The 19 best music producers working today

3rd Dec 2009 | 15:23

The 19 best music producers working today
Stuart Price
The man who took Madonna back to the dancefloor

Producers have always played a crucial role in the music business, but whereas the majority of them used to be heard and not seen, these days, the most successful are stars in their own right.

MusicRadar asked you to choose the best producers working today, and based on your nominations and votes, we’ve put together the following list.

Our rundown starts with Stuart Price, who has almost as many aliases as he has production credits (Les Rythmes Digitales and Jacques Lu Cont to name but two). Funnily enough, though, he was happy to put his real name on Madonna’s 2005 album Confessions On A Dance Floor. Since then, he’s worked with New Order, Seal, Frankmusik and The Killers, and is currently producing Scissor Sisters’ new record.

Why you love him:

“He’s everywhere and stealthy about it as well. He’s gone über-commercial in the last few years.” (Thanks, hikertommy)

Next: Dave Sitek

The 19 best music producers working today
Dave Sitek
TV On The Radio spawns a production star

As the stock of his band, TV On The Radio (above), has risen, so has Sitek’s profile. Known for his willingness to experiment, he’s lent his production skills to albums by the likes of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Foals and even Scarlett Johansson. In 2008, the actress revealed that her decision to work with Sitek was based on a desire to create a “massive, multi-dimensional sound”.

Why you love him:

"TV On The Radio are one of my favourite bands from the last few years. Really love Dave Sitek's work on Dear Science." (From Peter via email, thanks)

Next: Rich Costey

The 19 best music producers working today
Rich Costey
Finding his Muse

This American producer is perhaps best known for his work with British bands: Muse (Absolution and Black Holes And Revelations); Franz Ferdinand (You Could Have It So Much Better); and Glasvegas (Glasvegas). He’s also an accomplished mix engineer, as you’ll hear if you listen to Arctic Monkeys’ Humbug.

Why you love him:

"Rich Costey - he has to make the list." (Thanks, Chris)

Next: Ethan Johns

The 19 best music producers working today
Ethan Johns
Part of a production dynasty

Ryan Adams’ (above) helmsman of choice has music production in his blood, being the son of Glyn Johns (who’s worked with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and The Eagles, no less) and nephew of Chickenfoot producer Andy Johns. His ‘keep it simple’ style is all is own, though, and can also be heard on albums by Kings Of Leon, Ray LaMontange and Rufus Wainwright.

Why you love him:

“Ethan Johns - absolute purity in his recordings, minimal technique and so sympathetic to the artist. Also a great musician. Listen to Ryan Adams' (NOT Bryan!) Heartbreaker for sublime production.” (Thanks, Ramirez)

Next: The Neptunes

The 19 best music producers working today
The Neptunes
Out of this world

Their star may have faded slightly in recent years, but for the first part of the 2000s, The Neptunes (and their distinctive sound) were ubiquitous. Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo have, quite frankly, produced an obscene amount of good music: from Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Got Your Money to Kelis’s Caught Out There to Britney’s I’m A Slave 4 U to Justin’s Rock Your Body. And that’s just a snapshot of what they did between 1999 and 2003.

Why you love them:

"The Neptunes used to be the go-to guys. They're still working today (I think) so they definitely deserve some coolness credit." (Thanks, Tom)

Next: Danger Mouse

The 19 best music producers working today
Danger Mouse
The rodent who gets into your head

When Brian Burton released The Grey Album in 2004, you’d have been forgiven for assuming that this controversial mash-up album would be his defining moment. As it turns out, it was just the start: since then he’s worked with Damon Albarn, Beck and The Black Keys. And with Cee-Lo Green as Gnarls Barkley, Mr Mouse created one of the best singles of the decade (Crazy).

