I grew up bouncing around between various towns in California and Oregon, where progressive ideas from eastern religions, rigorous nutritionists, and general hippy new-agers were quite common and gaining strength in the late 80s. I use the terms "hippy" and "new-agers" both sardonically and lovingly, as I have had experiences interacting with this collective subculture that warrant both responses.
My family, or more accurately my mother, the man she was married to, and myself, all attended the Self-Realization Fellowship in northwestern Portland. SRF, a non-denominational spiritual organization, was founded by Paramahansa Yogananda in 1920. Attendees regularly meet and take time to focus on concepts like love, unity, peace, and self-realization. I guess that last one is fairly subjective, and maybe all of them are, but the pursuit of these things involved a lot of quiet reflection. I was first turned on to the idea of meditation when I was about 6 years old and we spent long periods of silence in the company of other people pursuing the same ends.
In that stillness the world seems so much louder and more profound, and you start to hear subtle things you don’t normally pay attention to: a pen moving across paper, blood coursing through your ears, breezes squeaking through gaps in the door frame. I immediately loved the calm, somewhat invigorating feeling of existing within that inner abyss. I didn’t associate it with anything spiritual since I was a kid and didn’t really have any such agenda, but it made sense to me and resonated with my body and mind.
It was during this same time that I realized a love for music. I started out playing violin and being very exposed to classical music, then vocal ensemble stuff, then got into hip-hop and pop and other genres as I got older. It wasn’t until I was in my later teens that I fully appreciated heavy, aggressive music. And it was even later that I paid any attention to the credits on the albums I listened to. I mean, every teenager knows the name of the lead singer for their favorite band, and maybe even the guitar player. But how many can name their favorite producer?
I don’t know that I have a favorite producer. Many have impressed me over the years and some have made some of my favorite albums of all time. But there is one in particular whose philosophy I absolutely relate to and am inspired by: Rick Rubin. Any rock or rap fan has probably heard his name thrown around at some point because he is world famous (maybe even notorious) for producing some of the most hard-hitting, solid productions that have been released. His client list is crazy: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Cash, Slayer, Eminem, Metallica, Jay-Z, and on and on.
But it wasn’t until I read an article a few years ago that I found a new appreciation for him and his work. In the article he stated that whenever he has an artist come to his studio to record, he often has them meditate. He went on to say that when we meditate, we strip away all the anxious noise, both internal and external, and allow ourselves to really listen, and listening is arguably as important to music as playing the music itself.
I have found this to be true about meditation and music, and very true about production. Many times while in the studio our ears become numb, we seize up and focus on what the lights and the graphs and the meters are doing, and stop really listening. I have gone so far as to record in complete darkness (vocals anyway), and have been much more satisfied with the outcome. But I find that in my studio, as well as in my daily life, meditation helps me to really see and feel and hear whatever I am facing. It’s definitely worth trying the next time you are in the studio and you’re feeling disconnected from what you are creating. Meditation truly does work, if you’re willing to be quiet.
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