“Nothing that happened was intentional. Nothing. Everything was about trying to make something cool for our friends that they would like.” — Rick Rubin, on the only plan he ever had for Def Jam Records
This quote has been resonating with me ever since I heard it in a short documentary on producer Rick Rubin. In it, he visits the New York University dorm room where he started and ran Def Jam Records for its first few years. In fact, if you bought a Def Jam album during those early days, the business address printed on the sleeve was the address of that very same room. The album was likely shipped to the record store from the mailroom in the dorm by one of his classmates. They had some memorable parties at that dorm, for sure. It was college after all. But those parties are now even more memorable in hindsight because all of Rick’s friends were there and many of Rick’s friends were people that are household names — Rap music legends — now.
Def Jam Records went on to become, even today, one of the most powerful and profitable labels in music. Rick Rubin went on to produce musicians way beyond Rap. Credited in no small part with resurrecting the careers of living legends and always having the finger on the pulse of the next big thing. By any measure, one could make the argument that he is one of the most successful producers the music industry has ever known.
But, I would be willing to bet that even today he’s still just, “…trying to make something cool for our friends that they would like.” That his current success in no more intentional today than it was back then. The reason I suspect this is because it is a successful plan. A solid plan that worked then and remains a plan that works today. And, it’s a plan that scales. Because, if your friends like it then the chances are good that there are millions of other people just like them who would like it too. And, if you can make something millions of people like and place a fair price on it then you will sell millions of that thing and make millions of dollars in the process.
And, sure, there are many other factors to go from selling to a few friends to selling to millions of strangers. Luck, timing, and dozens of other factors mostly out of your control certainly come into play in order to reach those kinds of numbers. But, the one thing you can shoot for — to make something cool for your friends that they would like — is a measure of success that is achievable by all. And, even if you argue against it being your only measure of success you have to admit that it is a pretty good place to start counting it.
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