Why you love him:

"Danger Mouse - that Crazy tune was everywhere. Retro but modern." (From Emile via email, thanks)

Next: Mark Ronson

The 19 best music producers working today
Mark Ronson
When Amy Winehouse made music, she made it with him

Critics will scoff that all Ronson brings is a privileged background and the phone number of a good horn section, but you can’t argue with his track record. He helped Amy Winehouse to create one of the decade’s defining albums, and has also produced for Lily Allen, Kaiser Chiefs, Nikka Costa and Robbie Williams. Time will tell if he has what it takes to stay at the top, but you get the feeling that he’s in this for the long haul.

Why you love him:

“For best new producer I would say Mark Ronson.” (Thanks, SpaceKidd)

"Mark Ronson - his Version album was amazing, particularly Radiohead's Just." (Thanks, Mark)

Next: Butch Vig

The 19 best music producers working today
Butch Vig
Imagine if he'd never made Nevermind

The last 20 years of American rock would have sounded very different had Vig not been involved. Of course, people will talk about his production of Nirvana’s Nevermind, but his work with Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, Green Day and (most recently) Foo Fighters will also have earned him votes. He’s also found the time to write, produce and drum for his own band, Garbage.

Why you love him:

"Butch Vig is a LEGEND! No argument." (Thanks again, Chris)

Next: Kanye West

The 19 best music producers working today
Kanye West
He makes music too you know

At times, it feels like Kanye West’s award show antics and blog rants are eclipsing his talent, but let’s not forget that, as well as his own highly-regarded albums, he’s also produced stellar material for others. The likes of Alicia Keys, John Legend, Jay-Z and Common have all benefited from his studio expertise, and would doubtless attest that West isn’t merely a motormouth with a copy of Auto-Tune.

Why you love him:

"Kanye West - Yes he talks a lot but come on... he's got the tunes to back it up. A couple of years down the line and I guarantee he'll be recognised as a genius." (Thanks, Mike)

Next: Daniel Lanois

The 19 best music producers working today
Daniel Lanois
More than Eno's right hand man

His work with Brian Eno on U2’s biggest albums suggests that Lanois is very much a team player, but he can also do the business when he strikes out on his own. Bob Dylan and Peter Gabriel are just two of the artists who’ve called upon the Canadian’s talents, and he’s also produced albums of his own solo material.

Why you love him:

“Was going to mention Brian Eno, but somebody has already, and I suppose by extension Daniel Lanois is covered also.” (He is now - thanks, Gort)

Next: Timbaland

The 19 best music producers working today
Timbaland
Nelly Furtado owes him a drink

Whereas some of the producers on this list are most highly regarded for their work on album projects, Timbaland also knows how to produce a hit single. In fact, in the noughties, Timothy Mosley’s work has been practically inescapable, with his inventive records spanning hip-hop, R&B and pop. As we reach the end of 2009, he remains the man that everyone wants to work with.

Why you love him:

"You've gotta love Timbaland's 'ooohs' and 'aaahs' that he puts in every song." (Thanks, Ben)

Next: Steve Albini

The 19 best music producers working today
Steve Albini
After Nevermind, Nirvana called him

Albini would probably have made it onto this list if all he’d done was produced Nirvana’s In Utero, but he’s also estimated to have brought his skills to bear on between 1,500 and 2,000 other albums. Interestingly, he doesn’t like to be called a producer, preferring the term recording engineer (though it’s said that he’d rather not be credited on record sleeves at all).

Why you love him:

“I'm split between Steve Albini and Nigel Godrich. Both amazing producers.” (Thanks, chizzle)

"Steve Albini made the best Nirvana record - he gets my vote on that FACT alone." (From Jack via email, thanks)

Next: T-Bone Burnett

The 19 best music producers working today
T-Bone Burnett
Scooping Grammy glory with Plant and Krauss

Originally a recording artist, Burnett is now more famous as a man who sits behind the desk. Having made his name by helming Counting Crows August and Everything After in 1993, he’s been ridiculously busy producing albums and soundtracks ever since. And with Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’s Raising Sand on his CV (the 2009 Grammy Album Of The Year), he’s unlikely to be out of work any time soon.

