Sound Selectors: The Top 10 Producers in Music
Mike WiLL Made It and Miley Cyrus attend the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards at the Barclays Center on August 25, 2013 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Larry Busacca/Getty Images for MTV

From an indie-rap hero’s surprise takeover to a hard rocker’s Nashville power move, our top 10 producers broke big boundaries and crafted even bigger hits. Here, we head behind the boards and profile the soundmen who ruled the charts.

10

Alex Da Kid

“I want to make music that has no boundaries,” says Alex Da Kid (real name Alexander Grant). The British producer, who gave up on a career as a footballer, first lived up to this goal with Eminem and Rihanna’s 2010 hit “Love the Way You Lie,” a pop-rap blend that reached No. 1 for seven weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 and helped land him a joint venture with Interscope, KIDinaKorner. Alex Da Kid continues to break down lines with the label’s signings of alt-poppers X Ambassadors, big-voiced blues man Jamie N Commons and singer Skylar Grey, whose sophomore album Don’t Look Down reached No. 8 on the Billboard 200. “I want there to be no genre,” he says, “and I want my artists to kind of reflect that, too.”

But it’s his work with the label’s resident hard rockers, Imagine Dragons, that found him huge success in the past year. The band’s 2012 debut, Night Visions, landed at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and produced the dubstep-laced “Radioactive,” which has spent 57 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 3. —Nick Williams

Songs on Hot 100: 2

Biggest Hit: Imagine Dragons, “Radioactive” (No. 3)

Other Notable Songs: Imagine Dragons, “Demons” (No. 28)

9

Baauer

“I started off thinking, ‘I’ve never heard this type of dance-y synth on top of a hip-hop beat,’” DJ/producer Harry “Baauer” Rodrigues says about his now-historic “Harlem Shake.” “I had a feeling it was fresh.” In February, the genre-bending instrumental track became a global video meme, spurring more than 10.5 million homemade clips that drove it to the top of the Billboard Hot 100—the first song to make it there thanks to YouTube streams, under the chart’s revised methodology. It took home two Billboard Music Awards in May and continues to sell well.

At the time, Baauer pledged not to change the course of his career based on the international success of “Harlem Shake,” focusing on the emerging dance/hip-hop crossover scene that many have dubbed “trap.” Eight months later, he’s stayed true to his word. “Higher,” his Jay Z-sampling collaboration with early supporter Just Blaze, arrived in August on the newly revived Priority label after racking up 1.5 million prerelease SoundCloud listens. He dropped the three-track Dum Dum EP on super-cool LuckyMe Records, played dance festivals across the globe and delivered solid remixes for No Doubt, the Prodigy, Disclosure and AlunaGeorge. Now, he’s in the studio working on “something big for 2014,” he says. Tracks with Femi Kuti and AraabMUZIK (with whom he’s touring in the fall) are already done. —Kerri Mason

Songs on Hot 100: 1

Biggest Hit: “Harlem Shake” (No. 1, five weeks)

8

Joey Moi

It’s 2,500 miles from Tumbler Ridge, British Columbia, to Nashville. But for producer Joey Moi, the distance from his tiny hometown to Music City is measured in hits, not miles. While the 37-year-old’s path—from producing Nickelback smashes like “Photograph” and “Rock Star” north of the border to recording with Jake Owen and Florida Georgia Line south of the Mason-Dixon—may seem like a twisted one, it makes perfect sense to him.

Moi specializes in populist music that “rocks people’s balls off,” he says. “I just love the larger-than-life version of a song. Drum fills you can play on your steering wheel. You can imagine pyro going off: ‘I can see flames coming up behind the band right now!’ That’s the brand I always wanted to create.”

Moi has firebombed Billboard’s Hot Country Songs and Country Airplay charts during the past two years with his rock and country hybrid, producing a slew of No. 1s, including Owen’s “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” and “Alone With You” (co-produced with Rodney Clawson and Tony Brown), as well as Florida Georgia Line’s “Get Your Shine On,” “Round Here” and “Cruise.” The lattermost spent a staggering 24 weeks atop Hot Country Songs, the longest tenure in the chart’s 69-year history. Not bad for someone who didn’t start dabbling in country professionally until 2009.

