What is creativity? Music producer Rishi Rich on inspiration, going Stateside and working with Teddy Riley

As part of a series exploring pure creativity, we catch up with Rishi Rich, one of the UK’s most successful and influential music producers who is credited with launching the career of Jay Sean. A pioneer of the Asian/R’n’B fusion sound, he has produced and remixed work for artists including Madonna, Craig David and Britney Spears, in addition to releasing solo albums.

What were your earliest creative influences?

My mum. I grew up in a house where she was playing Indian music one minute and James Brown the next, so my mind became soaked in musical fusion. I was learning Indian classical music from the age of six and got a job in a record studio at 13, where I worked for 10 years learning the craft, before even putting a record out.

These influences mean I approach creativity in a totally different way. On my new album for instance, I’ve got something that just shouldn’t work technically – this amazing Indian artist doing a track with Teddy Riley [the legendary record producer who Rich moved to Atlanta in 2014 to work with], fused with Indian drums. You need to be open to trying everything as a creative artist, like combining classical Indian vocalists with soulful R’n’B. It doesn’t always work, but when it does it sounds unique.

How do you define creativity?

Creativity is something you shouldn’t be scared of. You just need to let your mind be free. I passionately believe in travelling to help do this; seeing different cultures, meeting different types of people. A lot of the best producers I’ve met love incredibly diverse types of music, from jazz to salsa to Indian music. Being creative is about always having an open mind.

What inspires you and how do you search for inspiration?

A mixture of people and places. The reason I moved to Atlanta was to expose myself to different sorts of inspiration. My workstation is purposely by the window so I can see what’s going on. The local scene itself inspires me.

Before I moved there I lived with Teddy, who produced the [Michael Jackson] Dangerous album. In his house he had a plaque saying ‘presented for 13 million albums’. Whenever I walked out of my studio into his, that was so inspirational. He created New Jack Swing, a sound named after him!

Now, whenever I visit London I make sure I always visit my old studio in Perivale for its unique history and atmosphere. Artists like Jay Sean were born there. All this inspiration feeds me when I go back into the studio.

How closely do the two sides of creativity (thinking and producing) need to be aligned?

It’s like a marriage. I have a structure for how I’m going to work with an artist beforehand, I need to know where I want to take the record. But 99 per cent of the time the end result is a fusion with what happens on the day.

I’ve been working on my first score for a film recently and this was a very different process. There were no artists involved – all I was looking at for inspiration when composing was a visual. The experience took me back to why I went into music in the first place – the emotion, as you need to be totally emotionally aligned with that visual experience when creating a score for a film.

What do you do when your inspiration dries up?

I go home and watch Colombo and eat pizza. I’ve done that before for 10 days straight. When I’m ready to go back to the studio I’m ready. Inspiration can’t be like a switch – when it comes, it comes.

How can creativity best be nurtured?

I still love working with new artists, showing them how to be more creative. It’s important to teach young artists about how to channel your frustrations and energy through your music. There is no instant success now. You need to build a fanbase, you need to work hard on your social networking, as well as being creative. But it’s not about wanting to get 100,000 hits on YouTube, it’s about working on developing as a songwriter or artist.

Can creativity be learned or taught or is it purely innate?

It can be taught eventually but you need to have an open mind from day one. My wife is a cosmetic dentist and I say to her that whether she sees it or not, she’s creative. Creativity can appear in any field as long as you have the right open approach.

This feature was first published in the 13 May issue of The Drum.

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