Producer of music broke his platinum records, then rebuilt them

In his studio, Sir Robin Millar

One of the most successful record producers in the UK is Sir Robin Millar. Working with artists like Sade and Spandau Ballet, he was a key contributor to the creation of some of the 1980s' biggest hits. He went blind in his mid-thirties, and this has affected how he collaborates with artists.

I'm quite good at disarming singers who are very attractive or handsome without realizing it, says Sir Robin.

This fits with the way he works. As we sit in his south London home studio, he tells me that he invites singers to "sing ugly" to encourage them to sing with emotion.

"I want them to adopt behaviors and facial expressions that are indicative of the struggles they are facing. ".

They must do this in order for him to accurately portray the internal emotional turmoil they experience.

Working with a blind producer makes it simpler to ignore your appearance, he muses.

Sir Robin was born and raised in north London, where he developed a love for music and a skill for playing the guitar at a young age.

But when he learned that retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic condition, would cause him to gradually go blind, his world changed when he was 16 years old.

His initial entry into the music industry was the result of a lucky break. Mick Taylor, who joined The Rolling Stones in 1969, wed his sister. He traveled with the band and got to see the magic of music production firsthand.

Before opening his own music studio in London, he tried a variety of jobs, including performing alone. He developed a record label and management company alongside his recording career because he had a keen sense of business, and these ventures eventually brought him millions of dollars.

Album Cover
Sir Robin first made his own music available. On the cover of his Mick Taylor-produced 1974 album Cat's Eyes, he is pictured here.

His biggest hits came from his collaborations with Boy George (who gave him the moniker "Golden Ears"), Terence Trent D'Arby, Spandau Ballet, and Everything But The Girl in the 1980s. However, Diamond Life by Sade, one of the best-selling albums of the decade, with the number-one singles Smooth Operator and Your Love is King, was the album that solidified his reputation.

In the middle of the 1980s, while Sade was in France recording his follow-up album, he finally went completely blind.

Instead of telling the band, he began arguing as a pretext for leaving, called his wife to come get him, and that's when he realized what had happened.

His platinum and gold records were hung on the walls of his home.

Sade was produced by Sir Robin, who achieved his biggest financial success.

"I said to myself, "I can't even look at these dreadful things any more. Smash, smash, smash. "What's it all for?".

"However, I believe it's significant to note that my wife and I put them back up the following day, pieced them together, and had them reframed.

"When someone has a disability, it feels like you're trying to crawl out of a very large hole. Your feet are still dangling when you reach the point where your elbows are on the grass. You work hard every day to try to climb out of that hole, but you kind of know you can't, so every so often you stumble and fall back. I plunged into the black hole in France. However, you want to scramble up pretty quickly. Our human nature has a built-in buoyancy. ".

Once his discs were back in their rightful place, he resumed his studio work. Since then, musicians like Laura Marling and Emeli Sande have benefited from his services.

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However, Sir Robin does not share this fear that the development of artificial intelligence (AI) threatens the very foundation of authentic songwriting.

He asserts that although artificial intelligence is making headlines, it is nothing new for the music business.

The Who and Pink Floyd both used computer-generated music, and Cher's 1998 hit Believe, which features autotune, is another example of AI in action, according to him.

He believes that the music business can easily adapt, and his own label, Blue Raincoat Music, which recently acquired Chrysalis Records, will take advantage of AI's opportunities.

However, according to Sir Robin, AI cannot take the place of humans during the recording process or imitate the "real emotion" that is the essential component of successful songs.

He has tricks to see if the magic quality has been captured by his studio alchemy.

On tiny speakers that distort the sound, he plays the song. He talks to someone while the song is playing in the background. He pretends it is "playing faintly in the distance from a Greek taverna" as he plays the song and listens to it from a different room.

He is listening intently in the hopes of picking up "real emotion" that will "catch people deep down" and elicit sympathy from the audience for the singer.

He views his role as a producer as being similar to that of a psychologist or mentor, assisting the artist in discovering the true emotions that lie beneath the songs, which frequently entails talking about their childhoods.

Everything But The Girl perform
Everything But The Girl is a different band that Sir Robin has collaborated with.

Black's Wonderful Life, which drew on many of singer Colin Vearncombe's early experiences and his relationship with his mother, is a good example of that, in his opinion.

When he first heard Someone Like You by Adele, he felt the same unadulterated emotion.

"In the grocery store, I came to a complete stop because I was having an emotional response to something that I couldn't identify. I started crying after 40 seconds. It was empathy for her [and the song's narrative]. ".

AI-generated music will be able to simulate emotion, but it won't possess what Sir Robin calls "that lovely chain"—the real human backstory that inspires the song's voice and that producers like him work so patiently to elicit from the artist.

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