Sound & Vision: RedOne and 10 Other Producers Ruling Music
They produce the songs that make the whole world sing -- and dance, and mosh, and head-bob, and do the country two-step. RedOne and 10 other producers who rule the music universe:
Five years ago, the Billboard Hot 100 was a safe haven for the type of funked-up electro Timbaland was making for Keri Hilson and Justin Timberlake, but relatively free of techno-synth choruses and strobe-light breakdowns. America has certainly had its dalliances with Euro-style dance music, but mass pop audiences never quite bought into the glitzy brand of techno that could sell out Ibiza.
But in 2008, when Moroccan-born producer RedOne (real name: Nadir Khayat) conjoined his globally honed dance sensibilities with Lady Gaga's subversive star power for a string of top 10 hits, the entire industry shifted. Their first hit, "Just Dance," spent 49 weeks on the chart, three of those hovering at No. 1; "Poker Face" was its chart-topping follow-up. While RedOne's singles for Gaga, including "Bad Romance" and "Alejandro," continued cracking the top 10 into 2010, he was enlisted for flashy synths on Usher's "More" and Enrique Iglesias' "I Like It" -- each cementing the growing demand for spacey, big-room club tracks.
As the American industry catches up to a sound that Europeans perfected a decade ago, RedOne hopes to propel his music forward. The global nature of his upbringing -- in Morocco, Sweden, the United States -- has helped him understand mass markets worldwide, and right now he's betting on Porcelain Black, a new artist on his imprint 2101 who blends traditional rock with gritty dance beats.
But the ultimate test of RedOne's scope will be his work with U2 -- one of the only groups on the planet bigger than Gaga, with fans equally as fierce -- which he's taking, he says, in a more futuristic direction. If RedOne ends up getting Bono to a rave, the world will indeed be his. -- Julianne Escobedo Shepherd
Adam Anders is executive music producer for "Glee" and will produce and compose music for the film version of the musical "Rock of Ages" with his partner Peer Astrom. He's producing the Disney Channel's Shane Harper's debut for his AMi Records.
"When I did my audition for "Glee" we traded sounds. You don't know if anyone will agree with you, but you have to figure out what are the needs of the project, and of the artist, and offer your vision. All I do is what I like, and hope someone else likes it, too. Everything on the show has developed over the two years. I've evolved, but there are some things that have stayed the same.
The music had to be inspirational and uplifting-I didn't want to do a show that was going to be karaoke. The goal was to make everything sound like a record. TV isn't used to making records because of the cost. I think "Glee" creator Ryan Murphy saw the songs as a bit of fantasy, which was my feeling, too. So the songs have to sound like what the kids think they sound like in their heads when they're singing along to Madonna or Lady Gaga. As much volume of music as there is on "Glee," we kill ourselves until we're satisfied it meets the highest standards." -As told to Phil Gallo
T Bone Burnett
T Bone Burnett doesn't let technology -- or heavy-handedness -- create obstacles on the journey toward art. From groundbreaking soundtracks for such films as "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and "The Big Lebowski," to blockbusters like Counting Crows' "August and Everything After," to such recent critically acclaimed collaborations as the Grammy Award-winning Alison Krauss/Robert Plant album "Raising Sand" and Elton John and Leon Russell's "The Union," Burnett has a knack for getting to the heart of artists' visions. While he delves into a wide range of genres, he's most active in country, blues and Americana, including recent work with Gregg Allman, the Secret Sisters, John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson, Ryan Bingham and Steve Earle.
Defining a trademark Burnett "sound" is difficult. But words like "organic," "rootsy," "authentic" and even "American" come to mind. "The reason T Bone is so successful, and the reason I work with him, is [that] his sense of honesty toward the music is unparalleled," says Mellencamp, whose last two albums were produced by Burnett. "He's my conscience in the studio." -Ray Waddell
Diplo may be known to many as That Well-Dressed Producer from a 2010 BlackBerry Torch commercial, but his indie-dance production work has been making ripples in the mainstream for years. When he's not recording as one-half of dancehall duo Major Lazer or functioning as the label head of Mad Decent, the 32-year-old producer (real name: Thomas Wesley Pentz) is crafting beats for artists like Yelawolf, Robyn and ex-flame M.I.A.