“We call him ‘the Wizard’ because his brain is so amazing,” says Brian Kelley, who, along with Tyler Hubbard, make up Florida Georgia Line. “He can create these sounds—the things he can do on the computer, the things he hears in his head. He’s always pushing for better. He takes our songs and makes them huge.” —Melinda Newman

Songs on Hot 100: 5

Biggest Hit: Florida Georgia Line, “Cruise” (No. 4)

Other Notable Songs: Florida Georgia Line's “Get Your Shine On” (No. 27), Florida Georgia Line's “Round Here” (No. 28)

7

Dann Huff

For Dann Huff, there’s no set formula for creating a hit—every artist, and every collaboration, is different. “You ask a lot of questions and you listen to what they are about,” says Huff, whose recent credits include Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts and the Band Perry. “The beauty is in the collaboration. Listening to how someone else hears it and sees it, you’re able to come up with something new—that’s what makes music enjoyable.”

Huff began his career in the rock bands Whiteheart and Giant before turning to session work, playing guitar for Celine Dion, Shania Twain and Michael Jackson, among others, and then production. A two-time Academy of Country Music producer honoree, he’s placed 16 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 in the past year, more than any other producer, including three singles from Swift’s Red—most notably “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” which also helped land co-producers Max Martin and Shellback on this list. Huff was also at the helm for the Band Perry’s Pioneer. “With the types of shows we’re playing these days, we needed big sounds,” lead vocalist Kimberly Perry says. “Dann was the man for that.”

More recently, Huff produced Cassadee Pope’s country debut, Frame by Frame (due Oct. 8), and has new projects by Brantley Gilbert, the Cadillac Three and Danielle Bradbery coming up. “And I’m really looking forward to the new Hunter Hayes record,” he adds. “We’ll start working on that at the end of this year.” —Deborah Evans Price

Songs on Hot 100: 16

Biggest Hit: Taylor Swift, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” (No. 1, three weeks)

Other Notable Songs: Taylor Swift, “Red” (No. 6)
Taylor Swift, “Begin Again” (No. 7)

6

Shellback

Although Johan “Shellback” Schuster doesn’t quite possess the name recognition of his mentor Max Martin, the reclusive Swedish producer has had just as much success during the past half-decade. Shellback began his pop career by scoring writing credits on Britney Spears’ “If U Seek Amy” and P!nk’s “So What,” both Martin productions, in 2008. The following year, he stepped up to co-producing on hits including Adam Lambert’s “Whataya Want From Me.”

In the years that followed, Shellback’s warm approach to electro-pop—and his continued collaborations with Martin—have resulted in recent radio success for acts like Usher, Maroon 5 and, most of all, Taylor Swift, whose 2012 album Red landed three Shellback co-productions in the Hot 100, including “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” which spent three weeks at No. 1. Shellback has also been making moves without Martin of late, collaborating with Icona Pop and landing a Hot 100 hit with Cher Lloyd’s “Want U Back.”

“He’s a big-picture guy,” says producer-songwriter Benny Blanco, who has worked with Shellback on blockbusters such as Maroon 5’s “Payphone” and “Moves Like Jagger.” “The dude is a genius. He can say, ‘I have an idea,’ and it will be done in five seconds.” —Jason Lipshutz

Songs on Hot 100: 8

Biggest Hit: Maroon 5, “One More Night” (No. 1, nine weeks)

Other Notable Songs: Taylor Swift, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” (No. 1, three weeks)
Taylor Swift, “I Knew You Were Trouble” (No. 2)

5

Max Martin

Arguably no producer has defined the past 20 years of pop music more than Max Martin. The Swedish producer began in the early ’90s by continuing his country’s legacy of pristine pop, producing Billboard Hot 100 hits like Ace of Base’s “Beautiful Life.” By the end of the decade, he was crafting the beat-heavy, -bubble-gum sound of the “Total Request Live” golden age, writing and producing numerous hits for Backstreet Boys, ’N Sync and Britney Spears, whose “. . . Baby One More Time” scored him his first No. 1 on the Hot 100.

