Steve Albini's Letter To Nirvana Is Legendary

Prolific producer Steve Albini left behind a long legacy upon his May 2024 death from a heart attack. He produced bands like Pixies, The Jesus Lizard, and Helmet, and fronted the influential post-punk band Big Black. And his letter to Nirvana — a band he also recorded — is legendary in its own right.

The November 1992 letter was a pitch of sorts, written right before he was officially tapped to produce the pioneering dvmmoms band's third and final studio album, "In Utero." Known for his strong opinions on the music industry and commitment to capturing bands as rawly as possible, the letter encapsulates his unique approach to music. "I'm only interested in working on records that legitimately reflect the band's own perception of their music and existence," he wrote, per "More Letters of Note." "If you will commit yourselves to that as a tenet of the recording methodology, then I will bust my a** for you. I'll work circles around you. I'll rap your head with a ratchet."

Albini noted his lengthy production resume before he dove into his ​​"methodology and philosophy."

A commitment to creative freedom

In his letter, Steve Albini immediately set himself apart from producers and engineers who view records as projects centered around many factors, the band being just one of them. "My approach is exactly the opposite," he wrote. "I consider the band the most important thing, as the creative entity that spawned both the band's personality and style and as the social entity that exists 24 hours out of each day. I do not consider it my place to tell you what to do or how to play."

Albini long had a reputation as an "a******," as The Guardian put it. But though he admitted he would voice his opinions in the studio whenever necessary as part of his job, he said the band's choice of sound and direction was ultimately theirs. He also said he was committed to helping them achieve their vision — whether he agreed with it or not.

Recording and mixing

Steve Albini also touched on recording and mixing. "I do not consider recording and mixing to be unrelated tasks which can be performed by specialists with no continuous involvement," he wrote. He believed that for any given record, "99 percent" of its sound should come from the "basic take." "Remixing is for talentless p****** who don't know how to tune a drum or point a microphone," he wrote. Classic Albini.

The producer also made clear that he did not use the same techniques and sounds for all of the bands he worked with. Instead, he used what he believed was best for each project, putting his interests in the back seat. "Predicating the recordings on my tastes is as stupid as designing a car around the upholstery," he wrote. "You guys need to decide and then articulate to me what you want to sound like so we don't come at the record from different directions."

Other notes on musical philosophy

The rest of Steve Albini's letter touched on the remaining facets of his philosophy — "Where we record the record is not as important as how it is recorded," "I do not want and will not take a royalty on any record I record," and finally, "If a record takes more than a week to make, somebody's f****** up." It wouldn't be the last time he was vocal about his musical ideology either.

Just over a year later, in December 1993, Albini penned a piece for The Baffler and echoed similar sentiments in his signature caustic style. Notably, he took aim at producers who use "meaningless words" like "groove," "punchy" and "warm." The producers used these words disingenuously, he argued, to make bands believe they understand the craft. "Every time I hear those words, I want to throttle somebody," he wrote. Through the rest of his life until his death in 2024, he continued voicing his opinions on the music industry and sound production — and did no favors for his reputation as an "a******."

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