The 20 Best Music Producers of All Time
A music producer is someone who assists musicians in creating songs, delivering quality studio performances, and arranging tracks (among other technical specifications). In addition to the classical role of a record producer, music producers are sometimes composers themselves.
This is an attempt at listing the 20 best music producers of all time. I call it an “attempt” because it’s virtually impossible to come up with a definitive list on the topic. For variety, I have included both classical studio music producers (i.e., record producers) and more modern, DAW-based music producers.
The list starts with some of the people I believe to be the most influential music producers ever, but it’s in no particular order:
- 1. George Martin
- 2. Quincy Jones
- 3. Rick Rubin
- 4. Teo Macero
- 5. Max Martin
- 6. Aphex Twin
- 7. Brian Eno
- 8. Dr. Dre
- 9. Nile Rodgers
- 10. Daft Punk
- 11. Jerry Wexler
- 12. Lee “Scratch” Perry
- 13. Stevie Wonder
- 14. Timbaland
- 15. Gary Katz
- 16. Dilla
- 17. Phil Spector
- 18. Skrillex
- 19. Susan Rogers
- 20. Mark Ronson
- Some honorable mentions
1. George Martin
Sir George Martin is referred to as the Fifth Beatle for good reason. The late music producer was essential in assisting the Fab Four in the studio and was responsible for coming up with some of the most iconic arrangements in 20th-century music. Without Martin, The Beatles’ discography wouldn’t sound the same—which is the same as saying that music as we know it wouldn’t sound the same!
The Beatles make for such an influential band that everybody who helped them in any way ended up (inadvertently or not) shaping music history. Out of all the talented people who stepped into John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s way, Martin was arguably the most impactful, as he inspired them to transition from simpler Skiffle tunes into more complex-sounding records.
In my opinion, his studio and arrangement prowess is best exemplified by psychedelic-era records such as “Yellow Submarine,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and “Magical Mystery Tour.”
2. Quincy Jones
The American record producer Quincy Jones is a living legend and one of those rare people whose inventiveness is seemingly neverending. The Chicago, Illinois native started by conducting jazz records in the ’50s, moved on to arranging radio hits in the ’60s, and was made famous for collaborating with Michael Jackson in the ’70s and ’80s. Even though he did pretty much all a music producer can do, Jones has always remained true to his signature style, most transparently shown in the records he released under his own name.
From Frank Sinatra to Michael Jackson to the soundtrack of Walt Disney’s “Fantasia 2000,” Jones was and continues to be an essential part of some of the best music that was put out in the last 100 years. To me, his status as one of the best music producers of all time is unquestionable.
3. Rick Rubin
If you were born anywhere between the ’80s and ’90s, there’s a good chance Rick Rubin has produced one or two of your all-time favorite records. The bearded studio veteran from Long Beach, New York is best known for his role as a hip-hop producer. However, his long body of work also features plenty of successful rock and metal acts.
Rubin made a name for himself by working in the early records of hip-hop acts as influential as LL Cool J, Run-D.M.C., and Beastie Boys. A few years later, he moved on to collaborating with famous bands such as The Cult, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and Mick Jagger. He was also the main producer of most of Slayer’s early records, including the unavoidable “Reign In Blood.”
4. Teo Macero
Born in 1925, the late Teo Macero served in the United States Navy in the ’40s before moving to New York City to study music. From the early ’50s to 2008, the year he passed away, Macero was active as a jazz record producer. Jazz buffs have known him mainly for his work with Miles Davis, to whom he was a reliable and trustable collaborator.
A longtime Columbia Records producer, Macero went down in history as the most influential producer of 20th-century’s jazz history. His list of works includes collaborations with pretty much all the jazz greats one can think of; in addition to Miles, there’s Charles Mingus, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Byrd, and the best-selling Dave Brubeck (just to name a few).
5. Max Martin
The unexpected success of the Swedish record producer Max Martin is evidence of how the music industry has turned into a globalized phenomenon near the turn of the millennium. Although Martin (whose real name is Karl Sandberg) works mainly out of his humble Stockholm, Sweden studio, he’s the driving force behind countless American pop since the ’90s.
Britney Spears, Celine Dion, NSYNC, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Maroon 5… The list goes on and on. If you happen to like the way the hits of any of these artists sound, then you gotta love Martin’s production style! His songs are simple but personalized, extremely catchy, and—in most cases—relentless chart-toppers.
6. Aphex Twin
Unlike most music producers on the list, Richard D. James (aka Aphex Twin) is famous not for his collaborations with other artists, but for the electronic body of work he released under his own name. The grandfather, father, and prodigal son of IDM music, Aphex Twin has been putting out consistently revered records since the early ’90s.
Inspired by the thriving acid house scene of his native Cornwall, Aphex Twin started making music at the precocious age of 14 and never looked back. In today’s DAW-centric music scene, he is more than a hero: he’s the loner genius everybody’s trying to copy, and the unsurpassable symbol of a new type of music-making landscape, in which gadgets and computer programs have replaced typical record gear, and in which the producer’s bedroom has become the new record studio.
