one kind of a problem there could come up something similar or something that rhymes with it, you know years later and you're like oh maybe we could try it like this work once before you know. So it's like increasing the toolbox of potential methods, all based on ones that have worked in the past for one reason or another, and some of them are pretty esoteric.
Collaborations: ensuring the best ideas prevail over egos. (15:00)
So some are esoteric, not all of them are esoteric, so I was texting with someone who read your book and what he said was one of your, well I shouldn't say your one of his favorite parts in the book was your take on collaborations advice for people working together, whether as business partners or artists, when they disagree strongly on something. So would you mind introducing maybe your philosophy or tactical toolkit for helping to navigate that, because in your career, I mean you've dealt with many strong personalities it's not set in a pejorative way, many big, many unique personalities. How do you think about interpersonal conflict resolution. In most collaborative projects, most of the bands I've worked with, the way that I've noticed it working is that there'll be many ideas and there'll be like a battle of wills to see which idea wins. It's not necessarily based in which idea is best, it's more of an ego conflict battle. And then someone who's either willing to fight more, or is more insensitive, is able to push their way through and that becomes the direction. And from my experience, those are not how the best decisions are made, that's how a decision can get made but not the best decision. And really what we want always is out of all the possible decisions, we want the best one to end up in the piece. So we start with an agreement that we try not to even know whose ideas are which, to take the personal out of it. And to have it be, let's say there's a band with three different songwriters in it. And then they might send me demos and in the past they would say, okay, these three are bills, these four are Sam's and these are Sally's. And then when I'm listening to them, I'm listening, okay, I have three of Sam's, four of Sally's, but I'm not focused on what's the best of everything there, because I'm thinking about the individuals. So I always ask for any information shared with me to not be labeled and not explained at all. And I'm only reacting based on the actual material, not based on what I think, same goes when we're hiring a mix engineer for something, I might have as many as five different mix engineers mix the same song. And then I listen to them without knowing who did what, because if one of them is a superstar mixer who everybody wants, and one of them is our assistant engineer who works in the studio. We might think, oh, the guy, you know, the superstar guy probably did the best job and it clouds the decision making, not intentionally, even unintentionally, knowing the information is not helpful. So we do as much blind testing as possible. And the same is true is when we're working together, we all know, because we talk about it, that what's best is at the best idea wins, and that there's no personal benefit. And if your idea makes it, it doesn't make it better than if the other team members idea makes it, because whichever idea actually is best, we all win. So the goal is to get to the best, it's not to get to ours, and to foster that relationship in all of the projects we do with other people. If someone's always politicking to get it their way, it's a different job. It's like, you don't want to win because of the politics, you want to win because the idea works. Totally. No, I was just going to ask you, if that is an explicit conversation you have up front with people you're working with, so that you're setting the expectations, getting the buy-in, having everyone on the same page with, this is about the best ideas winning, because then we all win. It's not about the strongest egos winning the day and pushing things through. Is that an explicit conversation that you have with folks or encourage them to add? It can be if I'm aware that it's an issue. Many of the bands I work with, I've worked with for a long period of time, and I also work with a lot of solo artists, so it doesn't apply to either of those, because if we've been working together for a long time, it's baked into the process. But with a new artist, it may be a sit-down. The first time it appears that someone's just fighting for their idea and maybe not even really listening to other people's ideas, I would probably have a sit-down conversation about it.
Creative revisions are experiments, not guaranteed improvements. (19:50)
You were talking about listening to, say, mixes, I'm using the right term with fresh ears, and I remember in our first conversation, we talked briefly about, I think the term was, or the phrasing was, leaving music in the studio so that you can come back to it with fresh ears. If you've heard something a hundred times, actually I'll give you a personal situation, and then maybe I can turn this into a free therapy session. So I have been doing a bunch of fiction writing for the last six months for the first time, and I'm having so much fun with it. It may in some ways tie into one of your other true, true passions. People may not realize this. It's not bullshit. Professional wrestling. I don't know if that's still the case, but, oh man, they may actually tie into this in a way that I can explain another time. But I've really been enjoying the fiction. What I have found myself running into is I will have a short story, a few pages long, and I will revise it 47 times. I'll revise it 56 times. And when I look at the amount of time I've spent on it, a few things become apparent. Number one is that I'm not convinced revision 56 is any better necessarily than revision 49. So maybe I could have spent less time on that and done more original drafting. And then the second is when I look at something that many times, it all begins to get blurry. And it becomes so familiar that it's very challenging to look at it with fresh eyes. And I imagine that happens to folks you work with. Maybe it happened to you in this creative process. What advice would you give, say me, or how would you talk through that with me if I'm experiencing those things? First thing I would suggest is always referring back to the thing that you're revising. I would never assume because you put more time into something, it's getting better. Yeah. Most people equate work time with progress. And that's not the case. We're scientists experimenting, and it's all an experiment. And sometimes we get the experiment right at the beginning and we don't know it. And we won't know it until we may do a hundred other iterations that are not better. So what I'll say is there's no way to save the time that you're hoping to save. There are no shortcuts. You got to do the hundred experiments no matter what, even if you get it right the first time. It's the only way to know. And in addition to that, I would add on top of it having patience and being able to step away long enough that you can compare Idea 56, your latest with Idea iteration one at the beginning and see is it in fact better? Because sometimes, I mean there's a whole history of albums that have come out where people always say, "Oh, the album didn't really work, but the demos were great." You know, it was so much better. The songwriting was great, but we didn't really execute it right. So the craft part of iteration after iteration could just as well be making it worse as better. It also can be making it better. It's like there's no rule to it. So that's why it's dangerous. And then in terms of staying present and leaving the work and working on something else is a really good thing to do. Because then when you come back, you've really exhausted another part of your brain. You know, work on something hard, not bad. And then when you come back to read it, you have a better chance of being closer to a neutral view. So let's take an album as a parallel. If you have a, you're working on an album and there are X number of tracks, just for the sake of simplicity, let's say they're 10 tracks. And with this fiction, I was working on 10 different stories related to greater houses and clans and all this stuff in this fictional world. So I had the ability to leave one and go to another. If you're working with a band and they have this