But what’s even more remarkable about Martin is how his golden touch hasn’t waned through the years. If anything, his recent résumé suggests he’s getting stronger and becoming even more in tune with the lay of the pop landscape. Since 2012, he’s handled chart-toppers by acts as diverse as Maroon 5 (“One More Night”) and Taylor Swift (“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”), and promises to have another strong run on the charts with Katy Perry’s PRISM, where his “Roar” (which he co-wrote and -produced alongside Dr. Luke and others) has already gone to No. 1. —Chris Payne

Songs on Hot 100: 10

Biggest Hit: Maroon 5, “One More Night” (No. 1, nine weeks)

Other Notable Songs: Taylor Swift, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” (No. 1, three weeks)
Katy Perry, “Roar” (No. 1, two weeks)

4

Mike Will Made It

When Mike Will Made It’s sonic signature—a woman purring his name—laces a track, expect a hit to follow. “Am I the producer of the year or what?” the 24-year-old Atlanta native jokes. He has much to be excited about. After becoming hip-hop’s most ubiquitous producer, thanks to hits with Lil Wayne, Drake and 2 Chainz, he made inroads into R&B with Kelly Rowland (“Kisses Down Low”) and Rihanna (“Pour It Up”), and is set for pop domination: “We Can’t Stop,” by rumored girlfriend Miley Cyrus, peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and the duo collaborated on much of her new Bangerz.

Next up, Mike Will is producing a majority of frequent collaborator Future’s upcoming Honest, and he’s even releasing his own triple-disc recording debut, Est. in 1989 Pt. 3 (The Album) next year, leading the way with current single “23,” featuring Cyrus, Wiz Khalifa and Juicy J. He also recently launched joint-venture label Eardrumma Records with Interscope. “Hopefully it keeps going,” Mike Will says of his recent successes. “I just want to change the game.” —Sowmya Krishamurthy

Songs on Hot 100: 12

Biggest Hit: Miley Cyrus, “We Can’t Stop” (No. 2)

Other Notable Songs: Lil Wayne featuring Drake & Future, “Love Me” (No. 9)
Rihanna, “Pour It Up” (No. 19)

3

The Smeezingtons

Each member of the Smeezingtons—the trio of Bruno Mars, Philip Lawrence and Ari Levine—adds his own special sauce: Lawrence is a melody and lyrics maestro, Levine has recording-engineer smarts, and Mars is, well, Mars, touching everything Smeez-related with his kinetic virtuosity. “Nine times out of 10, Bruno will be on the piano, singing something,” Levine says. “I’ll have a beat going, and Philip will be figuring out lyrics and melody. Whatever sparks something, we just try not to mess it up.”

After forming in 2009, the Smeezingtons quickly landed blockbusters like Cee Lo Green’s “F**k You (Forget You),” B.o.B’s “Nothin’ on You”—their first Billboard Hot 100 No. 1—and, of course, Mars’ own solo debut chart-topper, 2010’s “Just the Way You Are.” This past year, Mars’ second album, 2012’s Unorthodox Jukebox, spawned three top 10s for the crew and helped it land its second producer of the year Grammy nod. “To be nominated for a Grammy before you’re 30—you don’t expect that, ever,” Levine says. —Matt Diehl

Songs on Hot 100: 3

Biggest Hit: Bruno Mars, “Locked Out of Heaven” (No. 1, six weeks)

Other Notable Songs:Bruno Mars, “When I Was Your Man” (No. 1)
Bruno Mars, “Treasure” (No. 5)

2

Jeff Bhasker

Los Angeles producer Jeff Bhasker is one of 2013’s most dominant, most diverse soundmen. He’s responsible for six singles on the Billboard Hot 100 during the period measured, including fun.’s “We Are Young,” which spent six weeks at No. 1. Bhasker earned a song of the year Grammy Award for the track and worked on the band’s chart-topping singles “Carry On” and “Some Nights.” The keyboardist/songwriter/-producer, who made his breakthrough with Kanye West’s 2008 album 808s & Heartbreak, also co-produced Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven” (six weeks at No. 1) and helmed P!nk’s “Just Give Me a Reason” and Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire.”

