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Best Music Producers: 10 Pioneers Of Studio Magic
List & Guides

Best Music Producers: 10 Pioneers Of Studio Magic

Casting spells of sonic sorcery across the ages, the best music producers continue to enchant listeners with their acts of studio wizardry.

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In the ever-evolving world of music production, there have been many trailblazers who have left an enduring legacy thanks to their insatiable creativity and ingenious feats of technical prowess behind the mixing desks. From the playful and often trippy experimentalism of George Martin with The Beatles to the groundbreaking ambient soundscapes of Brian Eno, the best music producers have performed wonders by opening up new sonic possibilities and pushing past the technological limitations of their day. Here we take a remarkable sonic voyage through the work of the best music producers of all time, pioneers whose artistic genius continues to resonate with music lovers across the globe…

Listen to our Rock Classics playlist here, and check out the best music producers, below.

10: Stephen Street

Beginning his career as an engineer on reggae recordings, Stephen Street first rose to prominence in the early 80s, honing his studio skills with the legendary Manchester band The Smiths and eventually transitioning into a fully fledged producer on their 1987 album, Strangeways, Here We Come. After The Smiths disbanded, Street’s collaboration with Morrissey continued on the singer’s debut solo album, Viva Hate, and then the producer went on to define the sound of Britpop in the 90s by joining forces with Blur, most notably helming their famous “Life Trilogy” of albums, Modern Life Is Rubbish, Parklife and The Great Escape. Since then, Street has become every indie band’s go-to producer, working with the likes of The Cardigans, Pretenders, Kaiser Chiefs, The Courteeners, Pete Doherty and Idlewild (The Remote Part). His generation’s most era-defining sonic architect, Street has firmly cemented his place as Britrock royalty among the best music producers of all time.

Must hear: The Universal

9: Jerry Wexler

Widely regarded as one of the best music producers history, Jerry Wexler changed the industry forever. Starting out in the 50s, Wexler reportedly coined the phrase “rhythm and blues” and became a key figure in the development of soul music thanks to his work at Atlantic Records, producing hits for such icons as Ray Charles (I Got A Woman, from Ray Charles’ self-titled debut album), Wilson Pickett (Mustang Sally, from The Wicked Pickett), Aretha Franklin (Chain Of Fools, from Lady Soul) and Dusty Springfield (Son Of A Preacher Man, from Dusty In Memphis). Possessing a great ear for talent and an innate ability to bring out the best in his artists, Wexler coupled his deep understanding of various genres with innovative production techniques that made him an influential force in popular music throughout the decades. He even enjoyed a second wind in the late 70s and early 80s, working with Bob Dylan (Slow Train) and Dire Straits (Communiqué). Without a doubt, Wexler’s legacy continues to inspire.

Must hear: Son of a Preacher Man

8: Tony Visconti

From the moment he first stepped into the studio, it was clear that US music producer Tony Visconti was on a mission to earn his place among the greats. With a production style that perfectly captured the flamboyant essence of glam rock, Visconti combined elements of rock, pop and theatricality in order to create groundbreaking sounds for iconic artists such as David Bowie and T. Rex. His collaborations with Bowie, in particular, have yielded some of the most innovative and groundbreaking albums in rock history, including the 1970 album The Man Who Sold The World, before the pair, in league with fellow production wizard Brian Eno, pushed sonic boundaries further amid the birth pangs of post-punk on the fabled “Berlin Trilogy” (Low, “Heroes”, Lodger). Furthermore, Visconti helmed Bowie’s 1980 album, Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), which, with songs such as Ashes To Ashes, saw Bowie enter the new-wave era while still remaining at the cutting edge of pop. One of Bowie’s longest-serving collaborators (he was back behind the mixing desk for Bowie’s 2013 comeback single, Where Are We Now?, and its parent album, The Next Day, and again on Bowie’s final album, Blackstar), Visconti has a meticulous attention to detail and an experimental approach which pushes the limits of the recording studio, making him a true pioneer and an enduring figure among the world’s best music producers.

Must hear: Ashes To Ashes

7: Dr. Dre

Undoubtedly one of the best music producers in hip-hop history, Dr. Dre helped bring rap to the masses. From his early days with N.W.A, with whom he fomented the sound of gangsta rap, to his solo career and work with other major-league artists such as Snoop Dogg and 2Pac, Dre has made an immeasurable impact on the history of music. Known for his bold ambition and innovative use of samples, the Compton, Los Angeles-born pioneer has consistently delivered chart-topping hits (Nuthin’ But A “G” Thang, The Next Episode) while ingeniously blending elements of hip-hop, funk and soul music. Dre’s iconic debut album, The Chronic, not only solidified his status as a legendary producer but also defined an entire era of West Coast rap, before going full-on cinematic with his incendiary follow-up, 2001. With a keen ear for talent, Dr. Dre has also played a pivotal role in launching the careers of many successful artists, most notably Eminem, making his mark not only as a producer but also as a trusted mentor. Dre’s ability to create timeless music that resonates with audiences across generations has rightfully earned him a place among the best music producers of the 20th and the 21st centuries.

Must hear: The Next Episode

6: Rick Rubin

He may look like a bearded guru with a zen-like air of calm about him, but Rick Rubin has made a seismic impact on the music industry. Co-founding Def Jam with Russell Simmons back in 1984, Rubin played a pivotal role in bringing hip-hop into the mainstream, introducing the world to the groundbreaking work of Beastie Boys (Licensed To Ill) and LL Cool J (Radio). Rubin’s production work extended beyond hip-hop, however, as he also delved into the realm of thrash metal with the legendary band Slayer, producing their seminal 1986 album, Reign In Blood. His versatility as a producer is further exemplified by his collaboration with Red Hot Chili Peppers, in which Rubin helped the group popularise a distinct funk-infused sound on albums such as 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik, resulting some of the best songs of the 90s, among them Give It Away and Under The Bridge. Notably, Rubin’s partnership with Johnny Cash also revitalised the country legend’s career on his critically acclaimed American Recordings series, which reached a haunting peak with “The Man In Black”’s cover of Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt, cementing Rubin’s reputation as a visionary producer capable of capturing the raw essence of an artist.

