As a member of the early 1970’s art-rock band Roxy Music, Brian Eno had every chance of becoming a celebrated keyboardist. But he had varied interests and eventually made his mark as a music producer.
“I felt extremely uncomfortable as the focal point, in the spotlight. I really like the behind-the-scenes role, as all my freedom is there,” he would say.
Eno is regarded as one of the pioneering producers of Electronic and modern Pop music, and the man behind the ambient sound. He’s also been involved as producer and consultant for various rock acts like U2, James, and Coldplay.
Not every music producer, however, started as an accomplished musician. Some chose this line because of their sheer passion for getting the perfect sound on an album or single, or because they loved audio engineering technology. All they needed was a discerning ear, an in-depth knowledge of voice culture, instruments and changing technology, and total involvement in their projects.
In the first part of this series, we talked about the role and requirements of a good producer. We now conclude by listing 10 of the most pioneering names in the field. There are many others too, but the role played by these 10 remains special.
The winner of 28 Grammy Awards, Jones is best known for producing the Michael Jackson albums Off The Wall, Thriller, and Bad. But even before that, he worked with stellar artists like Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Sarah Vaughan, besides being closely involved with Jazz. More recently, he helped shape the career of the extremely talented, Jacob Collier.
Paul McCartney is quoted as saying that if anyone deserved the title of the fifth Beatle, it was Martin. This was because of his close involvement in each recording by the Fab Four. The Britisher, who passed away in 2016 at the age of 90, also produced records for Matt Monro, Jeff Beck, Elton John, Cilla Black, America and a host of others.
After being part of the disco group Chic as a guitarist, Rodgers became involved with the music of popular acts like Sister Sledge, and Diana Ross. Later, he produced or wrote for David Bowie, Madonna, INXS, Duran Duran, Jeff Beck, and Mick Jagger, besides French electronic duo Daft Punk’s Grammy-winning album, Random Access Memories.
Easily one of the most influential Producers ever, Eno is known to have spearheaded the Ambient music genre. He’s worked with the likes of Robert Fripp of King Crimson, David Bowie, Talking Heads, U2 and Coldplay, and has recently released his latest album Mixing Colours.
The undisputed Father of Disco, the Italian composer and producer has influenced new wave, Techno and, House music too. He’s best known for producing a range of hit songs by Donna Summer besides Irene Cara’s ‘What A Feeling’ and Berlin’s Take My Breath Away. His solo albums From Here To Eternity, and E=MC2 remain landmarks, the latter being the first album to be recorded entirely in digital format.
A journalist who wrote for Billboard magazine, Wexler is known to coin the term Rhythm and Blues. Initially, he worked with soul artists like Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin but was also associated with one-off albums by Dire Straits and Bob Dylan, besides signing on Led Zeppelin.
Robert ‘Mutt’ Lange
With a bio-data that includes AC/ DC, Def Leppard, the Boomtown Rats, Britney Spears, Shania Twain, Lady Gaga, Maroon 5, and Muse, South African producer Lange was very much in demand. He’s also known for his innovations in multi-track recording.
The founder of the Motown record label, Gordy signed up and produced iconic acts like the Supremes, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, Four Tops, and Stevie Wonder. Through them, he introduced a new sound to the world.
Kenneth Brian Edmonds aka Babyface has been at the forefront of the Rhythm n’ Blues and Pop worlds, having written or produced for Madonna, Toni Braxton, Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige, Ariana Grande, and Boyz II Men.
The top name among Hip-Hop producers, Rubin has been described as the most important person in the field in the last two decades. The co-founder of Def Jam Recordings, he has worked with Rap acts like LL Cool J, Run DMC and Beastie Boys, besides rock and metal bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Slayer, Rage Against The Machine, Linkin Park and System Of A Down.
The list doesn’t obviously end here. Various polls and magazine features have included Paul Epworth, John Meek, Phil Spector, Brian Wilson, Danger Mouse, Timbaland, Bill Szymczyk and Dr. Dre in their list of top producers. Interestingly, in its feature on Top 50 producers, the NME online music publication has named India’s Biddu at No 34.
Biddu has been associated with Carl Douglas and Tina Charles, before producing the hit album Disco Deewane by Pakistani sibling duo- Nazia and Zoheb Hassan. He produced a string of Indipop albums by Alisha Chinai, Shweta Shetty, and Shaan-Sagarika.
From all these lists, it may seem that there are hardly any women in this line of musical activity. While there’s no obvious explanation for the low numbers, some women have made inroads into the field, though they haven’t been as influential as those mentioned above.
Topping the list of women producers is Linda Perry. Formerly of the group 4 Non Blondes, she has produced songs for female artists like Christina Aguilera, Lisa Marie Presley, Ariana Grande, Pink, Gwen Stefani, and Miley Cyrus. Besides being a well-known Hip-Hop star, Missy Elliott has also been involved in writing and production. Last year, Beyonce curated and produced The Lion King: The Gift, an album launched to mark the release of the new version of the film.
Other well-known female producers are Kara DioGuardi in Pop, Sylvia Robinson in Hip-Hop, Sylvia Massy in Alternative Rock and Sonia Pottinger in Reggae. All these producers have played a crucial role in the artiste’s career, mainly in the sound quality of their records. And though it’s a tedious and time-consuming job, without the glamour, we’re sure they’ve enjoyed every bit.