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 best music producers are the innovators; the risk-takers; the visionaries that bring ideas to life and etch them into musical history.
In no particular order, we’ve selected the 13 best music producers to have ever graced the planet.
1. Rick Rubin
Rick Rubin defines the term ‘innovator’. He helped popularise hip-hop in the 1980s, co-founding Def Jam Records and working with artists like Run DMC, the Beastie Boys, and Public Enemy.
His ability to think outside the box has seen him produce for some of the biggest names in music – from Tom Petty and Metallica to Kanye West and the Dixie Chicks.
Rubin’s impact on music is such that, in 2007, he was listed in a poll by Time magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People In The World. Now that’s pretty influential.
2. Dr Dre
Dr Dre is one of the few figures in music whose work as a producer is just as renowned as their previous artistic career.
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 he spearhead the Beats Electronics brand, but 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 just a few.
And we guarantee you won’t find many people that haven’t heard Still D.R.E.!
3. Sir George Martin
For anyone who isn’t aware, Sir George Martin masterminded the Beatles’ rise to global stardom, producing such iconic albums as Rubber Soul, Revolver, and St Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (all of which made the top five of
It’s incredible to think that he was 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 lives long in the memory.
4. Nile Rodgers
How could we write a blog about the best music producers without mentioning the one and only Nile Rodgers?
Rodgers, the co-founder of Chic, has some pretty impressive numbers on his CV. He’s written and produced records selling more than 500 million albums and 75 million singles worldwide, working alongside Bernard Edwards to produce classic Chic hits such as Everybody Dance.
Chic’s music is said to be a key component in the rise of hip-hop, with Daft Punk citing them as a major influence – so the wider impact of Rodgers’ work is certainly not to be underestimated.
5. Quincy Jones
As far as credentials go, Quincy Jones certainly has a few as a producer. 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’s a true 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 songwriting partner Bob Russell).
6. Martin Hannett
Ask anyone who’s au fait with the Manchester music scene about Martin Hannett, and he’ll be heralded as an icon. During his career, Hannett produced albums for Joy Division, Happy Mondays, New Order, and John Cooper Clarke.
It’s widely believed that, without Hannett’s capabilities as a producer, Joy Division would have been just another late 70’s post-punk band. But, as it turned out, Hannett’s use of incorporated looping technology and drum sounds mixed with synthesisers gave the group’s songs their iconic dark undertones.
Hannett sadly died in 1991, and on his headstone in Manchester Southern Cemetery, he is fittingly dubbed ‘Record Producer And Creator Of The Manchester Sound’.
7. John Leckie
Another producer familiar with the Manchester music heads is John Leckie.
He began his career in the 70s, working with legendary artists such as John Lennon, George Harrison, and Syd Barrett, before becoming the balance engineer for Pink Floyd’s albums Meddle and Wish You Were Here.
In more recent years, he became synonymous with Manchester, after producing the Stone Roses’ iconic self-titled debut album in 1989.
Leckie also worked on the Roses’ second album Second Coming, Radiohead’s second album The Bends, and Cast’s debut album All Change. Now that’s a back catalogue worth mentioning.
More recently, he has worked with bands such as Muse and the Levellers.
8. Steve Albini
Steve Albini has many strings to his bow (or guitar). As well as being a nifty guitarist himself, he’s also a well-known producer, audio engineer, and music journalist.
During his recording career, Albini has worked with artists such as Nirvana, Pixies, the Breeders, and PJ Harvey.
His experience and loyalty to his artists is exemplary – although the exact number is uncertain, Albini believes he’s worked on several thousand albums throughout his career. However, he refuses to accept ongoing royalties for any of them, stating that it’s ‘unethical’ to pay a producer as though they’ve contributed to a record artistically.
This humble, down-to-earth attitude epitomises Albini (even if we think he’s guilty of false modesty)!
9. Linda Perry
If anyone lives and breathes music, it’s Linda Perry.
Perry was the lead singer and songwriter for American alternative rock group 4 Non Blondes – interestingly, the group only ever released one studio album; Bigger, Better, Faster, More!
After leaving the group in 1994, Perry went on to form not one but TWO record labels, producing songs for Pink, Christina Aguilera, and Gwen Stefani.
In 2015, she was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame for her services to the music industry. You can’t receive many greater endorsements of your musical ability.
10. Susan Rogers
After growing up in southern California, Susan Rogers’ interest in music first spiked when she moved to the bright lights of Hollywood in the 70s.
While working as a receptionist at the University of Sound Arts, she was increasingly surrounded by ‘musical types’. Her interactions with these people later inspired her to become a sound engineer and record producer herself.
Rogers’ most notable achievement as a producer is, undoubtedly, working as an engineer for Prince during the 80s.
She worked on iconic albums such as Purple Rain, Around the World in a Day, Parade, and Sign o’ the Times. You can watch her talk about her experiences of working with Prince in the video above.
Today, Rogers is also an associate music production and engineering professor at Berklee College of Music, Massachusetts. She won the Outstanding Contribution to UK Music trophy at the Music Producers Guild Awards 2021.
11. Brian Eno
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 (with the minimalistic Music For Airports 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 including David Bowie, David Byrne, U2, and Coldplay. He was also ranked as one of the world’s top 25 most influential musicians in a survey by online database AllMusic.
12. Sam Phillips
Although he’s sadly no longer with us, 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 couldn’t have foreseen the integral role it would play in redefining contemporary music.
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. Indeed, Phillips is often credited with launching Presley’s career and bringing African American-inspired music to a wider audience.
In recognition of his contribution to music, Phillips is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, and has also received a Grammy Trustees Award.
13. Berry Gordy
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. 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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