The UK music industry contributed a whopping £5.2 billion to the economy last year. Of that, £122 million came directly from the activities of 13,029 top music producers and of staff working in studios. From the advent of George Martin’s pioneering involvement with the Beatles to Finneas O’Connell’s award-winning work with sister Billie Eilish, the role of a top music producer has been essential to the success and creative realisation of a great record. Let’s have a look at some of the most famous music producers…
Despite the importance of the role and the fact that a top music producer can play in the success of a record, they often remain relatively unknown to the general public. Their contribution is often overlooked. Historically, a producer’s role has been to realise the potential of a record. Usually by getting the best out of the artist. However, the era of the superstar producer is very much upon us. Now, the roles of artist, composer and music producer have become inextricably blurred. Let’s look at the most famous record producers who’ve shaped the landscape of popular music.
Sir George Martin CBE was a famous record producer who shaped the job description of what that title truly means. His role as the Beatles’ “5th member” is legendary. It’s also illustrated by the numerous Grammys, Brits and lifetime achievements awards he has won.
After leaving the BBC, Martin joined EMI Records as an assistant in 1950. By 1955 he was made head of A&R at Parlophone. During this period he recorded classical music, various comedy records and cast recordings. Some of his early work includes releases with Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers and Peter Cook.
Martin’s involvement with the Beatles began in ’62 and, after some initial uncertainty, their working relationship flourished. The marriage of Lennon & McCartney’s writing with Martin’s arrangement, keyboard and production skills provided us with hit records that still inspire to this day. A Day In The Life & Eleanor Ribgy are a couple of standout examples of his orchestration skills.
He was in great demand by the time he left EMI Records to open AIR studios, which gave him the opportunity to work with a wider roster of artists. Some of the most notable acts he produced through his working life include Cilla Black, Gerry & The Pacemakers, Jeff Beck, Elton John and guitar virtuoso John Williams.
You may not recognise him as a famous music producer due to his relatively low key public presence. However, Swedish super-producer Max Martin is behind a string of chart-topping hits from the late ’90’s up to the present day. His run of Billboard #1 writing credits is superseded only by Lennon & McCartney.
After early work with fellow Swedes Ace of Base, Army of Lovers and Rednex, Martin’s meteoric international rise began with the Backstreet Boys’ 1996 debut album.
Subsequent work with Westlife, Britney Spears (first three albums) and Pop Idol winner Kelly Clarkson helped to cement his crown. Martin has an impressive discography including Pink, Avril Lavigne, Jessie J and Christina Aguilera. His pop sensibilities seem to continue to put him on top. Recent work includes releases with Ariana Grande and The Weekend.
With some of the best selling releases by giants Taylor Swift (Shake It Off/ Blank Space/Trouble) and Katy Perry (I Kissed A Girl/California Girls/Roar) attributable to his involvement as a producer, multi-Grammy winner Max Martin is undeniably one of the most sought after and famous music producers on the planet right now.
At a NET worth of $770 million, famous hip hop producer Dr Dre is also one of the richest music producers. The journey of the “Master of Mixology” began in the mid-’80s; with the tide of Gangsta Rap artists emerging from the west coast scene.
From his initial collaborations with Ice Cube on Ruthless Records to the release of N.W.A.’s seminal Straight Outta Compton. On top of his first solo offering The Chronic in ’92, Andre Romelle Young’s trajectory from award-winning artist to award-winning producer has seen him take 6 Grammys and establish an impressive discography.
After leaving Ruthless Records Dre formed Death Row Records in 1991. In addition to continuing to work on his own material, Dre’s releases as a producer include a roster of artists such as Snoop Dogg, Mary J.Blige, 50 Cent, Warren G, Jay – Z, Kendrick Lamar and, of course, Eminem.
From 2001’s global phenomenon of the Marshall Mathers EP to 2020’s Music to Be Murdered By, Dre’s relationship with Eminem as his producer has been consistently successful. Dre’s insistence in the use of live musicians and his signature ‘G-Funk’ samples feature profusely through his back catalogue. His advocacy for the E-mu SP-1200 and the Akai MPC3000 have made those hardware tools the weapons of choice for many up and coming hip hop producers.
