The role of a music producer can be difficult to define as it can vary widely. Some are limited to the technical aspects of production – recording. mixing, and mastering. Other producers take on broader roles, including writing material, arranging songs, and recruiting session musicians.
Here are ten of my favourite producers, presented in alphabetic order. Also-rans include T Bone Burnett, Max Martin, Joe Henry, J Dilla, George Daniel (The 1975), Joe Meek, Glyn Johns, Alan Moulder, Nile Rodgers, and Prince. It hurt most to cut Lindsey Buckingham, but he doesn’t have an extensive resume outside of Fleetwood Mac and his own solo records.
Ten Best Music Producers
Joshua Davis (aka DJ Shadow) is best known for his 1996 debut album Entroducing….. He sampled vinyl records,layering, programming, and cutting samples into fragments to create tracks. DJ Shadow is also famous for his collection of 60,000 vinyl records, and for his avoidance of using well-known samples on his albums.
Born into a long line of postmen, Brian Eno first gained prominence as a member of Roxy Music where he used his synthesizer to process the band’s sounds. Upon leaving Roxy Music, Eno’s solo career in ambient and pop music has been overshadowed by his work as a producer. Eno’s ideas went from the fringes to the mainstream; he produced U2’s 1987 mega-seller The Joshua Tree, as well as Talking Heads’ Remain In Light and Devo’s Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo. Eno’s also famous for Oblique Strategies, a deck of cards that suggest solutions to creative roadblocks.
Jam and Lewis
Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis started out as proteges of Prince, playing in his opening act The Time. When Prince fired them for missing a Time concert, Jam and Lewis struck out on their own. They’re most famous for their work with Janet Jackson, but have also produced hits for Usher, George Michael, and The Human League. Jam and Lewis have more Billboard Number Ones than any other songwriting and production team.
Jones worked with Frank Sinatra back in the 1950s, but he’s best known for his production of Michael Jackson’s mega-selling albums Off The Wall, Thriller, and Bad. Jones was able to seamlessly combine pop, funk, disco, and rock, giving Jackson the crossover appeal that made him into a megastar. Jones later told Ralph Gleason “that’s when I discovered that there was music, and there was the music business. If I were to survive, I would have to learn the difference between the two.”
George Martin joined EMI Records in 1950, where he initially produced classical music and comedy. In 1962 he was given charge of a raw rock’n’roll band, The Beatles. Martin’s classical training helped shape them into the most influential pop band of all time, and earning Martin the title of “Fifth Beatle”. Martin was extensively involved on every Beatles studio record – his musical contributions include the orchestral arrangement on ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and the piano solo on ‘In My Life’. He never matched the success of The Beatles, but remained active as a producer with Jeff Beck, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Jimmy Webb.
Jimmy Miller was born into the music business – his father was a Las Vegas entertainment director. Miller started his career producing the Spencer Davis Group and Traffic, but he’s best known for the quartet of fantastic Rolling Stones albums he produced in the late 1960s and early 1970s; Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main Street. Miller’s production gave The Stones extra muscle after Andrew Loog Oldham’s pop leanings. Miller also played drums for the band occasionally, including on ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ and ‘Tumbling Dice’.
Rechtshaid started his career as a musician, singing and playing guitar in the Hippos as a teenager. He taught himself to produce when he realised he couldn’t articulate the sounds he wanted to create to his band’s producers. Rechtshaid has produced many excellent records in the last decade – he won a Grammy for his co-production on Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City. Rechtshaid has also produced acclaimed albums by Sky Ferreira, Cass McCombs, HAIM, and Charli XCX. and also worked for superstars like Adele, Beyoncé, and U2.
After leaving The Nazz, Todd Rundgren concentrated on learning the technical aspects of music making; an early assignment was engineering The Band’s Stage Fright. Rundgren produced his own superb string of albums in the early 1970s, including Something/Anything and A Wizard, A True Star. He also produced for other artists, including landmark records like Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell, Patti Smith’s Wave, and XTC’s brilliant Skylarking. Rundgren describes himself as a “songcraft agitator”, encouraging artists to complete their songs.
Spector pioneered the Wall of Sound where massed instruments were combined into a sound that he compared to Wagner. Hits like The Ronettes’ ‘Be My Baby’, The Righteous Brothers’ ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”, and Ike and Tina Turner’s ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ bear Spector’s distinctive sonic trademarks. Spector often used Latin percussion prominently in his productions, and designed his creations to sound great on AM radio.
The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson was a talented composer and vocalist, but he also learned production skills early in his career. Wilson was obsessed by the productions of Phil Spector like ‘Be My Baby’; he was able to master Spector’s Wall of Sound approach and apply it to his own masterpieces like Today! and Pet Sounds. One of Wilson’s sonic trademarks was applying reverb just to a timpani, as heard on ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’.
Did I omit your favourite producer? Anyone you’d like to add to the list?
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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate both Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Based in Fleet Street (New Zealand), he's been writing this blog since around 2000. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.
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