7. Brian Eno
The music producer Brian Eno is not only one of the most influential figures in the recent history of music but also one of the most likable. A perennial explorer and experimentalist, Eno’s lived many lives and taken many roles in music, from playing with the glam-rock greats of Roxy Music to popularizing ambient music to becoming a well-known music author.
Eno’s output as an ambient music composer would be enough to credit him as one of music production’s all-time greats. However, in addition to working with acts as excellent as Jon Hassell, Robert Fripp, and the German supergroup Harmonia, Eno has also helped to give life to a neverending list of great pop records from acts as influential as U2, Damon Albarn, and Coldplay.
8. Dr. Dre
Andrew Romell Young (best known as Dr. Dre) isn’t a real doctor, but he changed the hip-hop music production landscape like revolutionary medicine. From Compton to the world, Dre was not only responsible for popularizing the gangsta rap style but also for creating the ground base of the G-Funk genre and for putting beats (and not just rapping) at the center of the hip-hop scene.
There’s no shortage of outstanding hip-hop producers out there, but most hip-hop fans would have to agree that Dre is the all-time best. Arguably the most successful music producer of the ’90s, Dre is also a remarkable businessman with a reported net worth of $800 million, a record label CEO, and the father of eight children.
9. Nile Rodgers
Most people know the one-and-only Nile Rodgers for his clean style of funk-guitar playing. However, this New York City native has done a lot more for music than just chucking his instrument. Did you know, for example, that he was the producer of pop acts as successful as Madonna, Diana Ross, INXS, David Bowie, and Duran Duran?
In recent years, Rodgers was re-popularized for appearing in the seminal Daft Punk record “Random Access Memories.” With his highly influential Disco band Chic, Rodgers proved to be a master at conceiving, designing, and arranging some of the grooviest tunes of our era.
10. Daft Punk
Thomas Bangalter and Guy Manuel de Homem-Christo make up Daft Punk, perhaps the most influential duo in the history of electronic music. The pioneers of the funky French House sound that infected the ’00s, Daft Punk is one of those rare music acts in which quality comes before quantity. Their discography impresses not because of the number of records released, but the sheer, consistent quality of each one.
To me, the album that sets Daft Punk apart as music producers (and not just dance-ready beatmakers) is “Random Access Memories,” a collection of impeccably mixed tunes that puts a much-needed modern twist in the classic Disco Funk sound of the ’70s and ’80s.
Sadly, Bangalter and Homem-Christo decided to put an end to the project in 2021.
11. Jerry Wexler
The late Jerry Wexler was one of the most eclectic music geniuses of the 20th century. In addition to being a remarkable music producer with a body of work that reads like a list of America’s best rock and soul acts, he was also a very influential music journalist, best known for coining the term “Rhythm and Blues.”
Wexler’s journalistic work, however, is not what got him a place on this list. In the end, his main contribution to music history was helping to give life to the records of artists as unforgettable as Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Led Zeppelin, and The Allman Brothers (just to name a few).
12. Lee “Scratch” Perry
I think that any best producer’s list that doesn’t include the legendary Jamaican music producer Lee “Scratch” Perry must be incomplete. Why? It’s not just because Perry helped to shape the sound of reggae by working with the likes of Bob Marley and The Congos. It’s also not just because he showed his versatility by collaborating with acts such as The Clash, The Orb, and the Beastie Boys…
Rather, Perry’s place on the list is justified by the fact that he was one of the first music producers to see the potential of using the studio as an instrument. By developing many groundbreaking processing techniques and coming up with some of the first de-facto remixes in music history, Perry single-handedly put Dub on the map and inspired countless other music producers to step into more creative roles in the studio.
13. Stevie Wonder
Between 1972 and 1976, the legendary Stevie Wonder released “Music of My Mind,” “Talking Book,” “Innervisions,” “Fullfilingness’ First Finale,” and “Songs in the Key of Life.” Yes, that’s five masterpiece records in roughly five years! During his most fertile period as a musician, Wonder did it all, from singing, composing, and playing the drums to working as his own music producer.
I know that there are plenty of other music producers out there that could’ve taken Wonder’s place on this list. But how could I ignore the fact that Stevie Wonder’s records sound unlike anything that’s ever been released? After all, his discography features some of the cleanest, most stellar mixes I have ever heard. Wonder gets a lot of credit for his work as a singer and composer, but it’s about time we recognize him to be an all-time great music producer.
In the ’00s, music producer Timbaland proved that pop music could have interesting beats and still make it to the top of the charts. The man behind countless MTV-fueled hits, Timothy Mosley (that’s his real name) helped to put the likes of Missy Elliott and Ginuwine on the map and revitalized the careers of artists such as Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado.
It’s hard to take things for granted in music but, in the ’00s, it was safe to assume that every record produced by Timbaland was inevitably going to make an impact. While this production god isn’t as busy as he used to be nowadays, he will always be known for his magic touch of Midas.
