Ten Favourite Music Producers

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

DJ Shadow

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.

Brian Eno

Talking Heads Remain in Light

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.

Quincy Jones

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

The Beatles Rubber Soul

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

Beggars Banquet The Rolling Stones

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’.

Ariel Rechtshaid

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.

Todd Rundgren

XTC Skylarking

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.

Phil Spector

John Lennon Plastic Ono Band

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.

Brian Wilson

The Beach Boys Pet Sounds

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?


    • Hannett’s pretty cool – he’s got a distinctive aesthetic. Alan Moulder’s a very good choice – I never thought about him, and didn’t realise how much stuff he’d done. The album I think of him for is Mellon Collie, but didn’t realise he was involved in Loveless, or that he’s kept cranking out high profile albums for thirty years.

  1. Some in there I’ve never heard of but generally sound choices. I would probably add Glyn Johns, who produced loads of people in the late 60s/early 70s. He was the one who developed The Eagles’ sound, including the close harmonies, which brought them success but they didn’t want to be that. They wanted to rock, so they dumped him and brought in Bill Symczyk.
    In pioneer terms maybe there is a place for Joe Meek in the early 60s.
    A hard category to judge, really, because it’s hard to know what came from the artists themselves and what came from the producer. George Martin we know about because The Beatles acknowledged and were specific about his contributions, although John Lennon rather cattily remarked in later years “What has he done since?”

    • I mentioned Joe Meek in the list of misses in the opening paragraph, and I meant to add Johns as well. Who’s Next is a very nicely produced record.
      Must have been hard for Martin coming off The Beatles. I liked the quote that Martin said about Let It Be: “Produced by George Martin – Overproduced by Phil Spector”

  2. Top of my head: Gary Katz, Steely Dan; Alan Parsons, Dark Side of the Moon. (He’s not listed as producer but as the engineer. But really?); Jimmy Page, the Zep stuff still holds up; Jeff Lynne; Rick Rubin.

    • I included Rundgren on my list, but I’ve never heard the Pursuit of Happiness. I read up on them a little, and sounds like they have a high-profile non-album b-side (“Let My People Go”), which will be great for my b-side series.

  3. Great subject. You have who I would have…another one I like but would not be in a top ten would be Chris Thomas… he worked with The Beatles, Procol Harum, Pink Floyd, INXS, and the Sex Pistols.
    Jimmy Page was a good producer for Zeppelin but that is all he produced worth noting.

    • I barely recognise Chris Thomas’ name (maybe because it’s a boring name), but he’s released a lot of high profile records. Pretty big range – from punk to non-punk and from cool to not cool (‘All For Love’ by Sting, Bryan Adams, and Rod Stewart)

      • The reason I know him by name is because he sat in George Martin’s seat some during the White Album. He filled in for George, who was on holiday and produced some songs unaccredited of course.
        I think he mostly mixed Dark Side Of The Moon.
        I always thought the Stones had Jimmy Miller to thank for Beggars Banquet…and for that sound they created for years to come. When he left or was let go…there was a big difference.

  4. Some names I’m not too familiar with, but I can’t argue with the inclusion of those I know (Spector, Wilson, Eno specifically).
    I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a big fan of Joe Henry. More than his own music, I don’t think anyone quite captures a song like him. I would definitely promote him and T-Bone Burnett from your reserve list.
    Others I dig are Dave Fridmann, Chris Goss, Brendan O’Brien (minus the safe radio rock he’s done – especially the last few Pearl Jam albums and Springsteen stuff lack spark) and George Drakoulias. I dare say there are a ton of others.

    • Dave Fridmann is a good call, and someone who I should have at least mentioned. Lots of good work and a distinctive style.
      I like Henry and Burnett a lot. I kind of wanted to focus on more pop sounds, as I think the production is especially crucial there, particularly if you wan t a record that holds up twenty years later.

  5. You mentioned him at the top but Prince would make it into my Top 10 for sure, if only for developing the Minnesota Funk sound. His influence on other artists and other producers is countless. Great list!

