The following post contains added commentary by MC Man, fellow music enthusiast. Besides being the one to initiate this post topic, MC is further qualified to give his opinion by the fact that he’s seen every DJ artist on the list except Skrillex and Deadmau5. Now, let’s get on with it…
Scene 1: You’re in the club, booty-shakin’ or whatever you do and then a teeth-clenching noise erupts the steady booms of traditional top 40s hits. It’s loud, it’s jarring, you love it. Your body rolls and twists and you’re fist pumping in what may or may not be matching rhythm with the house music blasting through the sound system. Where did this stream of dancehall hits come from?
MC: Dancehall is a genre of music associated with Jamaica. For example, Major Lazer is considered dancehall. I think you mean dance hits!
TT: Okay, okay. My bad. Dance hits. Also, I loveee Major Lazer!
Scene 2: You’re in your car, drivin’ along, listening to the radio. Your favorite jam comes on and you crank up the volume, singing along at the top of your lungs. At the end of the track, the radio DJ says something like, “And that was ‘We Found Love’ by Rihanna, featuring Calvin Harris! Up next…”
But who is Calvin Harris? The song is not a duet, so where does he come into play?
The answer is producers.
MC: He is also a dope-a** DJ. Just sayin’.
Side note: a music producer is often referred to as a record producer in the music industry. This person can have many responsibilities including orchestrating recording sessions, directing musicians, delegating the production budget and resources and overseeing the recording, mixing and mastering processes (themusicproducer.com).
Now, more than ever, they are the names and faces getting credit for successful, chart-topping songs. Most resources I checked out naming famous producers went back to the old days. George Martin (“Strawberry Fields Forever”), Phil Spector (originator of the “Wall of Sound”) and Berry Gordy (found of Motown record label) were all recurring figures in the history of production. Without even knowing what they did, I found their names familiar. As the makers of sound, producers aren’t always readily known and it takes some research and knowledge of history to be able to recognize the styles of any given record producer used in their pieces.
As an example, I’ll start with my first experiences with producers. Once I was old enough to pick out my own preferences in music, I grew up listening to tracks laid by Timbaland and P. Diddy, though I wasn’t aware of more than the actual artists’ names at the time. Looking back and realizing P. Diddy was involved in the productions of childhood favorites like “Son of a Gun” by Janet Jackson, “Welcome to Atlanta” by Jermaine Dupri and “Breathe, Stretch, Shake” by Mase, I get big hit of “duh.” The flows of the beats are clearly similar, particularly those of the latter two.
Upon closer inspection, I see where my subconscious was supporting my unwavering love for Timbaland. Songs like “Are You That Somebody” by Aaliyah, “Big Pimpin” by Jay-Z and several others by Missy Elliott, Justin Timberlake, Nelly Furtado and Bubba Sparxx that have consistently dominated my headphones over the years were all produced by Timbaland.
MC: Speaking of JT, he totally skipped a few steps by employing Timba as his producer. There’s just no way a dude from a boy band is gonna drop a solo record and have the street cred he immediately received (without earning it, anyway) otherwise. I think a lot of people were like, “Oh, snap, he’s working with Timbaland, that must mean he’s aight.” Didn’t hurt that they collaborated on some dope tracks, too.
As awesome and successful as these beat makers were/are, there is a new wave of producers making history. Referred to in the beginning of this post, they are not only collaborating with and lending their beats to artists, but creating their own albums, singles and fan bases under the title of producer.
Names that were unknown, but to a small circle of those in the industry 10 years ago, have jumped into the spotlight with no intention of giving it up. These people are not just one-hit-wonders. In fact, most of these producers have been working steadily for the past decade or longer. I think the advancement and acceptance of technology paired with this grand movement of dancehall music has allowed these producers to come to the forefront of what they create, rather than float around the industry, known only among those they work with or those who read their name in print inside the album jacket.
MC: There it is again. “Dancehall.” Stick to “dance” or “EDM (electronic dance music).” I’m kinda with and against what you’re saying about the advancement of technology. I think what has more to do with the producer’s rise to fame is the 24-hour news cycle. Fan(atic)s want to know everything about the music nowadays and there’s no denying a producer’s involvement in a song. Soon enough, we’re going to be hearing about famous sound engineers and A&R guys. As for the advancement of technology, I think this has hurt the profile of the producer since making music has become so much more accessible to the average joe. That’s why Skrillex was criticized for his comments at the Grammys when he said he couldn’t wait to hear the tracks from the “bedroom geniuses.”
TT: Sorry. Again.
So since it seems these producers have no where else to go but up, how about we get to know them a little? (Take notice of the fact that many of these producers are international, born in foreign countries. This is not altogether surprising, as house music has been more common in the rest of the world and for much longer than in the U.S.)