Bhasker works in a variety of genres, but one thing is constant: He always looks to pull the best out of an artist. “Once the first five songs got done for fun., I told them, ‘We’re making the album of the year,’” Bhasker says. “That comes from Kanye. When we’re working on his albums we’re not settling for anything less than making an album that will have an impact on society. This is an album of the year-caliber release. It’s not about winning; it’s a standard to try and live up to.” —Emily Zemler

Songs on Hot 100: 6

Biggest Hit: Fun. featuring Janelle Monáe, “We Are Young” (No. 1, six weeks)

Other Notable Songs: Bruno Mars, “Locked Out of Heaven” (No. 1, six weeks)
P!nk featuring Nate Reuss, “Just Give Me a Reason” (No. 1, three weeks)

1

Ryan Lewis

In Australia they’re called “op shops.”

Thanks to his international smash hit, and six-week Billboard Hot 100 chart-topper “Thrift Shop,” Ryan Lewis, 25, has newfound knowledge of and appreciation for thrifting culture around the world. Wherever Lewis and Macklemore, the rapper and his key collaborator, travel in support of their platinum debut album, The Heist, fans unfailingly regale the Seattle duo with tales of their own adventures in second-hand clothes shopping—a pastime with unexpectedly universal appeal.

“We thought it was a fun, kind of weird, pretty catchy song that would do really well among a small pocket of people that liked thrift shops—almost like a cult audience,” Lewis says. “And then the next thing you know you’re on the other side of the world and it’s playing out of bars and taxis. It’s still kind of jaw-dropping to me.”

“Thrift Shop,” a song with a playfully irrepressible saxophone loop and lyrics extolling the virtues of a good bargain, catapulted Macklemore and Lewis to pop-star status, a quantum leap from the indie-rap circles in which they were used to traveling. To date, the video for the song has racked up more than 425 million views on YouTube, helping drive it to platinum status seven times over and a comfortable position as the biggest-selling song of the year.

A lightning-in-a-bottle hit like “Thrift Shop” is any producer’s dream, but Lewis stands apart in 2013 for his work on two subsequent singles that rode similar waves to cultural ubiquity. “Can’t Hold Us,” a foot-stomping, piano-filled party anthem with a soulful hook courtesy of Ray Dalton, also reached No. 1 on the Hot 100 this year, making Macklemore and Lewis the first duo in the chart’s history to crack the top spot with both of its first two singles.

Third single “Same Love,” featuring Mary Lambert, was an anthem of a different kind. The poignant and personal ballad became an unofficial song of the gay rights movement due to its stance against homophobia. First released in July 2012, the song climbed to No. 11 on the Hot 100 this year—a position it held for four nonconsecutive weeks—in a surge of popularity following the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in June to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act.

“The piano in that song, to me, felt like a throwback to the civil rights era,” Lewis says. “And with the issue of gay rights and gay marriage, I think that’s exactly what we’re in right now. It’s the biggest civil rights movement of our generation.”

Macklemore and Lewis have been on tour criss-crossing the globe since the release of The Heist last October, but they’ve managed to eke out some time to start work on LP No. 2. Lewis says they’ve amped up writing and producing efforts as they’ve become more comfortable on the road. But it’s still early in the process, and with its last three singles still hovering in the top 50 of the Hot 100, the duo isn’t in any hurry.

“One of things that we did with the last album that I know I want to do again is take our time and live a little bit of real life while we’re recording,” Lewis says. “Everything changes between your first and sophomore albums, and I think the most important thing for us is to get back a sense of normalcy.” —Reggie Ugwu

Songs on Hot 100: 3

Biggest Hit: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Wanz, “Thrift Shop” (No. 1, six weeks)

Other Notable Songs: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Ray Dalton, “Can’t Hold Us” (No. 1, five weeks)
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Mary Lambert, “Same Love“ (No. 11)

 

Methodology: The rankings for the top producers are based on accumulated Billboard Hot 100 points, incorporating sales, radio and streaming data provided by Nielsen SoundScan and Nielsen BDS, for the issues dated Sept. 1, 2012, through Aug. 31, 2013. If more than one producer is credited on a track, points for that title are divided equally among each producer.