From Matt Graves: Here are six of his story picks on the topic of music producers, the often-overlooked architects of the music we hear and love.
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In her ascent to the pop throne, Rihanna had some unlikely help: a singer from Muskogee, Oklahoma and a two-man team of Norwegian producers. Meet Ester Dean and Stargate, pop’s unknown puppeteers.
2. “Disco Architect: 12 x 12 with Brass Construction’s Randy Muller,” by Andrew Mason (Wax Poetics, Fall 2004)
The true story of how one 18-year-old, born in Guyana and raised in Brooklyn, became the unsung godfather of 1970s disco.
3. “How Copyright Law Changed Hip Hop: An interview with Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Hank Shocklee,” by Kembrew McLeod (Stay Free! Magazine, 2002)
Public Enemy burst onto the 1980s hip-hop scene with a sound unlike anything the world had ever heard. Their groundbreaking beats were supplied by The Bomb Squad, a two-man team who turned sampling into a complex, noisy and compelling new art form that changed hip-hop forever.
Is Philippe Zdar the best producer you’ve never heard of? From Parisian disco and Phoenix’s “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart” to records from Cat Power, Beastie Boys and Cassius, you’ve probably felt his influence, even if you didn’t know his name.
How Arthur Baker, a failed disco DJ from Boston, made his musical mark on the 1980s—from hip-hop (Afrika Bambaata’s “Planet Rock”) and dance (New Order’s “Confusion”), to pop (New Edition’s “Candy Girl”) and rock.
From Kanye’s “Yeezus” and Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” to Johnny Cash’s cover of NIN’s “Hurt”, Rick Rubin has been the music world’s (mad)man behind the curtain.
Inside the making of a hit pop song—or hundreds of them. Stargate and Ester Dean are a producer-“top-liner” team that helps write hits for stars like Rihanna:
“The first sounds Dean uttered were subverbal—na-na-na and ba-ba-ba—and recalled her hooks for Rihanna. Then came disjointed words, culled from her phone—’taking control … never die tonight … I can’t live a lie’—in her low-down, growly singing voice, so different from her coquettish speaking voice. Had she been ‘writing’ in a conventional sense—trying to come up with clever, meaningful lyrics—the words wouldn’t have fit the beat as snugly. Grabbing random words out of her BlackBerry also seemed to set Dean’s melodic gift free; a well-turned phrase would have restrained it. There was no verse or chorus in the singing, just different melodic and rhythmic parts. Her voice as we heard it in the control room had been Auto-Tuned, so that Dean could focus on making her vocal as expressive as possible and not worry about hitting all the notes.
Google and YouTube exec Robert Kyncl’s plans for the future of web TV—and the company’s big bet on professional content:
“Kyncl’s relationships in Hollywood would help in securing premium content; and, more important, he understood entertainment culture. He brought ‘the skill set of being able to bridge Silicon Valley and Hollywood—an information culture and an entertainment culture,’ he told me. The crucial difference is that one culture is founded on abundance and the other on scarcity. He added, ‘Silicon Valley builds its bridges on abundance. Abundant bits of information floating out there, writing great programs to process it, then giving people a lot of useful tools to use it. Entertainment works by withholding content with the purpose of increasing its value. And, when you think about it, those two are just vastly different approaches, but they can be bridged.’”