A Short List of the Music Industry’s Most Influential Producers
When you listen to music on the radio, in your ear buds, or on your phone, it’s easy to forget that what you’re hearing is not solely the work of the artist whose name is scrolling by. In fact, more often than not, the people most responsible for the final product you’re listening to are the ones whose names you may never have heard of.
There exists a string of operations that begins with a musical artist, then leads to a producer, to mixing engineer, to mastering engineer and finally all the way back to your ears. The producer is arguably the most important part of this equation as, more often than not, the producer is responsible for taking an idea that might be the seed of a song and expanding it into the form of something you’d find yourself wanting to sing, dance, cry, or bob your head to.
The ever-changing landscape of the music industry has brought us legendary producers from all different perspectives, approaches, and backgrounds. Today, we’ll explore some of those whose music has changed the course of the industry forever.
1. Quincy Jones
Easily one of the most prolific figures in the history of modern music, Quincy Jones is an American music producer, singer, and songwriter. Quincy began his musical career in his early 20s as a touring jazz artist. It wasn’t long before his musical prowess led him to writing film scores and eventually to producing for some of the biggest pop acts to ever perform.
Quincy’s credits include acts such as Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Supremes, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, The Bee Gees, Barbra Streisand, Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Missy Elliott, and Jennifer Lopez.
2. George Martin
Sir George Henry Martin was an English producer, composer, audio engineer, arranger, and conductor. His musical career began in his middle-twenties after having served in the Royal Navy after enlisting at just 17 years old. The multi-hyphenate has been referred to as the “fifth Beatle” because of his significant role in the production of the Beatles’ music between 1962 and 1975. He was officially inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.
George passed away in 2016, but not before working with some of the most legendary figures in pop history in addition to the Beatles, such as Elton John, America, Celine Dion, Kenny Rogers, and Little River Band.
3. Rick Ruben
Frederick Jay Ruben, better known professionally as Rick Ruben, is an American producer whose work over the past forty years has been critical to the development of multiple genres including hip hop and rock. He is a former co-president of Columbia Records as well as a co-founder of Def Jam Records.
Rick Ruben’s list of many prolific artists in hip hop and rock include the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Run DMC, Slayer, System of a Down, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Weezer. He’s had a tremendous influence in country music as well, having worked with Johnny Cash and the Dixie Chicks.
4. Berry Gordy
Berry Gordy III is an American executive, producer, songwriter, and film and television producer. Berry is best known as having founded Motown Records in 1959, but has worked with massive musical acts throughout his career as well. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and awarded the National Medal of Arts by Barack Obama in 2016.
Throughout his career, Berry worked with sensational acts such as the Jackson 5, The Miracles, The Contours, and Jackie Wilson. As an executive with a keen insight into the music industry, he signed acts which would go on to become some of music’s most celebrated artists – The Temptations and Marvin Gaye to name a couple.
5. Susan Rogers
Susan Rogers is another American producer and sound engineer who, after years in the industry, decided to offer her depthful knowledge to others as a professor at Berklee College of Music. She is best known for her role as Prince’s staff engineer throughout the height of his career, but has also produced for acts such as Barenaked Ladies, David Byrne, and Robben Ford.
6. Nile Rodgers
Nile Rodgers is an American producer, singer, songwriter, guitarist, and arranger. The multi-hyphenate also co-founded the band Chic – eventually known as Nile Rodgers and Chic. Nile is currently the chairman of the Songwriters Hall of Fame and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in addition to winning three Grammy awards.
Across his illustrious career in music, Nile has worked with the likes of Sister Sledge, Diana Ross, David Bowie, Duran Duran, Madonna, Christina Aguilera, and Lady Gaga. It was his work with Daft Punk, however, that won him his three grammys for his contributions on their prolific album, Random Access Memories.
7. Rick Hall
Rick Hall, otherwise known as the Father of Muscle Shoals Music, was an American producer, songwriter, and musician who was most well-known as the owner of FAME studios on Muscle Shoals, Alabama. His influence in music was the result of his development, promotion and recording of major acts such as Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, and Duane Allman. Before his passing in 2018, he was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1985 and was the recipient of the John Herbert Orr Pioneer Award in 2014.
8. Butch Vig
Bryan David Vig, better known professionally as Butch, is an American songwriter, producer, and instrumentalist. While Butch is a well known artist in his own right as the drummer and co-producer of the band Garbage, it was his work on Nirvana’s diamond-selling album Nevermind that sealed his fame and earned him the nickname the Nevermind Man. In addition to his breakthrough work with Nirvana, Butch also worked with huge acts such as Smashing Pumpkins, Jimmy Eat World, Green Day, and the Foo Fighters.
9. Teo Macero
Teo Macero was an American producer, jazz saxophonist, and composer. His music career began at the Juilliard School in New York City where he earned his Bachelors and Masters degrees in 1953. He went on to become a producer at Columbia records, eventually earning his fame through his contributions on two of the most influential albums in the history of jazz – Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and Dave Brubeck’s Time Out.
10. Brian Wilson
Brian Wilson, best known as co-founder of the prolific American rock band the Beach Boys, is also a producer, singer and songwriter. While most of his major production work consisted of recordings for his own band, the Beach Boys, Brian has also worked with Jan and Dean on the hit song “Surf City,” as well as the Honeys and American Spring. Brian is a nine-time Grammy award nominee and two-time winner and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Beach Boys in 1988.