As a music producer, Rick Rubin is known for stripping away the clutter and guiding artists to focus on what they do best, whether it’s Johnny Cash’s deep baritone voice, the primal energy of Danzig’s guitar riffs or Run DMC’s iconic breakbeats. Broken Record, a podcast that fosters conversations between musicians and their audiences in the way album liner notes once did, follows the same premise by keeping the setup simple.
“The main focus of Broken Record is the conversation,” says Leah Rose, producer of the Pushkin Industries podcast. “Because the conversations go so deep, when you do hear the music, you hear it in an entirely new context. You might hear things that you didn’t hear before, and learning about the artist’s motivation or the backstory really adds a lot to their music.”
Producing Broken Record, which bills itself as “liner notes for the digital age,” is a bicoastal endeavor led by Rubin, co-interviewer Malcolm Gladwell and host Justin Richmond, from Shangri-La Studios in Malibu, California and Pushkin Industries’ studio in Hudson, New York. The podcast’s guest list has included Industry veterans like Bruce Springsteen and Don Was, as well as newer artists like FKA Twigs, and conversations are free-format affairs that can include playbacks of recorded music and even live, off-the-cuff performances.
In a recent episode, Rubin and artist James Blake dissected Blake’s recording and creative process, and how he often records a single vocal phrase, then stacks it and manipulates the pitch while playing along on the piano. “He lays out that entire process while he’s tinkering around on a piano during the interview, which is just really special and incredible when you hear it,” she says. “It’s like all of a sudden you have this new information to hear the song with, and it makes for an incredible experience.”
Face-to-face interviews like the one used for the Blake episode, which was recorded at Shangri-La on Neumann U87s using Neve 1073 mic preamps into an API console, are typically the most productive. [Rose says Rubin has a doctor onsite who does rapid COVID testing.] The raw audio from the Blake session clocked in at two and a half hours, giving Rose plenty of material to use when building toward the final edit.
“With Rick, nothing is linear,” she says. “As an editor, my job is to look at the entire thing as a puzzle and figure out how the pieces fit together, [to] take something that could be completely non-linear and make it linear.”
As the main facilitator and producer, Rose is on standby via Zoom during recording sessions to cue up recordings for the host and guest. Many of the episodes released in the last year were recorded with the guest at home, with mixed results. Sometimes they get lucky and the artist has a world-class studio at their disposal—as was the case with Springsteen—but often Rose works directly with the guests to ensure their recording setup will be up to standards. She’s even shipped gear to some guests.
After the interview is done, Rose compiles the audio files into an edit that gets reviewed by Richmond and Mia Lobel, executive producer at Pushkin Industries. Once the edit is locked in, she sends it to engineers Jason Gambrell and Martin Gonzalez for mastering.
Producing audio on behalf of one of the most successful and enigmatic producers of his generation might intimidate some, but Rose says Rubin is hands-off for most of the process. “He trusts us,” she explains. “We take the finished product, the conversation, once it’s done and then it’s really up to us to figure out the best way to present it.”
Broken Record • https://brokenrecordpodcast.com