It’s the usual deal with the devil. Do you want to have your fans think you’re cool and keep making your music in relative obscurity? Or do you want to get your music out to as many people as possible?
With Lifes Rich Pageant, R. E. M. started to reach for the golden ring. They relocated to southern Indiana to work in John Mellencamp’s studio with Don Gehman, the producer who helped make Mellencamp’s Scarecrow album such a success. Which is what R. E. M. was looking for: someone with expertise in making hits.
Gehman gave Bill Berry a bigger drum sound. He challenged Peter Buck to question why he plays at certain places...with the end result being less layers in favor of a single clear guitar line. And he told Michael Stipe to sing more clearly and think about his lyrics. Because, as Gehman told him, “I’m going to turn you up louder. You’re going to be up more in the mix. If you have things to say, now’s the time to say it.”
And do you know what? It worked!