hypothetical album, what are your guiding principles for? How much to revise a given track before moving on to something else? Or if someone's feeling stuck, how much you push before moving to something else? How do you think about getting that album done in terms of origination, iteration, skipping around? If an idea is new and it's flowing, I would get as much of at least a first draft of it all the way through a first draft of that idea. I would probably not do any revision past the first draft, and then I would move on to piece two. I would want to get to the 10 that you're doing. In my case, if I wanted to release 10, I would be working on 30 to get to 10 to release. So everything's the best stuff. In my mind, it's like we have the best of these three projects and make that one project. It's certainly going to be better than the first 10. For sure. So the first thing is I would overwrite. Second thing is I would get the ideas down as quickly as possible through the idea. Finish the thought, then move on to the next one, and get them all to the point where you have a great first draft of everything with the ideas before ever going back and doing. Another reason for that is something may happen in episode eight that informs the choice you're going to make in episode one and two. Yeah, that happens. It's natural to happen. It's natural to happen. When you look at it in a holistic way, when you see the whole thing, you realize what's important, where there's opportunities for connections that when you're working on the individual pieces, you'll never see. Yeah, totally. And just on a micro level, I was working with this illustrator on designs of these insignias for these various plans. And by the time we got through maybe two rounds of revisions with two different insignias, I realized we have to see all of these side by side. Absolutely. To have some type of somatic interconnectedness, I can't keep refining any given one. I really have to see all the rough drafts, or I should say intermediate drafts side by side, or we're going to end up with a product that is a frankenside. Absolutely. Because when you see them all together, you may realize instead of going forward with them, you might want to go backwards with them. Maybe they need to be more abstract, less specific, less clear. You don't know. It's impossible to know until you see the group. And then you understand what's important. And also you'll know, oh, these all look really good together. And this one, number six, this one's just not working. You only know that in the context of seeing them all.
Knowing when to be defined by or to deviate from an established genre. (26:44)
Okay, so I have a question for you about genre. And that might not be the right word, but you'll see where I'm going with it. On one hand, you have been involved with some albums like Rain and Blood Slayer, right, which has an undeniable style to it. It is just unmistakable. And I remember getting that album, horrified my parents, but I got that on cassette back in the Stone Ages. And it is one of a kind. On the other hand, I've read about examples. Let's just say Red Hot Chili Peppers circa 1991, where you're encouraging them to reinvent their sound by incorporating different aspects. And maybe they thought, at least in this New York Times piece, that the Chili Peppers defined themselves as roughly, let's just say, rapid fuse with funk. And you imagine expanding that. When do you go one direction versus the other? If that's even a sensible question. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's a completely case by case thing. And I don't know how to judge it. It has to do with the whole arc of an artist's work. If you look at the Beatles, Beatles are always a great example because they're really as good as it gets. And the Beatles made 13 albums over seven years, and they're pretty radically different. Over that seven years, they're not recognizable as the band before. You might even see them go through several. They probably went through at least three, maybe four different phases within seven years. I think a lot of big artists today, over seven years, you might get two albums that would probably be pretty similar. So it's really a radical thing. Then on the other hand, two of the greatest groups of all time, AC/DC and the Ramones, they pretty much do AC/DC and the Ramones every time. And it doesn't change. And you don't want them to change. And there's not a right or wrong. And it's not like the Ramones is better than the Beatles. They're better than the Ramones. They're just two different trajectories. Totally. And it's helpful to figure out what your trajectory is. And it comes through the process. I'll give you an example of a band that I worked with. Lincoln Park is a band that was... There was a movement called... I don't even know what you call it, the "rap rock" movement. The first of the rap rock groups would have been Rage Against the Machine, let's say. And then a bunch of groups came and Rage Against the Machine's Wake. And it was a big movement that got really big. And then the last of those groups was Lincoln Park. And one of the most successful. And they came to me after they had made, I think, three of the biggest rap rock albums ever made. And there was some question about what do we do next. An important point in this is that rap rock as a genre was disappearing. So they had a choice. And maybe this is part of the key. I never thought about this before. If you're part of a movement and if you're riding a wave of a movement, and if the movement goes away, look closely at whether you want to keep riding that same wave or not. So in whatever reason my feeling was, "Filling can Park at that time," if they made another one like their last one, it would have been wildly successful. And maybe one more. But then it would have sounded like the oldie station. You know, it would have been retro music. And at the time that they were making what they were making, it was really cutting edge. And their aspirations were bigger than being another rap rock group. So for them, the idea to shift out of being just a rap rock group and try different things was a good thing. In the case of the Chewy Peppers, they had made funk records with rap vocals for, I think, four albums up until the time that I worked with them. And it was going fine, and they could have done that forever. But in spending time with them and seeing the musicianship and seeing what they did, their potential and seeing the relationship with the audience that they had, it was clear that the audience didn't love them just because of the style of music they were playing. The audience loved them because they loved them, and they put all of themselves into it. So there was an opportunity to put all of themselves into more, in the case of the Chewy Peppers, and just widen that envelope. Same with Lincoln Park, just like widen the envelope. And there have been other artists I've worked with where I suggest doing the exact opposite, you know, where I suggest going back to what you used to do that worked. There's not a right or a wrong way. It really is looking at all of the elements, and so much of it has to do with how they see themselves and what their long-term goals are. You know, I got to make an album with AC/DC. They never wanted to sound any different than AC/DC. For them, that's all that music sounded like. That's what music sounds like. AC/DC. We do the good version of what music is. There was no chance that they were going to start doing piano balance. It's not going to happen. That's a great example. And it also strikes me that I have to imagine, I don't know if this has been your experience, but for long-term endurance and just creative output sustained over longer periods, it would seem to me most people, this is certainly true for a lot of writers. Need to have some congruency between what they're feeling and what they want to be and what they're actually doing. Even if you're surfing for a wave that is a huge movement and you happen to do pretty well, if that isn't resonating intrinsically with what you deeply want to do, it's going to be very hard to sustain that for a period of time. I would have to imagine. I think it's impossible. I think it's impossible. And I think if you are trying to ride a wave and you're not already connected with all of yourself, chances are that won't even be successful. It'll just be more the same. It won't matter.