Although he believes that his style is "indefinable," Diplo says that his most successful beats contain elements that rail against pop trends, like the gunshots in M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" or the squiggly synths in Chris Brown's "Look at Me Now." "I'm not trying to think, 'What's the popular sound?' I try to think about what's the most fucked up thing I can do," he says. "Keep an attitude instead of chasing a style-you'll be successful."
While Diplo continues working on projects (next up: new Major Lazer; production for breaking rapper Jackie Chain), he'll keep his finger on the pulse by touring and playing solo DJ sets. "I know exactly what works and what doesn't, what's exciting, what's getting toward the edge, what kind of styles are the tipping point," Diplo says of being a studio producer who stays active on the road. "I probably spend 80% of my time traveling for DJ gigs. I don't want to give up that edge." -Jason Lipshutz
"I'm a rock guy -- Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney -- in the classic sense. I prefer to see real instruments, not machines. I like people playing in front of me in real time. I always try to keep the human factor in the recordings. People seek me out because I capture a live feel. It's important to preserve that spark.
Twenty years after grunge, people still beat a path to my door-I could probably work every single day if I wanted to. I'm an old-school guy who uses modern equipment in a modern setting, and a lot of bands like that. I'm constantly going back to the first records I bought, like the Who and Led Zeppelin, and no matter what type of band I'm producing-be it rock, pop, metal, whatever-I approach it with a rock aesthetic. I don't like to sterilize the life force out of a recording. I'm doing a jazz record right now and we're not using any click tracks. I want albums to have an organic feel, no matter the genre.
The last time I worked with a U.S. major label was 15 years ago. The business model makes no sense. I've worked with majors from other countries, but they're more nimble. And the indies have always been good to me." -As told to Cortney Harding
Lex Luger doesn't approach a record with aspirations of mass appeal. His rapid-fire, marching-band-style drum patterns, along with haunting strings, operatic background vocals and heavy bass licks have always been created for the people closest to him-and for the environments with which he's most familiar. "My sound is made for the club," says Luger, 19, whose real name is Lexus Lewis. "When I make music for my homeboys, it's about jumping around, going crazy."
These days, Luger is making more than just his friends jump around. From last summer's "B.M.F. (Blowin' Money Fast)" from Rick Ross, which hit No. 60 on the Billboard Hot 100, to recent Hot 100 hit "H*A*M" (No. 23), the first single from Kanye West and Jay-Z's collaboration "Watch the Throne," the Virginia native's sinister brand of crunk has become one of the most sought-after sounds in hip-hop. Luger has taken some heat from critics who dismiss him as a one-trick pony, but to hear him tell it, if anyone deserves blame for making his current sound so popular, it's the artists selecting his beats. "I might send 40 beats to one artist," Luger says. "They might pick that one beat that sounds like 'B.M.F.,' because they want that hit.
"My path is kind of like Lil Jon's -- Jon had one sound," Luger says. "But he killed it for two, three years with that one sound." Luger doesn't plan to keep dancing with the beats that brought him. "I have so many other sounds people are going to hear," he says. "I'll make 20 beats back to back. I don't care what anyone thinks-I'm pouring out how I feel." -Jozen Cummings
Max Martin reignited pop music on the U.S. airwaves in the mid-'90s. But he also deserves credit for concocting the sonic signatures of Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Robyn, 'N Sync and Katy Perry -- while producing and writing for an eclectic posse of artists that mesh his trademark singalong hooks with a multitude of genres. Take a deep breath: Celine Dion, Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams, Def Leppard, Kelly Clarkson, P!nk, Avril Lavigne, Enrique Iglesias, Cyndi Lauper and Leona Lewis.
Martin's roster of hits earned the Swede ASCAP's songwriter of the year honor in 1999, 2000 and 2001. He's the first non-U.S. citizen to ever merit the award. In November 2010, Martin held hands with a record previously set by the Beatles in 1964, commandeering four hits simultaneously in the Billboard Hot 100's top 10 (by P!nk, Usher, Taio Cruz and Perry). In all, Martin has scored 10 No. 1 hits on the Hot 100. Ironically, the first was Spears' ". . . Baby One More Time" in 1999, and the most recent was 2011's "Hold It Against Me," also by Spears.
Songwriter Carole Bayer Sager told Time that Martin "brings one of the most extraordinary pop sensibilities to come along in a very long time." Likewise, Simon Cowell told the magazine, "If you've got Max Martin, you have a better chance of having a worldwide hit than with anyone else." -Chuck Taylor
Since the mid-'90s, Mike Mogis has had a hand in producing more than 60 albums, including releases by Bright Eyes (of which he's a permanent member), the Faint and Rilo Kiley. He's currently working on an album from Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit.