At a similar time as Dre’s rise to fame, Def Jam label founder and music producer extraordinaire, Rick Rubin was moving mountains on the East Coast Hip Hop scene. Despite his beginnings in hardcore band Hose, his attentions soon moved. He moved from the performance side of things to producing artists from around the NYC area. Among the first releases on his label were debuts from LL Cool J, Public Enemy, and Run-DMC as well as seminal records from the Beastie Boys.
Rubin’s production style was often characterised by fusing rap and hard-rock (think Run-DMC meets Aerosmith). Even though he is undoubtedly one of the most famous hip hop producers around, he has always continued to explore his talents in other genres.
Some of his most acclaimed work outside of hip-hop includes Slayer’s metal classic Reign in Blood. It also includes Electric by The Cult, Johnny Cash’s comeback American series and no less than six multi-platinum albums with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
His production career is an endless roll call of A-List artists and smash hit releases spanning AC/DC to ZZ Top. Rubin’s 8 Grammy wins (Adele/Dixie Chicks/Chili Peppers/Cash) are testament to the success of his innovative, stripped-back approach to production and his emphasis on re-invention.
From his early beginnings as a touring musician for the Sesame Street stage show to becoming one of the most famous music producers on the planet Grammy-winning producer Nile Rodgers’ career spans over 5 decades both in and out of the studio.
After the initial success of disco supergroup Chic in the late ’70s, Rodgers produced other acts for Atlantic Records. Among his first productions were the singles ‘He’s The Greatest Dancer’ and ‘We Are Family’. Both of which successful hits for a fledgeling Sister Sledge. In the 80’s alone he produced milestone albums for Diana Ross, Madonna, The B-52’s and David Bowie. That includes Bowie’s best selling album to date – ‘Let’s Dance’.
Throughout the ’90s and ’00s Rodgers’ career expanded further. It expanded into composing for film soundtracks and subsequently video games with his company Sumthing Distribution. He also continued to be a sought after producer in the music industry.
For Rodgers, the last decade includes the collaboration with Daft Punk on the worldwide hit ‘Get Lucky’. Nile Rodgers and the late Bernard Edwards of Chic were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2016. In 2017 Rodgers was honoured in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for Musical Excellence
With only 12% of record producers identifying as female the music industry remains a perceptively male arena. However, there is an ever-increasing number of women being recognised for their talents behind the glass and bringing parity to the playing field.
Sylvia Massy is an award-winning engineer, mixer and famous music producer. Originally from Michigan, she pursued her career after relocating to San Francisco. She eventually went to Los Angeles where she worked at Larrabee Sound and then Sound City.
Massy’s first real successful break as a producer came with Tool’s 1993 multi-platinum Undertow. Prior work to this included production for comedy rock band Green Jelly. She also had a number of engineer/assistant engineering credits including the likes of Joe Satriani, Queen, Aerosmith, Prince & Elton John.
Massy formed a long working relationship with Rick Rubin while she was at Larrabee Sound. They worked together on huge releases from Tom Petty, Slayer and The Black Crowes. This subsequently led to Massy taking over the production reigns for ‘Love Rollercoaster’ by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
In addition to her reverence as a producer, Sylvia Massy is an authority on the art of mixing. As well as being a visiting professor at Berklee College of Music, she holds lectures at the Abbey Road Institute and SAE. She also does workshops at La Studio Fabrique as part of the Mix With The Masters series. Sylvia Massy is also the proud recipient of the Music Producers Guild’s “MPG Inspiration Award”.
Linda Perry had phenomenal success with the 4 Non Blondes single What’s Up? in the early ‘90s. However, her career as a producer and writer has since eclipsed that, making her, arguably, the most famous female producer on the planet.
Some of her biggest (and earliest) hits as a producer/writer to date include ‘Beautiful’ by Christina Aguilera and Pink’s first international #1 ‘Get The Party Started’. Her catalogue goes on to include a star-studded cast of performers. This includes Britney Spears, Courtney Love, Alicia Keys, Gwen Stefani, Sugababes, Celine Dion, James Blunt and Kelis to name a few.
In addition to her producer work , Perry started a record label, publishing & artist management company “We Are Hear” in 2017. She currently performs both solo and as part of her band Deep Dark Robot.
