For all the credit a band or musician gets for releasing a critically acclaimed record, the driving force behind the record is often the producer. The producer is the innovator, the risk-taker, the visionary that brings an idea to life and etches it into musical history forever. Here, in no particular order, are our picks of the best music producers ever to grace the planet.
Rick Rubin defines the term ‘innovator’. He helped popularise hip-hop in the 1980s, co-founding Def Jam Records and working with such artists as Run DMC, the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy.
His eccentricity and ability to think outside the box has seen him produce for some of the biggest names in music – from Tom Petty, to Metallica, to Kanye West, to the Dixie Chicks.
Such has been his impact on music that in 2007 he was listed in a poll by Time magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People In The World.
Dr Dre is one of the select few figures within music who is as renowned for his career as an artist as he is for his work as a producer.
His early work with N.W.A and solo rap career alone make him one of the most seminal musicians of the last 30 years. However, more recently, he’s arguably become better known for his business acumen.
Not only does Dr Dre spearhead the Beats Electronics brand, he’s also the founder and current CEO of Aftermath Entertainment – the label which has paved the way for Eminem, Kendrick Lamar and 50 Cent to name a few.
George Martin is considered by many to be the greatest producer of all time. Fittingly labelled ‘the fifth Beatle’, he masterminded the Fab Four’s rise to global stardom, producing such iconic albums as Rubber Soul, Revolver and St Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (all three of which made the top five of Rolling Stones’ Top 500 Albums of All Time). It’s incredible to think that he was actually underwhelmed by The Beatles when they first auditioned for him!
Aside from his work with The Beatles, Martin also produced albums for the likes of Cheap Trick and Jeff Beck. He sadly passed away in March 2016, but his legacy will live long in the memory.
If the prerequisite of a good producer is to bring new ideas to the table, Phil Spector certainly fits the mould. He’s notorious for developing the Wall of Sound production formula, which involves using multiple instrumentation, overdubbing and layering of tracks to enrich a song.
This technique came to life in such records as The Long and Winding Road by The Beatles and Be My Baby by The Ronettes. Spector’s work earned him an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989 – but more recently, he’s been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
In 2009, Spector was found guilty of murdering the actress Lana Clarkson at his Los Angeles home and sentenced to 19 years to life in prison.
As far as credentials go, Quincy Jones certainly has a few. During his illustrious career, he’s received 79 Grammy Award nominations and won 28 for his production work. Oh, and he produced Michael Jackson’s albums Off The Wall, Thriller and Bad – no big deal…
Showing that he is a jack of all trades when it comes to musical production, Jones has also produced scores for films, including Banning, In Cold Blood and The Italian Job. Jones’ work on Banning saw him become the joint first African-American to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song (alongside his songwriting partner Bob Russell).
J Dilla may have died at the tender age of 32, but he certainly made huge waves in hip-hop during his short life. Having started out as one third of the Detroit underground group Slum Village, J Dilla went on to produce music for the likes of A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Busta Rhmes and Common.
His final album Donuts, released just three days before his death from a cardiac arrest in 2006, is still lauded as a hip-hop masterpiece to this day.
Ask anyone who knows anything about the Manchester music scene about Martin Hannett and he’ll be heralded as something of an icon. During his career, Hannett produced albums for Joy Division, Happy Mondays, New Order and John Cooper Clarke among others.
It is widely believed that, without Hannett’s capabilities as a producer, Joy Division would have been just another late 70’s post-punk band. As it turned out, Hannett’s use of incorporated looping technology and drum sounds mixed with synthesizers gave the group’s songs their now infamous dark undertones.
Hannett died of heart failure in 1991, and on his headstone in Manchester Southern Cemetery, he is fittingly dubbed ‘Record Producer And Creator Of The Manchester Sound’.
Brian Eno shot to fame as one of the founding members of glam rock group Roxy Music, and went on to have a distinguished solo career (the minimalistic Music For Airports being one of his most famous works). However, he’s arguably best known for his innovative recording techniques as a music producer, and is seen as one of the founding members of progressive rock music.
In between performing, Eno has produced songs for artists like David Bowie, David Byrne, U2 and Coldplay. In a recent survey by online database AllMusic, he was ranked as one of the world’s top 25 most influential musicians, whose work has influenced the highest number of other artists.
Rock’n’ roll would not have evolved into the genre it is today without Sam Phillips. When he opened Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee in 1950, he likely could not have foreseen the integral role it would play in redefining contemporary music in the years to come.
Phillips discovered and developed many country and blues musicians from his studio – Sun Records was the first company to record Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis.
In recognition of his contribution to music, Phillips has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and has received a Grammy Trustees Award.
It says something about the scale of Berry Gordy’s achievements as a producer that his record label is more commonly referred to as a genre than a business. Like Sam Phillips, he couldn’t have imagined in his wildest dreams what lay ahead when he founded Motown in Detroit in 1959.
His Tamla sound, a type of soul with a distinct pop influence, became synonymous with the biggest African-American names in music. Between 1961 and 1971, the artists on Gordy’s label included the Supremes, the Four Tops, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. Put simply, Gordy shaped African-American music forever.
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