Why Rick resisted advice to make his first book an autobiography. (33:07)
Yeah. So let me ask you a question about the book compositions and some of the decisions. So the publishers who said to you like, "Rick, let's share where we think is going to work great." So for you, we're going to get somebody to help you with a bio. We're going to put it on all the stories about the rock stars and this and that. And then Father Rick said, "No thank you. Thank you, but no thank you." And you've written this book. My question for you, because I know there's thinking behind it or feeling behind it or both. Why not do both in the sense that you could sprinkle a little bit of this inside a foundation of the other and probably make it work? Why was it important for you not to move strongly in the direction of where you were feeling the external pressure? Two reasons. First one is, I want the book to be a timeless book. Yeah. And if the examples were about me and my life, they would be attached to me and my life. They may not mean something in 20 years or 30 years or 50 years. And I want it to be a forever like the Dow. The Dow was written 3000 years ago. I want it to be able to live outside of time. That's one. The other reason is, in terms of the nature of wanting the reader, inviting the reader to participate in the book, if I tell you a possible solution to a problem, and if I paint the picture of the problem and the solution and you see the way it works, when you're reading it, you're envisioning yourself solving that problem. It's written in that way to allow you to see it happen for yourself. If I do that same exercise and it's a story about Jay Z, you're not picturing yourself solving that problem. You're thinking, wow, Jay Z is such a great artist. Do you know what I'm saying? It removes you from it. I never wanted the sensational nature or the celebrity nature of how you hear a story when you know who's involved and at someone you like or don't like either way. It's just like the A/B testing. I was saying earlier, not wanting to know any information. I'm giving the audience the chance to hear the information without the sensational stuff. That's a distraction. I didn't want it to have the distraction. I wanted it to actually be helpful. Just a quick thanks to one of our sponsors and we'll be right back to the show. This episode is brought to you by Wealthfront. There is a lot happening in the US and global economies right now. A lot. That's an understatement. Are we in a recession? Is it a bear market? What's going to happen with inflation? So many questions, so few answers. I can't tell the future. Nobody can, but I can tell you about a great place to earn more on your savings. And that's Wealthfront. Wealthfront is an app that helps you save and invest your money. Right now, you can earn 3.8% API. That's the annual percentage yield with the Wealthfront Cash account. That's more than 15 times more interest than if you left your money in a savings account at the average bank, according to FDIC.gov. Getting a cash account is easy. It takes just a few minutes to sign up and then you'll immediately start earning 3.8% interest on your savings. And when you open an account today, you'll get an extra $50 bonus with a deposit of $500 or more. Visit wealthfront.com/tim to get started. There are already nearly half a million people using Wealthfront to save more, earn more, and build long-term wealth. So why wait? Earn 3.8% on your cash today. Plus, it's up to $2 million in FDIC insurance through Partner Banks. Visit wealthfront.com/tim to get started. That's wealthfront.com/tim. This was a paid endorsement by Wealthfront. Coming back to the split testing for a moment, you had indicated at the beginning of that story that I think that is, or that section is within cooperation.
Even a solo project is a collaboration. (37:10)
I think the A/B testing is in a whole different section. I don't know if you want. But the cooperation and the collaboration are different, I think. Yes. Collaboration you would expect to be working with others. But it's not. The collaboration section is about working with yourself and the universe. That everything we make is a collaboration because we're not doing anything ourselves. Everything we do is based on the information that we take in our experiences in life, what we learned in school, a conversation we had yesterday. All of the things that make us who we are, we bring into all of our projects. So we're always in collaboration. It's never our idea.