15. Gary Katz
If you’ve just bought a new sound system and you want to put it up to the test, just choose your favorite Steely Dan record and give it a spin. Steely Dan’s music is perfect for testing new sound systems for a reason, and that’s Gary Katz! A record producer who grew up in Brooklyn, Katz is known and revered for his ultra-clean, ahead-of-its-time rock mixes.
Apart from Steely Dan, with whom he did his best work, Katz also worked with musicians as inspiring as Curtis Mayfield, Diana Ross, Joe Cocker, and 10cc.
If Dr. Dre was the hip-hop producer who showed the world that hip-hop beats were more than just a platform for rappers (meaning they could be more fun and complex than ever assumed before), then J Dilla is the hip-hop producer who showed the world that instrumental hip-hop was a full-blown genre in its own right. He achieved it by crafting some of the most compelling beats of the turn of the millennium despite passing away at the tragically young age of 32.
To this day, Dilla is still remembered as the ultimate MPC composer, the prime example of a bedroom beatmaker, and the man who pioneered the “drunk” drum swing by snubbing quantization. His abilities are best displayed in “Workinot” and “Donuts,” the record he released just three days before passing away.
17. Phil Spector
Unfortunately, Phil Spector did some awful things while he was alive. For that reason, I wondered if it would be better to leave him out of this list. Instead of focusing on “Spector the man,” though, I decided to focus on “Spector the music producer” because I believe the latter did help to make the world a little bit better.
Once we overlook Spector’s murder conviction, we begin to realize that he’s a perfect fit for a list of the best music producers of all time. In addition to working with acts as influential as Ike & Tina Turner, Jack Nitzsche (one of the best film composers ever), Leonard Cohen, Ramones, and even The Beatles, Spector coined the famous Wall of Sound—a style of arrangement production based on huge clusters of instruments and dense tonal exploration.
Sonny More, known by most people as Skrillex, is not unanimously beloved. But whether you’re into Dubstep or not, you have to admit that Skrillex knows how to put a fire beat together. Ever since he stormed into the electronic music scene in 2010, he never stopped reinventing himself, putting out new quality releases, and collaborating with fellow producers as talented as Boyz Noize and Diplo.
More than one decade since he put Dubstep on everybody’s map, Skrillex is still pushing the envelope. He has a whopping eight Grammy Awards, more than any other EDM producer in history.
19. Susan Rogers
This slot on the list could belong to Prince. I decided to go with Susan Rogers instead because I thought it would be silly to make a list of the best music producers ever without including at least one woman. In an evidently male-dominated industry, Rogers made a name for herself by working as Prince’s trusted staff engineer and helping the late pop artist to craft albums as legendary as “Purple Rain” and “Sign o’ the Times.”
But that’s not all! More than Prince’s right-hand woman, Rogers also worked as a sound engineer for the likes of David Byrne, Tricky, and the Barenaked Ladies.
20. Mark Ronson
Commercial success isn’t what makes a music producer great. However, part of the job of a music producer is to ensure that his or her songs will catch the eye of the general public. The British record producer and composer Mark Ronson is exemplary at this, and his abilities behind the mixer have been the target of both critical and commercial praise.
Even though Ronson will always be remembered for his work with the late Amy Winehouse, I believe he was at his very best when he came up with the irresistible “Uptown Funk.”
Some honorable mentions
As stated in the initial paragraphs of the article, there’s no point in trying to create a definitive list of the best music producers of all time. I have tried my best to pick a top 20 that’s diverse both history- and genre-wise, but I’m fully aware that I have forgotten many music producers that also deserved to be on the list.
Even though there will still be some big names missing, the following producers deserve an honorable mention:
- Pharrell Williams: One of the biggest names in hip-hop and R&B production (and, curiously enough, Timbaland’s cousin);
- Danger Mouse: The music producer behind Gnarls Barkley and the author of “The Grey Album,” arguably the most influential mash-up record ever;
- Steve Albini: A Shellac member, guitar god, and legendary rock record producer best known for his work with Nirvana;
- Lauryn Hill: In addition to being the female rapper with the most Grammy Awards (eight) and one of the biggest names in Neo-Soul, Hill is also an incredibly talented music producer;
- Kanye West: One of the most influential hip-hop artists of the 21st century, who pioneered the chipmunk-soul sampling style and released “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” one of the most important albums in recent history;
- Sam Phillips: The man behind the records of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Howlin’ Wolf, and many other early rock-and-roll greats;
- Missy Elliott: A longtime Timbaland collaborator who’s among the most creatively ambitious female rappers who have ever lived;
- Allen Toussaint: A major name in the development and popularization of the New Orleans’ R&B scene;
- Giorgio Moroder: The Italian icon who almost single-handedly pioneered Space Disco and Euro Disco in the late ’70s;
- Dylan Brady: An amazing record producer born in 1993 who’s helped to put together some of the best Hyperpop songs ever released.
George Martin Featured Image (Top-Left) by: David Train, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Quincy Jones Featured Image (Top-Right) by: Canadian Film Centre, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Rick Rubin Featured Image (Bottom-Left) by: jasontheexploder, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Teo Macero Featured Image (Bottom-Right) by: Catherine Rankovic, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons