10 Things You Didn’t Know about Showtime’s “Shangri-La”

If you don’t know who Rick Ruben is, you’re still undoubtedly familiar with his work. As the incredibly iconic teaser trailer from the show says “I don’t know S#% about Rick Ruben. And it doesn’t matter.” For the most part, that’s true. You don’t have to know the man to know his work. When you hear Run DMC sing Walk This Way, that’s Rick’s influence. When you hear Dr. Dre, (some of) that is him too. When Johnny Cash covered Nine Inch Nails, Rick again. Even if you’ve never heard his name, you know enough about Rick Ruben to enjoy the docuseries set in his studio.

1. He Could Have Been A Punk

Born Fredrick Jay Ruben, he wasn’t always a music producer. As a kid, he learned to play the guitar and write songs. Then he promptly found some friends and formed a punk band called The Pricks. They lived up to their name, and while they never made it big, they did make a scene at least once. The CBGB had to throw them off stage for brawling in a misguided and completely staged attempt to create some buzz-worthy news.

2. He’s Been a Producer Forever

Most people only become producers after years of struggling. They work dull day jobs and ‘pay their dues,’ to get enough status (and money) together to produce music. Not Rick. He started Def Jam records his last year in high school. For years he worked for himself first at Def Jam, and then ad American Recordings. Rick eventually became the Co-Head of Columbia Records, but ultimately went back to American Recordings, preferring to do his own thing.

3. The Magic of Creativity

Far from the documentaries, you’re used to seeing about the music industry, Shangri la is a story about the creation of music. It is about the raw emotional channeling and bursts if brilliant clarity rather than a single story about a band. The approach and heavy emphasis on Rick Ruben are Brilliant. Instead of one more documentary about a group on tour, doing drugs, arguing, breaking up, coming back together, you can see where the music happens. The unusual approach puts things in a very different perspective.

4. Everyone Everywhere… Almost

Rick has helped produce so many musicians over the years it’s utterly ridiculous. In every genre from Kanye West to Lady Gaga, ZZTop to Adele, you find Rick. His hand is in every radio station and more individual albums than we could mention in an article. Of course, there’s a flip side to that story. Some people didn’t do so well working with the legendary producer himself. Crosby Stills and Nash didn’t manage to put out anything meaningful in their time with him. Also, Muse famously took a shot at him during the 2010, Music Producers Guild (MPG) Awards.

5. Morgan Neville

Much like Ruben, you may not have heard Director Morgan Neville’s name too often. For those who love documentaries about people who are truly unique and singular, he’s the best in the business. Morgan has produced some incredible documentaries about people who genuinely deserve to be recognized for who they are and what they’ve done. ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor,’ the story of Mr. Fred Rogers was poignant and more than a little sad. In changing direction to go with a more uplifting tale like that of Rick Rubens, he’s showing how incredibly diverse he truly is.

6. What is Shangri La?

The title of the series isn’t a nod to mythology. Shangri La is a very real place. The all-white recording studio Rick owns and has been working from for over a decade is incredibly familiar to numerous artists. They have sat there to talk music, discovered things they never knew about themselves, and generally produced some damn fine music.

7. It’s About The Music

The way Rick brings musicians out of themselves is incomparable. He has a way of bringing the best out of people when he works with them. He asks for raw emotional meta-honesty from performers and manages to get even the most jaded veterans excited about their songs. We can’t explain how, but there’s no doubt Rick has the magic touch when it comes to inspiring performers.

8. Too Loud

The so-called “Loudness War” is a recent phenomenon where music is compressed and made much louder. Critics of Ruben accuse him of contributing to this, and say it has decreased the value of the music. While we don’t want to take sides, we can say that it’s pretty common for people to have outspoken negative opinions about the ‘new music.’

9. So Many Wins

Love him or hate him, Rick Ruben has won eight Grammys. That’s more than most people will ever even come close to achieving in their life, so he must be doing something right.

10. That’s All She Wrote

If you want to hear about Rick Ruben’s personal life beyond what he shares in Shangri la, you’ll have to become an outstanding and well-known musician. Then you’ll have to sign a record deal that gets you studio time with him so you can ask him yourself. Even if you do all that, we can’t guarantee he’ll share. Rick is a private enough, or possibly just focused enough person that there’s not much information out there about him beyond his contributions to music.

Final Thoughts

The faces behind the scenes rarely get any real notice. Audiences think their singers wake up in the morning ready to walk out on stage with no prep and give it their all. This is simply not the case. Documentaries like Shangri La bring to light the unsung heroes in many industries. If you love music, you can probably thank Rick Ruben for at least some of your favorite hits, but that’s not even half the story. Whatever you listen to, you’ll find Shangri La has something for everyone, just like music itself.

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