Noticing what nobody else sees. (38:07)
To build off that, there's a quote that I wrote down from page 41, which is, "Look for what you notice, but no one else sees." And perhaps this is related to that collaboration between the seer and the scene, the receiver and the sender. Maybe one in the same, but I don't want to take us to esoteric. What does that mean to you? Look for what you notice, but no one else sees. And maybe if there are any examples that come to mind, or how can someone begin to hone that? If you speak to a scientist or a mathematician about some problem that was very difficult to solve, that eventually when they get to the solution, it's not exotic. More often than not, it was right there the whole time. It was so obvious. We miss what's right in front of us. We have great opportunities to participate in incredible beauty and inspiration. Every day, everywhere we go. And opening ourselves to be in that state that allows for us to see the thing that everyone else is walking by and happened to me yesterday. I was walking by a tree with my son, and I noticed that there was a big tree and a very narrow tree. And the narrow tree had these like flat. I don't even know how to describe them. They looked like almost the shape of butterflies, big flat protrusions sticking way off this little tree. They would darken color and it wasn't clear to me. Are those part of the tree? Is that something that's growing on the tree? Have no idea. I've walked by that same tree every day for six weeks and I never noticed that before. And here I noticed it. And now I have a question. It's like, in addition to it being beautiful and in addition to having the conversation with my son, it's like, do you think that those are growing on the tree or is that part of the tree? It's like, I think maybe they're growing on it. Fascinating. But I walked by it many times without noticing it. I noticed it. And if I was going to draw something that day, I would probably try to analyze and draw those. Because it was so, it's so cool looking and I never saw anything like it before. Hiding in plain sight. Hiding in plain sight. So I'm going to pull up something else, which is at the very beginning of the book.
Being in the wonderful state “which makes art inevitable.” (40:24)
Just a quote and I'm not sure how to pronounce his name. So I'm going to give it a go. Either Robert Henry or Robert Henri, I'm guessing, H-E-N-R-I. The quote is, he's American. I think it might be Henry, but I'm not. I'm also not sure. Okay. I think so. All right. So I'll go with Robert Henry, H-E-N-R-I. The object isn't to make art. It's to be in that wonderful state, which makes art inevitable. I would love for you to flesh this out a little bit. And maybe the way to do it would be to peer stories of your own. I mean, you may have just given one, but how you cultivate the precursors, the elemental pieces of this state that makes art inevitable. And that can be through yourself, could be through people you've worked with. But what does that look like when it's done well? The whole book is the answer to that question. And the reason the sub-type of the book is a way of being is being a great artist. We think of it as the person who makes the thing. We think about it as the making. What makes an artist great happens not in the making. It happens in the way of being in the world. The way of experiencing the world. The way of noticing the thing that someone else doesn't notice. The way of seeing what's beautiful when everyone else sees the mundane. And being able to re-present that back in a way that other people get a glimpse of what we saw that they didn't notice. We get to walk around in awe all day and have our breath taken away. And then we get to portray that in something where someone else hopefully could have that same sense of awe from something we made.
Craftsperson vs. artist. (42:22)
This for me begs the question of is there a way to distinguish between good distraction and bad distraction. So bad distraction might be commercial considerations that lead you to chase this hungry ghost in a way that completely impedes your creative process. So maybe that's a bad distraction which we talked a bit about in our last conversation on the podcast. Somebody from the outside looking at you staring at this growth on the tree might say Rick's got a lot of important stuff to do. He's getting really distracted. So is there a good light in which to paint distraction or a way to think about that? To what extent you immerse yourself in the sublime details that the rest of the world misses. And alternate that with periods of taking it into the workshop so to speak. The work is the work of a craftsman the building of things that's the crafts person's job. And there's a difference between a crafts person and an artist. One's not better than the other they're both fine. It's just a different way of looking at it. The craft person is making the thing and making them all the same and making them all match or making the one that somebody ordered. And it's a very specific. How do you want it? Okay, I can make it that way the way you want it. That's the craft person. The artist is making the thing that you didn't know you want. The thing that you didn't know that you couldn't live without. The thing that you didn't know was possible. And to do that it's different than learning how to make things. It's a different process. It has more to do with our connection to the world than anything else. And when I say connection to the world that could mean watching old movies. It could mean reading great literature. It could mean going to museums. It could mean being in nature. It could mean doing something physical like I would consider exercise a form of distraction from our work.
Good distraction vs. bad distraction. (44:29)
If you're concerned about something, if you go exercise really hard chances are you won't be thinking about what you're concerned about if you're working hard enough. Same with the ice tub that we got to do together when you're in the ice. Nothing else matters. Everything's fine. There are also specific distraction that's really helpful for the artist where because we tend to be overthinking creatures. This goes back to your earlier question about do I move on to number two before I finish number one. We tend to over things like oh, I could work on number one forever. I'm never going to get to number 10. There are certain distractions we can do that make it easier. There was an artist I was working with, I can say Neil Diamond, the singer. And Neil Diamond sings in his incredible voice and he sings almost like an opera singer, like very big projecting voice. And people tend to think of him as a overly dramatic singer. Some people might even make fun of him for being an overly dramatic singer. And he's a rudimentary guitar player at best. He writes his songs on guitar, but he's not a studio musician. When we were working together, I insisted that when he sang, he also played guitar. And he's like, I never play on my records. Why would I play guitar on my records? I could have a great guitar player. They say, no, no, no, I just want you to play. And what happened was through his playing, he was distracted enough by having to hold down the chord changes. He was able to sing just like himself. There was no potential to make it a performance. And the goal was to not make it a performance. The goal was to get closer to reality where it's real, where you believe what he's saying. You know, we didn't want the Shakespearean performance. We wanted his heart opening. And we were best able to get that when he was playing guitar.