Real name: Nick van de Wall
From: Spijkenisse, Netherlands
Active since 2006
MC: This dude is gonna be here in June. He’s playing the A**-Gary too, which is crazy. I think that venue’s too big, but then again, Avicii is playing the TBT Forum because he sold out The Venue a couple of times. I don’t like most of his music, but he’s a rising star, or at least he was. I have a feeling he’s reached a plateau.
TT: I like your endearing term for the Ask-Gary Amphitheater.
Real name: Tim Bergling (originally named Brad Macnee?)
From: Stockholm, Sweden
Active since 2008
MC: When I saw Avicii at The Venue, it was EFFING. PACKED. May be why he’s playing in an effing hockey rink. I already told you about that whole Leona Lewis fiasco, which gives a real interesting perspective of the role of the producer and the beat maker. Like it’s pretty common in the world of hip hop for a no-name producer to supply a beat and a famous rapper to take it, work with his own dude, and lay down the track. I guess Avicii (rightfully) thought he was too big to have his track jacked from him. It’s whatevs, I guess. Just an interesting point.
TT: For those of you who aren’t aware of the Leona Lewis/Avicii thing, check out this article for the scoop: http://www.dancingastronaut.com/2011/07/avicii-vs-leona-lewis-malicious-copyright-infringement-or-a-simple-misunderstanding/
Real name: Marco Benassi
From: Reggio Emilia, Italy
Active since the late 1980s
MC: Oh, Benassi. I don’t have much to say about him, except he dropped dubstep the first two times I saw him and I blacked out the third time I saw him. This is probably why.
Real name: Adam Richard Wiles
From: Dumfries, Scotland
Active since 1999
MC: Calvin Harris actually started out as a pop act himself, except making his own music. But, if you listen to him, he was never much of a singer. When he started to fashion himself a DJ/producer, everyone was like, “WTF?” Or least I was. Then I saw him at Masquerade Motel and I was like, “Holy sh*t, that was amazing.” That was around the time he was dropping a banger called “Awooga” which was one of the biggest tracks at last year’s Ultra.
Real name: Pierre David Guetta
From: Paris, France
Active since 1984
MC: Along with Lady Gaga, I blame David Guetta (for good or bad) for EDM’s crossover into pop music. His collabs with the Black Eyed Peas made dance music acceptable and he hasn’t stopped since. Luckily for EDM heads, he still collabs with people who aren’t pop acts, specifically other DJ/producers, like Nicky Romero, Avicii and Afrojack, so he still keeps his DJ cred.
Real name: Joel Thomas Zimmerman
From: Niagara Falls, Ontario
Active since 2005
MC: Deadmau5 is strictly an EDM act and has no real crossover potential. But in the world of EDM, he is effing massive. He sold out Roseland Ballroom five nights in a row. That’s bananas. Especially since even he’ll admit all he basically does is hit ‘play’ on a computer. A lot of his tracks aren’t really accessible to the common audience. Most of them time in at 7+ minutes, basically unplayable on any form of terrestrial radio. I like Deadmau5, but he’s super anti-drugs at shows and got into it with Madonna recently when that old hag tried to be relevant and was talking about Molly at Ultra.
Real name: Thomas Wesley Pentz
From: Tupelo, Mississippi
Active since 2003
MC: If you remember our conversation about this dude, Diplo is an interesting character. Rolling Stone’s last issue (or the one before that, I can’t remember) has a good profile piece on him. Like I said, he’s a tastemaker. He’s got no discernible musical talent other than the ability to lay down a wicked-a** beat. He also hollers at who he thinks are up and comers. For example, he’s worked with both Azaleas (however they spell their name). He produced MIA and is largely responsible for her sound. He’s a monster producer, one that I’m sure most famous pop acts would die to work with. Lucky for them, this dude is as effing mercenary as they come and will work with anyone if the price is right. Seriously. Or at least, that’s my opinion of dude.
Real name: Kanye Omari West
From: Chicago, Illinois
Active since 1996
MC: IMO, Kanye is the best hip hop producer out there. He just has an incredible ear for samples. Most new guys like Clams have kinda simple stuff. They’re dirty, but I don’t feel their complexity. Then again, I don’t really know anything about hip hop production. If Kanye’s not producing his own track, he’s applying his taste to it, so it inevitably has his signature on it. His music has reached epic level. Just listen to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy again.
Real name: Ryan Raddon
From: Evanston, Illinois
Active since 2001
MC: Kaskade is my very favorite DJ/producer and arguably the most popular/best American DJ. He falls into a deep house/progressive house vibe, mostly melodic synths and female vocals. He’s gonna be here in July for his Freaks of Nature tour if ya thinking about hitting up a show…
TT: I might be down. I think I’m well overdue for a show.