"I try to mix it up on every record, to keep it fresh. I also try to coax the most believable, sincere and emotive performance out of the band or artist . . . Building that trust between the artist and me puts them in a comfortable position. When you're recording music for the first time with a producer, you feel vulnerable. The trust thing is what really helps get people to perform in a sincere way. Another thing that pervades my records is the combining of unique sounds-taking chances and combining elements that don't typically go together. The other characteristic inherent in my production is taking a few risks with the ornamentation and colors that are put on the track.
I used to think that being a producer carried this baggage of being too corporate. So I thought of myself as an engineer who helped artists formulate a song and create parts. But I guess that turned out to be what a producer does-they help someone realize their ideas and bring them into a real tangible state." -As told to Mitchell Peters
"My trademark sounds are live strings, piano, electronic elements and guitars with textures that are more atmospheric than melodic. I try to find a balance between classical and electronic. The electronic elements keep me edgy and current. But that classical quota extends the life of the songs and makes them less fleeting. My sound for artists like Marc Anthony, Diego Torres, Mickael Carreira and Nelly Furtado is intense.
As a classical pianist I have an enormous classical influence. My goal is to not be ignored, and to move the listener and find the elements that intensify the emotion I'm working toward. Definitely, the piano is a trademark, but I give myself space inside my head because the best versions are there. I try to work things out in my head, come as close as I can to what I want to do, find the ideal instrument, and when I have everything as figured out as possible, I record a demo. Not everything will be there 100% when I record, but I try to have at least 90% of the elements figured out. Otherwise, the process of repetition wears things down, and they lose their essence." -As told to Leila Cobo
Classic melodies driven by a hard beat or unique chord structure. That's the trademark of Stargate, the Norwegian production duo behind such R&B/hip-hop crossover hits as Wiz Khalifa's "Black and Yellow" and "Roll Up," Rihanna's "S&M" and "What's My Name?," and Beyoncé's "Irreplaceable."
After writing and producing songs for mostly U.K.-signed acts, including Mis-teeq ("Scandalous"), Tor Erik Hermansen and Mikkel S. Eriksen journeyed stateside in the mid-2000s. The pair clicked with such early hits as Ne-Yo's "So Sick" and Lionel Richie's R&B comeback "I Call It Love."
"We may have 500 song ideas a year," Eriksen told Sound on Sound magazine. "We developed our craft over a long time, so when we have an idea it's easy for us to execute it. I can have the right sounds in five minutes, and we have very effective and quick ways of working without compromising quality."
He continued: "It's like when you're cooking: Three great ingredients work better than 10 different tastes competing with each other. For that reason we try to focus on simplicity and primary colors in our songs and arrangements. We use bright red and yellow and try to keep them separate."
Stargate's sound has powered up hits ranging from Rihanna's "Take a Bow" to Kelly Rowland's "Grown Woman" to Chris Brown's "With You." The duo is reportedly in the studio again with Beyoncé, and just finished Jennifer Lopez's new single, "I'm Into You," featuring Lil Wayne. -Gail Mitchell
As a former honcho at Sony BMG and Warner Bros. in Nashville, Paul Worley is well-versed on driving home hits. He discovered the Dixie Chicks in the mid-'90s, co-produced their first two albums and played guitar on their debut single, "I Can Love You Better," which garnered two Grammys. Worley also signed Martina McBride, Sara Evans and Big & Rich, while producing a tapestry of country acts since the early '80s, including Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Marie Osmond and Blake Shelton.
When Warner declined to sign Lady Antebellum, Worley left the label and produced the act's self-titled 2008 debut album, which included "I Run to You," the No. 1 country song of 2009 and Grammy winner for best country performance by a duo or group. Worley then produced Lady A's second album, 2010's "Need You Now." It cleaned up at the 2011 Grammys, winning best country album, while its title track-which he co-wrote with the group-took record of the year, song of the year and best country song.
Clarke Schleicher, who has collaborated with Worley for 25 years as an engineer and mixer, told Sound on Sound magazine in 2010, "Paul has an amazing ability to see the big picture. He can marry artists to his songs with his productions and is able to see the forest for the trees." -Chuck Taylor