Navigating The Music Industry And Ai Applications
Breaking out of sameness. (46:40)
So this example ties in perfectly to where I was going and where I'd love to go, which is breaking out of sameness. When we have these habits, we may have these defaults. And there are different reasons for sticking with sameness, right? Or different explanations. One is we found this, let's just say genre that works. It's doing well. Let's kind of milk this as long as we can. There's at least one other form of sameness, which is I have these habits and I don't know how to break these habits. Right? Like I would love to try something new, but I'm not sure how to do it because I've been doing more or less something that rhymes with this for so long. What are some other ways you've seen people successfully innovate, experiment, and maybe get off of those well-worn facts? An example for you writing fiction is a great example because you've written nonfiction up till now. Although I still think you don't have that issue because you wrote your first book, which was a business book. It was wildly successful. And then I remember your second book was a fitness book and publishers were like, you're the business guy. What are you writing? Exactly. So you don't have this problem, or at least you didn't have the problem then. When we talked about it then. I don't have a problem with it yet. I think if you look back at your work and you notice a pattern that runs through it, there are two choices. One, you can double down on that pattern. And through recognizing it, go deeper into it. And that could be interesting. Or you could recognize the pattern and say, okay, what would it be like if I went in a different direction? If your work tends to be dark, you've done dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, what would the light version be like? Interesting. Who knows? What's the other end of the seesaw? And even if you do that experiment and don't like the results, when you come back to working in the dark, you're going to have a different relationship to it. You're going to be able to do something new. Even if you're going to go back to the same thread that you've been following, breaking out of it, even as a failed experiment, can help you get firmly back. On the thread, in a way, maybe more secure than you ever understood it before. Yeah. That makes a lot of sense to me. If you're always in the cave and you want to describe the cave and the darkness in the cave, then you're going to have maybe a broader spectrum of vocabulary and certainly personal experience to use if you spend some time walking around in the sunlight. And then you go back in the cave. Yeah. You'll notice completely different things. Yeah. I like that. And question, this is also a self-interested question, but I'm writing this fiction and I'm not using public consensus or requests to drive any creative decisions.
Filtering out non-constructive feedback. (49:24)
And I feel that's important for me to say upfront because I know that's a risk. When you start letting mass opinion or crowd input drive the entire creative process, I think you can end up being a camel as a horse designed by a committee type of situation. So I'm not doing that. What I have noticed is, unlike with my nonfiction, on one hand, I really want to get some positive reinforcement because I'm new and a little wobbly. I'm proud of certain aspects of it. But looking for that can be a risky business because if you go online, if you go on Twitter, there are for every one person who may give constructive feedback. There are 10 others who are just going to try to lop your head off with really destructive feedback. What type of advice do you give to your artists or would you give to me with respect to fully ignoring or cherry picking or soliciting feedback? It doesn't have to be from the internet, but just given that context, what would you say? I would say to try to find a way to get feedback from people who genuinely care about you and your work. Not a general reader. And in your case, specifically, because you write a blog, and you email that blog to people, you have a big mailing list. So I would start, if I were you, not posting things on Twitter, but just sending them to your mailing list and getting response that way because if someone signed up to your mailing list, they're not signing up to hate you. They're invested. They don't want to be erasing your emails every time you send them. They're welcoming them. So I would start with a welcoming audience if you're going to be getting any feedback. And I would have a, because they are a welcoming audience, have a big enough scale where it's not just, "I love this. I love this. I love this." To get some actual helpful information.
Does artificial intelligence deserve a role in the creative process? (51:39)
Let me ask you, this is a bit of a left turn, but I'm so curious to get your take. And my apologies if a lot of people have asked you this, but I've never heard you speak to this publicly. I, first and foremost, would consider myself a nonfiction writer. And in the last few months, I've been tracking artificial intelligence enhanced or dependent copy production, blog posts. Tell me a story about a guy trying to get a piece of toast out of his toaster with a butter knife in the style of the King James Bible. Some of what you're seeing with chat, GPT, and so on is astonishing. And most recently, and this is speaking as someone who comes from an art family, and as someone who wanted to be a comic book penciler for a long time, I've been watching with some degree of awe these tools like mid-journey and stable diffusion and so on, some of which are now being applied to music. And they're interpolating from, say, keyboard strokes to improv jazz with a touch of funk, and it's been astonishing to watch how much this has gone vertical in the last few months, at least in terms of mass adoption and experimentation. 15 years ago, at least as covered in the New York Times, 2007, you said that the way or one of the ways to counter, not counteract, but offset file sharing was to offer people a subscription model, much like cable, right? So lo and behold, that has happened. And people have these subscriptions and they have music at their fingertips in their living room, in their car, etc. What are your thoughts on artificial intelligence and how it fits or doesn't fit into creativity? I think of it as an end. It doesn't strike me as interesting as a means. It could be helpful, for example. What's interesting about the things we make, again, isn't the making. The computer's doing the making. It's not doing the noticing. So I might ask in the same way that we spend time, like hip-hop producers do, crate digging, where we'll listen to hundreds of old albums, track by track, looking for a moment that's interesting. We're not looking for the song. We're not looking for the piece of work. We're looking for a moment where things go right, or a moment that just strikes us. And then that's an element that we can integrate into our work. So I might consider having a music-making program, constantly making music, and then listen for at any point in time, over the hours and hours all day long. I would probably have a playing in the background all day. And then any time there was a moment that made me look, you know, that would catch my year, I would sample that moment and try to build something with human taste, with that as a seed to build from, or as an element used. I think what's interesting, the human curation aspect of art is what makes it art. So I don't even know what it is. If a computer makes it, I don't know. I've also not seen any personally thus far. I've not seen any computer-generated images based on instructions that have moved me in any way. I haven't felt them. I haven't felt them. I may see them, I might laugh at them, or I might think, "Oh, that's a funny cartoon." But never does it make me want to learn more or go deeper or feel something bigger. There's also the question that if humans are going to want to or be willing to feel something, if they know that it's been generated by a computer, by AI. Well, they won't always know. I can't imagine they would always know, right? Yeah, it's going to get harder and harder to distinguish.