Real name: Mark Daniel Ronson
From: Notting Hill, London, England
Active since 1993
MC: This dude produced Adele’s 21, right? For that reason alone, he should be included on this list. Beyond that, all I know about dude is that he’s a major producer, but I couldn’t name a track. I know his sister is a lesbian (and a DJ) and dated Lindsay Lohan for a hot minute.
TT: I totally forgot about his sister. That’s too bad she overshadows what you know about him. He did the remix to Maroon 5′s “Wake Up Call,” which also features Mary J. Blige, “Toxic” by Britney Spears and a couple Amy Winehouse songs.
Real name: Sean John Combs
From: New York City, New York
Active since 1988
MC: LOL, P. Diddy. He proved he has a good ear though when he was dealing with those crazy girls from Danity Kane, tearing up their crappy singing.
Real name: Tijs Michiel Verwest
From: Breda, North Brabant, Netherlands
Active since 1994
MC: In my opinion, Tiesto is the biggest DJ-producer in the world. He’s amazing and makes great tracks. His latest, with Wolfgang Gartner (big electro-house guy) and Luciana (big EDM vocalist), called We Own the Night is a real banger. Love that track.
Real name: Timothy Zachery Mosley
From: Norfolk, Virginia
Active since 1990
MC: I love how Timba got all that goodwill through production and then thought he was the best, came out with a solo album and then disappeared. You can’t deny he had a huge influence on how people view producers today though, huh?
TT: Yeah, what’s he been up to? One of my favorite songs of all time is “The Way I Are” (BTW, did you know that’s Keri Hilson singing in there?)
Real name: Sonny John Moore
From: Los Angeles, California
Active since 2002
MC: Skrillex has been THE man of dubstep. As much as many purists want to hate on him (they call his music brostep), in the last year he has become the face of EDM, which you have to respect. I like, but don’t love, any given one of his tracks, but you can’t say this kid didn’t work for his status. He tours almost every day, which is a major part of why he became so big.
Real name: Steve Hiroyuki Aoki
From: Newport Beach, California
Active since 1996
MC: I thought this dude was born in Miami? I’m not looking it up though, so you’ll have to correct me. He’s got a real weird style, but he’s always collabing with people He also owns his own label that he releases tracks on, which reminds me, a lot of these guys start their own labels and foster their own talent. Like Aoki has Dim Mak, Afrojack has Wall Records, Axwell has Axtone and so on and so on.
TT: You’re right. He was born in Miami but grew up in Newport Beach.
SWEDISH HOUSE MAFIA
Three members: Axwell (from Lund, Sweden, 34), Steve Angello (from Athens, Greece, 29) and Sebastian Ingrosso (from Grahamstown, South Africa, 28)
Group from: Amsterdam, Holland
Active since 2008
MC: Each of these guys are massive DJs in their own right. They also produce tracks individually and in pairs (“Supermode” I think is Angello and Ingrosso). Axwell has countless remixes and original tracks. His biggest tune right now is a remix of Feenixpawl’s “In My Mind.” Ingrosso has that track with Ryan Tedder, “Calling.” Haven’t heard much from Angello worth a listen in a while.
**Also referring to why this post doesn’t mention much about rock producers: I think it’s reflective of the type of music. Rock music, or bands at least, or very protective of their creativity. They like their bylines, so to speak, and want to be recognized for it. Furthermore, it totally goes against the manner bands are marketed; they are the talent and so should get credit for the music. Genres like hip hop and EDM embrace more than that. Hip hop appreciates lyrical flow and writing, which lets rappers and producers coexist. Even more so, there’s a bunch of rapper-producer duos.
In the world of EDM, the DJ is the producer. Deadmau5 talked about this on Joe Rogan’s podcast. He looks down on most regular DJs because, again with the advancement of technology, you don’t have to figure out the bpm [beats per minute] of a track and when to drop it in. You can just press ‘play,’ have the computer adjust the track’s bpm, lay them over and then switch over completely. He defends what he (and other world-famous DJs do) by saying he plays music he’s created.
At the same time, fans of actual spinning, like comedian Russell Peters, sh*t on a dude like Tiesto because of the press play mentality. He says all Tiesto does is pay a dude for his synth loop and cobbles together a track. While technically true, it’s taken Tiesto years to learn how to build a track up, where to put the drop and then let it go out. Some DJs may not write the music (take a look at “Metropolis” by David Guetta and Nicky Romero compared to “Resurrection” (Axwell recut) by Michael Calfan for an example of this), but they certainly know how to put a song together, which, in itself, is an art.
P.S. Not all EDM is house music. House music is identifiable by its, normally, 4-4 beat (thus the saying “four to the floor”), melodic buildups and major drops. Tiesto, commonly considered a prog/electro-house guy now, came into it as a trance guy. In fact, most of the guys on DJ mags top list are considered trance (Ferry Corsten, Armin Van Buuren, Paul Van Dyk, Gareth Emery, Sander Van Doorn, etc.).