Being a producer may be a position of power, but it doesn’t garner you as much popular attention as the talent onstage, onscreen, or in the studio. Even if you know a few movie producers, chances are many of them, like Steven Spielberg, are most famous for their directorial work. The same holds true for the men behind the music booths. Here’s a look at some of the ways the best music producers out there have shaped the music industry.
If you’ve ever listened to a song by Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, or Johnny Cash, chances are you’re listening to something that was at least partially the work of Sam Phillips as well. The mind behind Sun Records, the legendary Nashville recording studio, left an indelible mark on 1950s music and Americana. He was big on giving younger talents their start, which is how he wound up launching the careers of singers like B.B. King. Phillips was a big proponent of racial equality, especially noteworthy given his Nashville location during the social upheaval of the Civil Rights Movement.
That kind of innovative progressivism that goes far beyond music and should strike a chord with all of us.
Such was the influence George Martin had on the Fab Four’s sound that he was occasionally referred to as “the Fifth Beatle.” While early Beatles tracks were songs they could and did perform on tour, by the middle of their career with Sgt. Pepper and Revolver they were recording tracks that could only be performed in the studio. All those sound editing tricks and the litany of harps, string sections, psychedelia, and other audio innovations you hear in the Beatles’ mid to late period, a lot of that is thanks to the work of George Martin.
If Motown’s sound can be traced to one person, it’s Berry Gordy. He not only established Motown but branded it and recruited the talent to transform it into a cultural force. Few genres owe as much to a single producer as Motown-era Soul and Funk owe to Berry Gordy.
While a great music producer isn’t always seen, their products are heard for eternity.