What happens when new music catches Rick’s ear? (55:36)
When you hear something that catches your ear, or when you think back to some of these songs, whether it's on the Beatles or Neil Young or otherwise, that move you deeply, what does that feel like? Can you describe that quickening? Because it strikes me that you used your felt sense and response to things. There's a guiding rod of sorts. Can you describe what that feeling is like? One of the elements is surprise. It holds my attention and it surprises me. If it comes on and I like it and it only does what it did to make me initially like it, I might lose interest. But if it does something that's interesting and catches my ear and makes me lean forward to understand what's happening, why am I feeling this? What's going on here? And it holds that curiosity. And anytime it makes me want to turn it off, I know that's not for me. If I want to turn it off, it's not for me. And if I want to listen to it forever, I really like it.
How to be the best music producer possible. (56:54)
If your son comes to you, who knows when, could be tomorrow. But let's just say it's a handful of years from now. It says, "Dad, I really want to be a music producer." And somehow made the plea, could you walk me through this padawan training to become the best music producer possible? How would you begin to respond to that? Or how might you think about that? Would there be certain things you'd want to impart? It's probably absorbing a lot just through exposure to you and osmosis and so on. Sure, I think it would really just start with talking about, learning about seeing lots of art, listening to lots of music, seeing as much as we could, trying to understand why do we like the things we like and not like the things we don't. What are the qualities in there? Some of them are not describable. Some of them are beyond words. But to get in tune with these feelings, that language doesn't do justice to, feel that feeling when your breath gets taken away. I feel like for young children, they probably have it more often than we do as jaded adults because the world is still new to them. So the first time you see anything grand, I've never been to the Grand Canyon. I imagine the first time I go, even though I haven't been there and I've seen pictures, I will probably have some feeling of, "Wow, can't believe it's that big. That's my guess." Whatever my imagination is of it won't be as dramatic and grand as what I expect to see when I get there. We'll see when that happens. There was a sunset yesterday. I was doing a Tai Chi exercise on the beach and there was an incredible sunset. And the way the light was reflecting on the water and the colors in the sky and the changes. And in one direction, it was orange and like a bright light. And in the other direction, it was dark and almost stormy, even though it wasn't stormy at all. But the sense of it was like, if you were on a boat, it would feel like we're going into the storm. And feeling all of that drama was so exciting. And I came back after and it's like, I wasn't even here anymore. You know, like I was taken into another world and the more often you can do that and experience that feeling of being just taken out of your body by art or by nature or by stimulus, whatever it is. And then having that as your meter setting for what we're looking for, what's the thing that we can make that starts touching those buttons, the button of, I never want to leave here. Amazing. This is the same world that I, you know, when I got out of my car and walked here, this is the same place. It's unbelievable. That dissolution of time, that stepping into the slipstream where things seem to disappear, but at the same time, everything is present all at once, which might have been the experience. And amplify, I would say. And amplify. More. It's just like, there's so much to take in. And it's just overwhelming and all beautiful.
Artists who seem to best channel wonder from the mundane. (01:00:17)
Who have you met and you don't have to name names, but I'm curious if you could describe anyone. You know, you could also name names, but people who have been able to access that type of state with regularity without becoming dissociated from this consensus reality, right? Because there are people you meet who are almost always in, and I'd want to say altered, but sort of a parallel state like that, but they're not able to operate in the world very well. What have you seen in terms of people who are able to regularly access that and also are able to operate well in this reality? I would say the ones who really can do it best manage in this reality, but I wouldn't say that they feel like they live in the other place. So, Neil Young would be an example who lives in a place where the music is. And he's great on a day-to-day basis and fine, but when the music starts and when he's playing his instrument and when he's inside of that, every time, not sometimes, it's like he goes to another place. And it's magic. Wherever he's going, the music there is real. And how much of that do you think is like an imborn ability to have a very high vertical jump or to have the hamstring and tendon attachments, if like an Usain Bolt for sprinting versus cultivated? Now, we can all become faster runners. We can all learn to jump a bit higher. Have you met anyone who has really trained that ability or are most of them just by virtue of being these brilliant artists who enter your orbit, coming into it with just a very high set point for entering this basis? You can definitely get there in different ways. That said, not everyone can be da Vinci. Yeah, we can all be the best we can be. That's all we can ever be is the best we can be. Being the best we can be doesn't necessarily mean that when we do our best, we are the best in the world or even world class. We're not all world class at everything all the time. Doesn't matter, though. The people who were great, who find their way in, some people might say, "Bob Dylan doesn't have a great voice." But he's a singer/songwriter who's maybe the most loved in the world. So he wasn't born with this virtuoso. He doesn't sing like Neil Diamondree. And some people, I'm sure, are very happy that he doesn't. Do you know what I'm saying? It's like, we're not all great at everything. So if we get great at the thing that we're great at, and if we get great at the thing that we're great at, that not so many other people are great at in the way that we're not. That's usually the case with music. Like the reason there are so many musical artists and the reason, you know, I have thousands of albums of artists and thousands of artists that I follow that I love isn't because they're all the best one. They all do something really good, particular to them. And I want the one who really does the good thing, particular to them. And Johnny Ramone can't play guitar like Eric Clapton. But he can play guitar like Johnny Ramone. And I'm good with that. I'm good with both. Do you know what I'm saying? I do. Find your thing. Where's your connection? What's interesting? And hopefully it aligns with what you're interested in doing because that's probably the only way that it becomes a sustainable thing.
Inspiration And Longevity In Art
Managing massive inspirational intake. (01:04:12)
How do you manage your inspirational intake on that many artists? Are you listening all the time? Do you have set time or you'll sit down and listen for an hour? Does that look like? I'm a mass consumer of information and art all the time. Always reading, listening, taking in stuff. But I'm not always taking in. It's what I enjoy. I'm not doing it like homework. I'm doing it because that's the reason I am who I am is because that's how I've always done it. That's my default mechanism is I want to hear as much as I can. I want to understand more. I don't want to hear stuff I don't want to hear. But I want to hear everything that I might want to hear and I want to exhaust the list to make sure I'm not missing anything as best I can. I try to dive as deep as I can. Lately it's hard just because there's so much of all kinds of content. So certain things fall by the wayside. For example, movies, I haven't seen very many new movies in a long time. On occasion. Not so many. Why is that? I don't know. It's just one of the things that fell out. I'm not sure why. There are a couple of movies I'm excited to see now and I may or may not get to see them.
New movies on Rick’s radar. (01:05:24)
Well, this will be topical. I'm curious why yours did to see them. What are the movies? What is one or two? Two that I want to see. There's a new David Bowie documentary that I'm curious about. A friend of mine directed it and it sounds really beautiful and I tend to like documentaries. The other is a movie called tar, which several people told me they really loved. And usually when several people tell me something's good, I feel like the universe wants me to see this. The way I can interpret it is if more than one person is recommending something, I don't talk to that many people. If multiple people are telling me you got to see this, chances are something in the universe wants this to happen. So I want to follow through. I want to do my part. The muse is winking at you from across the room being like, "Hey pal, come on. I'm giving you the cue." All right, tar.
Tips for artists who want to endure the ages. (01:06:23)
What is your coaching or your wisdom to artists who are concerned about endurance? And the endurance could come in the form of touring before they do their next studio recording. It could come in many different species, I'm sure. In my case, there's definitely part of me that wonders how will I continue to execute as I hope for at least a while in writing one-door fiction piece per week. That's what I would like to do because I feel like that cadence is something I can probably manage. There will be weeks where it'll be tougher than others because of the revision. But there's certainly a small part of me that's concerned that that will begin to stack up. I'll be like, "Oh shit, I thought I was going to finish one a week, but now I have two that are in revision, one that's in draft and it's Thursday. What am I going to do?" So that's my personal context, but we could expand it to others you've worked with who might have some concerns. How many hours will it take to do the one? This is a very fair question. And I will say that in some, I don't know what the magic is. I sit down, I've had the right coffee with the right omelet. I don't know what the pixie dust is. And I zoom through and in two hours I am done. And it just comes out and I look at it a week later and I'm like, "I'm not going to change anything. Maybe I'll tweak a few words, but it's done." And then there are others that will take 10 to 15 hours, which is in addition to all of my other projects, right, the podcast and everything else. There's a lot. There's a lot of other things going on, which I enjoy doing. Yeah. Yeah. But let's say 15 hours. Okay. So you can decide how important it is to you. And if it's really important to you, you can say, "I'm going to make a commitment where I'm going to do this, even if it takes 15 hours." You could decide, "I'm going to do it every Monday. I'm not going to go to sleep until I have the one for the week." You could do it every day. You could do it as often as you want if you're willing to make that commitment. And in terms of running dry, clearly they won't, some will be better than others. The whole process will make you better. You know, this whole adventure at the end of 50 weeks, you'll be better at it than you were the first week, clearly. And it'll be a rollercoaster ride and it'll be highs and lows on the way. And by the way, you put this on yourself. You're like, "I am deciding. I want one a week." It's not like there's a gun to your head and you're not going to make it if you don't do it. So it depends on how strong your commitment is. But 15 hours out of all of the hours of a week, regardless of anything else you have to do, if you commit to it, that's absolutely doable. Because there's a lot more than 15 hours in a week. You could commit to doing it. You're every waking hour. If you decide to commit, it's purely a commitment. Now, you can't control what comes out of it. And maybe at some point, you might realize, "This is not the right cadence for me. Who knows?" Or you may decide to do two a week at some point. Like this is, it's rolling. Be open. But starting with a commitment that you think is a doable commitment. If you think this is a doable amount, commit to it, and just do it. I mean, you've exercised before. You have great discipline. It's purely a matter of discipline. You could do anything you commit to. Got to get it on the calendar. Just have it locked out. It's a case of me also taking something that is new and maybe mistaking it for entirely new. Does that make sense? Because I don't think about fiction in the same way that I think about exercise. So I'll do my exercise, and that's on autopilot, and I've done it, and I understand it. Whereas the fiction, I might over exaggerate in terms of its exotic nature and the newness and the alien life form that is this new narrative approach I'm trying to take. But I suppose on so many levels, it's just like getting the groceries or doing something else. It's absolutely the same as everything else you do. And maybe there's a way that you can think about it as an opportunity to have fun, because in those times, you're going to get to find out what these characters are doing. And I hope you're curious. I hope you want to know what's going to happen next. And that's a good feeling. It's like if you watch any type of a series when you get left at the end of the first week of a series, second week or third week, and there's another one, and you can't wait till the next one comes. Maybe you can train yourself to know that I get to see what happens in the story next week. So I am there. This is the good news. The good news is that part of why I want to play with fiction is that I get to set the initial conditions and this space and this world. I get to throw in all these weird loose ends that I don't know how I'm going to tie up. And then I get to tap dance and sort of wrap Morse code on the wall and see what comes back. And that's fun. It's because it's totally different from nonfiction. It's totally different. And so this is the first time that I have really on a weekly basis been dancing with the muses in a sense in such a direct way. Yeah, it's been fantastic.
Pacing the book — as the writer and the reader. (01:12:06)
How did you think about pacing with the book? Because there's on one hand the not knowing of what's going to emerge, but you could wait and wait and wait when the book would never manifest. So how did you think for yourself about commitment and pacing or time scale anything? How did you think about the book? I thought of it as I'm willing to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes for it to be as good as it could be until I don't know what to do anymore. And that happened some time ago, really, but at that time it wasn't in the present form. So it didn't start with, okay, there are going to be 78 areas of thought and these are what the 78 areas of thought are. And then I write those that is not what happened. It was a general conversation over years about the philosophy of the creative process. And then looking at 1.000 pages of talk that's all about creativity, but it's not in any order and it's not in any form. And then it was years to figure out how to turn that into what this is. Right. To go from the transcripts and the exploration and conversation to the book in the format that we currently see it. Yeah, it wasn't planned this way at all. I went in with a blank slate. I had an intention. I had an intention of what I wanted it to accomplish. But that's all. How I wanted it to feel, I would say, that's another part of it. When you read it, it feels a certain way. There were earlier versions where the information was another version of the same information, but it didn't make you want to make something. It didn't hit you in an emotional way. I can only read the book a couple of sections at a time. For me, it's a very slow read. Not because it's complicated, but because there's just a lot to think about. It's talking about internal experiences and it's just a lot to consider. Well, I think you and I were texting about the way one might approach reading this book. I think you were saying that one approach could be just one short chapter, a few pages before bed. That's it, because I'm reading it. If you actually sit to assimilate this and to soak in it, if you read 100 pages, you're going to be getting water boarded by so much potential energy in so many different directions. It would be very hard to digest over a really short period of time. When this book comes out and the book will be out shortly, and let's just say six months have passed, are there any sections you really hope people don't overlook? Of course, you want people to read the whole thing, but there are people who will pick it up and probably try to go to whatever the sexiest shiny objects are that draw their attention. Are there any particular sections that you would hope people do not miss? Nope. I hope anyone who's interested opens it randomly, reads something, wherever their eyes go. I hope they find something that's helpful. And if so, maybe they want to do that again. That's all. I would expect no less from Rick Rubin.
Parting thoughts. (01:15:39)
Well, Rick, is there anything else that you would like to talk about or mention? I mean, we need to set a date so that I can actually see you in person and give you a hug. It'd be nice to see you again. I would love that. And we've covered a lot already. Is there anything else that you would like to share in terms of closing comments, questions, suggestions, public complaints, anything at all? I can't think of anything you can think of. I can say this, Rick, that your book, Creative Act, a way of being has found me at the perfect time. And that took so long, in a sense, because it's catching me right at the time that I'm flying by on this train called Experimental Fiction. And I can sort of grab the book as you hand it off to me. And I think it will be of tremendous help because you have been not just the creator of so much. You've been the shepherd of so much. And you've also had an opportunity to work in so many different capacities with so many different artists that your pattern recognition and your way of interpreting and conveying that, I think, is unique. It really is one of a kind. And I can say that also just having spent time with you. I appreciate the way that you think. And furthermore, because humans are built for thinking, we have this thing, the blessing and the curse of this huge prefrontal cortex. But I am particularly impressed with how you are able to use your other means of knowing and senses to inform what you do with this incredible brand of yours. And reading the book, I'm very optimistic that you're going to help people to calibrate and open themselves up to greater possibilities. So I just wanted to congratulate you. I know how long this has been in the making. So congratulations, Rick. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. So thank you so much for giving it some time. Oh, yeah. What I need because I only have a PDF. I need a physical copy and I'll take a gal. It doesn't need to be finished. Just something I can carry around. Some still very old fashioned. I like to scribble. It looks like this is the prototype edition. Oh, I did get it. I can see it. I can see it. Oh, that's nice. The main version is the opposite. The background is gray and the type is black and the equally beautiful. Love it. First, as a sample for us to understand how much. Yeah, I love it. Very iconic, very simple, very sort of zen painting, brush stroke, and dig it, man. Well, Rick, thank you so much for the time. People can find you on Twitter @RickRibin. We'll link to everything, including the book and anything that came up in conversation at Tim.blog/podcast for people listening. But to be continued, I'm excited now that we're not in lockdown. And I have to get a date on the calendar to say hello. So please give my best to the family. We'll do. And I can't wait till we see each other in person too. Yeah, great to see you, Rick. Same, man. Hey, guys. This is Tim again. Just one more thing before you take off. And that is Five Bullet Friday. Would you enjoy getting a short email from me every Friday that provides a little fun before the weekend? Between one and a half and two million people subscribe to my free newsletter, my super short newsletter called Five Bullet Friday. Easy to sign up, easy to cancel. It is basically a half page that I send out every Friday to share the coolest things I've found or discovered or have started exploring over that week. It's kind of like my diary of cool things. It often includes articles I'm reading, books I'm reading, albums perhaps, gadgets, gizmos, all sorts of tech tricks and so on that get sent to me by my friends, including a lot of podcast guests. And these strange esoteric things end up in my field. And then I test them and then I share them with you. 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