Imogen Heap is an acclaimed English singer-songwriter, engineer & producer and audio engineer. As a child, she was classically trained in piano, cello and clarinet. She later became a self-taught guitarist and drummer. In addition, she was also an early adopter of Atari computers for music production. At 18 she signed with Almo Sounds and released her debut album – ‘iMegaphone’ – produced by long term collaborator Guy Sigsworth. Heap and Sigsworth later released the successful electro album Details as a duo under the name Frou Frou.
Imogen Heap’s subsequent 3 solo albums were all released on her own label – Megaphonic. Her career has included collaborations and appearances with Jeff Beck, Jon Bon Jovi, Ariana Grande, Britney Spears, deadmau5 and Taylor Swift. On top of that, she also wrote the award-winning music for the play ‘Harry Potter And The Cursed Child’.
Heap is the only female artist to have won a Grammy for engineering. She also holds an Ivor Novello Award and is a recipient of a prestigious Inspiration Award from the Music Producer’s Guild. If that wasn’t enough, she also has an honorary doctorate from the Berklee College of Music. The use of manipulated textures and instruments are essential components of the music Heap produces. She also often adds ambient sounds into the mix to add further depth.
Finneas O’Connell is an American producer best known for his co-writing and production skills on the chart-topping debut album from his sister Billie Eilish. Given that it was recorded in a tiny bedroom studio in his parents’ house, with modestly inexpensive equipment, 2019’s When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? swept up a horde of Grammy awards including Producer of the Year, Non-Classical for O’Connell’s efforts.
O’Connell is a successful self-producing artist in his own right and releases under the mononym FINNEAS. His impressive production talents have since led him on to work with other pop superstars. In his relatively short career, he’s already had hits with the likes of Selena Gomez, Camila Cabello and Swedish sensation Tove Lo. Most recently he worked with Halsey on ‘I Hate Everybody’ from her 2020 album ‘Manic’.
As somewhat of a renaissance man, Finneas is also a talented actor! His credits include Alistair in the final season of Glee and film roles in Bad Teacher and Life Inside Out.
South London born Uzoechi Osisioma “Uzo” Emenike, AKA MNEK, had an early start to becoming a top music producer. His early interest in writing poetry and teaching himself music production software led to him being headhunted by publishers when he was only 14. By 16, he was already writing for big pop names such as The Saturdays and The Wanted. Not only that, but he was also releasing his own material.
As well as undeniable success as an artist himself, MNEK’s production and writing credits are exceptional. His productions are distinctly pop but with influences of R&B, electro, house & hip-hop. For a career of less than 10 years, he has had successful hits with artists such as Rudimental, JLS, Little Mix, Kylie Minogue, Beyoncé, Zara Larsson, Craig David, Olly Murs, Stormzy, Tinie Tempah, Dua Lipa, Christina Aguilera, Selena Gomez & Becky Hill.
MNEK has won a Grammy, 6 ASCAP awards and has been nominated for MOBO, Teen Choice and BET accolades. His long-awaited 2018 debut album was released to critical acclaim but unfortunately, this was not reflected in physical sales.
He is also an advocate of LGBT singer-songwriters. Last year, he set up a writing camp that provides a safe working space to those interested in becoming a producer or writer.
In comparison to the early days of the record industry when the roles of writer, artist and producer were relatively defined, there is now less differentiation between these disciplines than ever. Whether you are a performer, writer or producer it’s essential to know about each of these roles.
Collaboration is fun and often an essential part of the record-making process. Working with a great producer is a good way to grow in your approach to writing music. Plus, for those looking to do so, it’s the perfect opportunity to up-skill your own production chops.
Perhaps there is a valid argument for artists or writers deliberately steering clear of the production side of things; as it allows them to concentrate on what they do best and not concern themselves with distractions. Imagine though, with a little investment of time and sonic exploration, the empowerment that getting to grips with a Digital Audio Workstation could provide. And the creative possibilities that could be achieved by channelling your own inner Rick Rubin.
We hope you found this article interesting and that you’ve learned a bit about famous music producers. If you’re interested in becoming a music producer, or are looking for a producer, check out all the other helpful articles we have on our blog! If you’re already a budding music producer and are ready to start collaborating, find an artist, writer or band to work with in our global creative marketplace. Try all this and much more for free!