Must hear: Under the Bridge

5: Nile Rodgers

As the musical mastermind behind the best Chic songs, Nile Rodgers created a signature blend of funk and R&B which lit up discotheques in the late 70s, courtesy of era-defining hits such as Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah), Good Times, Le Freak and I Want Your Love. Not only did Rodgers’ work with Chic inspire early hip-hop pioneers (The Sugarhill Gang, Grandmaster Flash) and countless synth-pop acts (Duran Duran, ABC), but his influence extended far beyond disco, as he went on to produce chart-storming albums in the 80s for an impressive roster of artists, including Diana Ross (Diana), David Bowie (the Let’s Dance album and its unstoppable title track) and Madonna (Like A Virgin and its own career-changing title track). A towering figure amid the world’s best music producers, Rodgers continues to shape the sound of contemporary music, as evidenced by the sheer number of his guitar licks which have either been sampled or replicated in the studio (even Daft Punk got in on the act, asking Rodgers to guest on their 2013 smash, Get Lucky). One of the few talents to shake off the trappings of the disco era in order to blaze new trails in the decades that followed, Nile Rodgers’ appetite for infectious grooves and unforgettable melodies quite simply transcends time.

Must hear: Good Times

4: Prince

Years ahead of his time, Prince is regularly thought of as one of the best songwriters of all time, but equally remarkable were his production skills. Displaying incomparable talent, boundless creativity and an innovative approach in the studio, Prince revolutionised the music industry throughout the 80s and beyond. Known for his prodigious abilities as a multi-instrumentalist, he flawlessly combined genres such as funk, rock, pop and R&B, infusing his distinctive sound into every production bearing his name. Gifting us timeless classics such as Purple Rain, When Doves Cry and Kiss, his prowess extended beyond the recording studio, as he passionately explored new technologies and pioneered groundbreaking techniques of distributing his music in the digital era, constantly striving to go beyond what was deemed possible. Quite simply, Prince’s unrivalled commitment to bringing his unique vision to life blazed a trail that inspired millions, cementing his status as one of the best music producers of any era.

Must hear: When Doves Cry

3: Brian Wilson

A vocalist and songwriter for the US rock band The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson revolutionised the sound of popular music in the 60s, challenging the rest of the world to keep pace as he developed his peerless production skills in the studio. Pairing lush harmonies with complex vocal arrangements, Wilson’s landmark work on The Beach Boys’ 1966 masterpiece, Pet Sounds, was a masterstroke that mixed youthful innocence (Wouldn’t It Be Nice) with prayer-like touches of heavenly romanticism (God Only Knows). From his awe-inspiring work on Pet Sounds to his ambitious endeavours with the unfinished album SMiLE, Wilson’s daring displays of sonic ingenuity remain unmatched, as perhaps best evidenced by one of the best summer songs of 1966, Good Vibrations. Thanks to his influence on the California sound and his ability to inspire countless musicians and producers, Wilson’s achievements continue to inspire artists to strive for greatness, guaranteeing his status as an icon in the world of music production.

Must hear: Good Vibrations

2: George Martin

Rightly hailed as “the fifth Beatle”, George Martin was instrumental to the group’s success. Not only did he play a key role in refining The Beatles’ vocal harmonies in their early days, but Martin’s background in comedy infused their sound with a sense of playfulness, often employing innovative studio trickery that instantly set them apart from their contemporaries. Through his inquisitive approach to production, Martin pioneered the use of backmasking (in which music is recorded on a tape that is then played backwards on the finished recording) on The Beatles’ 1966 album, Revolver, before making psychedelic pop commercially palatable with the surrealistic whimsy of their groundbreaking 1967 double A-side, Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane. While John Lennon and McCartney’s songwriting was never less than exemplary, it was Martin’s keen artistic vision that brought their ideas to life and helped define The Beatles’ sound, leaving little doubt over the group’s place among the world’s most influential musicians. With his impact on music production influencing countless artists, it is a testament to Martin’s commitment to pushing the envelope that The Beatles’ popularity endures to this today, all but guaranteeing his place among the best music producers of all time.

Must hear: Strawberry Fields Forever

1: Brian Eno

With a career spanning over half a century, Brian Eno has a reputation as a studio wizard full of sage-like insights, both as a solo artist recording under his own name and as a producer for other acclaimed musicians. Renowned for his experimental approach and otherworldly sonic landscapes, Eno is credited with pioneering ambient music – a genre that revolutionised the concept of sound and its role in artistic expression – as well as bringing world music into the rock and pop realms. Additionally, his collaborations with legendary artists such as David Bowie (including one of the best David Bowie songs of all time, in the shape of “Heroes”), Talking Heads (More Songs About Buildings And Food, Fear Of Music, Remain in Light) and U2 (The Unforgettable Fire, The Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby, Zooropa) have resulted in some of the most groundbreaking albums in music history. Constantly testing the limits of what can be achieved in the studio, Eno’s production style, characterised by his keen ear for texture, atmosphere and unconventional recording techniques, has shaped countless albums since, including Coldplay’s 2008 reinvention, Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends. Eno’s innovative use of technology and emphasis on creating immersive sonic environments have truly changed music forever, and that’s why he tops our list of the best music producers of all time.

Must hear: “Heroes”

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