Why you love him:

“Sparse but gorgeous sounding production of acoustic instruments and vocals without ever being obtrusive or tiring on the ear.” (Thanks, noisepolluter)

Next: Nigel Godrich

The 19 best music producers working today
Nigel Godrich
Meet Radiohead's George Martin

Anyone who’s referred to as “the sixth member of Radiohead” has got to be bringing something to the party, a feeling reinforced by the fact that, as well as the Oxfordshire five-piece, the likes of Paul McCartney, Beck, Travis, Pavement and R.E.M. have also sought out his services. He also produced Band Aid 20’s version of Do They Know It’s Christmas in 2004.

Why you love him:

“He made Paul McCartney wake up and do some real songwriting again.” (Thanks, Haffa)

“Because Radiohead are great and he is the sixth member. And he's got a cool basement.” (Thanks, shizzle)

Next: Brendan O'Brien

The 19 best music producers working today
Brendan O'Brien
Bruce Springsteen has him on speed dial

O’Brien’s big break came in 1990, when he engineered (and played guitar and bass on) Black Crowes’ debut Shake Your Money Maker. Since then, the production credits have come thick and fast, with recent projects including AC/DC’s Black Ice, Pearl Jam’s Backspacer and Bruce Springsteen’s Working On A Dream. If The Boss is calling you, you must be doing something right.

Why you love him:

“Rage Against the Machine's Evil Empire and The Battle Of Los Angeles are so clear: the kick actually kicks you; the snare is so clear you can hear the reverb off it; the guitar sounds raw and live and so do the vocals; the bass you can hear so clearly.” (Thanks, Calvinios)

Next: Dr. Dre

The 19 best music producers working today
Dr. Dre
And you thought we'd forgotten about him

As well as crafting hits on his own and as part of NWA, Dre has also helped to guide the recording careers of Eminem, Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent. He’s known to demand perfection from those he works with, sometimes requiring artists to re-record vocals hundreds of times. Gear wise, Akai’s MPC grooveboxes are known to feature heavily in his productions.

Why you love him:

“Dr. Dre has to mentioned.” (Thanks, Ramirez)

"Dre = hip-hop producer legend." (Thanks, Lee)

Next: Josh Homme

The 19 best music producers working today
Josh Homme
Bringing the noise

Homme has had a hand in the production of most of the albums he’s played on, but it was his work on Arctic Monkeys’ 2009 release Humbug that confirmed that his skills can successfully translate to other artists, too. Of Homme’s band Queens Of The Stone Age, Monkeys drummer Matt Helders said: “They are an inspiration. They show you can still have top tunes and loud, heavy songs”.

Why you love him:

"Josh Homme - all those Desert Sessions with PJ Harvey and the like are amazing. He's definitely one of the best producers working today." (From James via email, thanks)

Next: Brian Eno

The 19 best music producers working today
Brian Eno
With Talking Heads' David Byrne in 1980

The former Roxy musician is perhaps best known for his work with U2, and his production of Coldplay’s Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends confirmed that he’s the go-to man for genre-straddling rock bands. There’s more to Eno than that, though: he helped to invent generative music, created the Microsoft Windows 95 start-up sound and, more recently, released an iPhone app.

Why you love him

“Brian Eno - just listen to his soundscapes, pure awesome. No-one can say this great man hasn't done music a great service. U2, Coldplay and so on! His own records ain’t bad either.” (Thanks, Svure)

Next: your top producer

The 19 best music producers working today
Rick Rubin
From Def Jam to the rejuvenation of Johnny Cash

Given that he’s helmed albums from the likes of The Beastie Boys, Johnny Cash, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Neil Diamond, it would be difficult to argue that there’s a more versatile producer than Rubin. It’s hard to define exactly what he brings to a record, but in most cases, the key word is success. A 2009 nomination for his work on Metallica’s Death Magnetic emphasised that, whatever it is he has, it’s still working.

Why you love him:

“His work with Johnny Cash was great.” (Thanks, longjaw)

“He can make a difference to any band in any genre.” (Thanks, Gort)

"Rubin - the best around, no question." (Thanks, Simon)

Disagree with this list? Have we (or you) left someone out? Let us know in the comments below.

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