“I always felt I had to work harder than the next guy just to do as well as him,” said Jimmy Iovine, the founder of Interscope Records which produced artists such as Dr. Dre, Eminem, 50 Cent, U2, Mary J. Blige, Marilyn Manson, Black Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga and many more. “In order to be better than the next guy -I knew I had to just kill it,’’ he says.
As a youth, he was a streetwise Italian kid with boundless energy. But as a teenager, he went to a Catholic school that he hated. Although he graduated from the school, he never finished college. As a young man, his lack of discipline left him jobless many times.
On one one of these jobs, a sound engineer whom he was shadowing suddenly resigned, because he couldn’t handle the pressure of working with then-upcoming rock artist Bruce Springsteen. Iovine took over his job, but wanted to quit within several weeks. Like the other engineer, he too couldn’t handle the long hours and grueling drudgery of the work. Springsteen was particularly uncompromising on the quality of work he wanted to produce. So Iovine’s manager told him, “Jimmy, you’re here for the artists, not for yourself. Your job here is to make sure Bruce has everything he needs to make the best record he can possibly make.” So Jimmy decided to stick it through one more month.
While working on the record, Springsteen was relentless. He would often lose track of time and press over tiny details to get the sound to perfection.
It’s what made him the star of the 80s. “If you were new to our club,” recalls Springsteen, “The relentless pursuit of perfection would have probably exhausted you.” The team would spend days on end finding the right pitch to make the record sound the way they wanted it.
Iovine recalls a time where they spent 3 weeks looking for the right pitch to a drum note, so they repeated the process of one drum hit several hundred times until they found the one that worked best with the song. “It’s a stick hitting a drum.” Says Iovine in recollection, “How complicated can that be? But I learned a lot in those few weeks. And I fell in love with the art of creation.” Springsteen’s album went on to be a runaway success in that decade — dominating the charts for years and winning numerous awards.
From that experience, Iovine decided to become a producer, this was his purpose, he resolved there and then to never let laziness and purposelessness define his character. “I said to myself, no fun, no life, no nothing, You’re gonna give up everything and put 100% into this.”
He would thereafter show a most remarkable change in character, and started catching the attention of many artists. One such musician was Patti Smith, who said of him, “He made an impression on me immediately,” she says in the film, The Defiant ones, “if he wasn’t there working he would stay for hours and study other people’s mixes and albums. He’d find some old tape to see if he could improve on it. He would work all the time,” she recalls, “And that’s the kind of guy I wanted. You always felt like he wanted you to succeed, that the world should hear what he was hearing.”
He adapted Springsteins work ethic and became even more relentless than him. He became obsessed with finding the right take — often going through hundreds of takes to find the perfect pitch, his label went on to found several iconic rock and pop artists in the 80’s.
In the 90’s, he was iconic in the early hip hop scene, working with Dr Dre and his group NWA. He also gambled on a young 20 year old rapper named Tupac Shakur who, within 3 months of working with him, became an immediate success.
Tupac then adapted Iovine’s work ethic. Within the space of one year, he completed two studio albums, including one double sided CD which contained 27 songs.
He recorded a dozen music videos and also completed three feature films — Bullet, Gridlock’d, and Gang Related — which were released posthumously. Of his work ethic, “Things it takes people a lifetime to do,“ says surviving fellow rapper Bad Azz, “he was doing them in two weeks.”
Fellow rapper Young Noble recalls, “We’d get up and go to the set of the movies Pac was working on at 6–7pm, and then go to the studio after that. We’d get to the studio at 5–6pm, and not leave until 3–4am in the morning.” Snoop Dogg says he would do bar after bar and as soon as that session was done he’d move on to the next. “Put it over there, pull the next beat up.” And he would just keep going. Within an hour he had recorded three songs and didn’t even listen to them. “What I learned from him,” says Snoop, “ was a different kind of approach, he showed me how to be faster and how to get the meat of it all and let the engineer mix it afterwards. Snoop has since won numerous awards and has released 53 studio and collaborative albums.
Read more in my new book! The Trials And Triumphs of Hyperachievers