    • Thanks! It certainly is a little weird to have Jam and Lewis on the list, but not Prince. Sometimes Prince’s drum sounds bug me, like they sound a bit too synthetic for my liking, but then so do lots of other 1980s productions.
      Thanks for writing in!

  6. Excellent choices, Graham. At least 6 or 7 would be on my list of all-time favorites. Two others that come to mind are Steve Lillywhite and Don Dixon, who produced numerous albums that I’ve loved for decades. Oh, and then there’s Bob Ezrin. And Mutt Lange. I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting but those guys are definitely legends.

    • All my favourite Steve Lillywhite stuff is early in his career – Peter Gabriel (Melt), Boy, War, and Black Sea are all terrific and all sound terrific. Would have been a good call to include.

  7. And then into my head popped Daniel Lanois who worked with U2, Dylan, Peter Gabriel, co-produced with Eno, Emmylou Harris – you name it. As to Page “only” producing Zep, can’t see why producing one band matters. The albums sound great, end of story.

  8. Great idea for a post. Obviously, I’m happy you included George Martin. I don’t know some of your other selections.
    I feel producers oftentimes are underappreciated. Yet as Martin and your other selections illustrate, they can be quite instrumental in shaping a band’s or artist’s sound.

    • I’ve been doing a list a month this year. I’ve pretty much run out of the big categories though, so don’t know how many more I can do.
      Some producers are very involved creatively, and some have very distinctive styles.

    • Hi Justin, thanks for the encouragement.
      I never thought about who produced the Core Seven Moody Blues albums, but it makes sense that they were all recorded with the same producer. Gives them a coherent feel, like chapters of the same book.

  9. Great list indeed. I think you have inspired me to take a stab at writing my own list in the near future. Quincy Jones, Nile Rodgers and George Martin are geniuses. These guys are definitely in my top 10. I’m a big fan of Brendan ‘Pearl Jam’ O’brien. Without O’brien I’ve often wondered how would Pearl Jam have faired!? Also, a big fan of Jack Antonoff – his work with Lana Del Rey, Lorde and St. Vincent is incredible.

    • Cool – go for it! O’Brien certainly did a great job of toughening Pearl Jam’s sound for Vs. – Ten is such a weirdly produced album. I like Antonoff’s recent stuff – he’s certainly a significant force in stuff that’s poppy but arty at the same time.

      • (not in any particular order)

        Paul A. Rothschild (The Doors, Janis Joplin)

        George Martin (Beatles)

        Tony Visconti (David Bowie)

        Tom Dowd (Allman Brothers, Derek and the Dominos, The Rascals, Aretha Franklin)

        Holland Dozier Holland (Supremes, Four Tops)

        Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin)

        Richard Perry (Nilsson, Carly Simon, Barbra Streisand)

        Brendan O’Brien (Stone Temple Pilots)

        Tom Bell (O’Jays, Spinners)

        Lou Adler (Mamas and Papas, Johnny Rivers, Carole King)

        And these ones here would probably be in my top 10, but people get mad when you include electronic producers. I know it’s not quite the same job as a regular producer, but so what.

        Chemical Brothers
        The Orb
        DJ Spooky
        DJ Shadow

  10. And also Phil Spector, but more for his stuff with the Beatles and George Harrison than for the girl group stuff believe it or not.

  11. No Jeff Lynne on this List? Wow! It’s a personal choice, I guess. I’d put him at my number 1#. For his ELO work and all his other work for artists like Tom Petty, George Harrison, etc. He’s Brilliant, I think! I also believe that if the Beatles didn’t break up in 1970 and people wonder what they would have sounded like, and what kind of albums they would have made eventually, they just need to listen to ELO’s albums and then they’d know. ,😃

    • I like Lynne, but he’s not top ten for me – I probably haven’t heard enough of his stuff, just some ELO records and his stuff with Tom Petty in the late 1980s.

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