Thursday, Aug 21, 2014 10:03 am est

Arts Issue: Minds behind music to thank for hits

Posted on April 10, 2014 | by Aicha Fall


Celebrity music producers are the reason for today’s greatest hits. While vocal talent is important, it is often the background elements that truly make a track or element stand out.

Perhaps the best example in recent memory is courtesy of the two producers who helped reinvent Miley Cyrus’ musical persona this past year — Mike WiLL Made It and Pharrell Williams.

WiLL produced Cyrus’ most recent album “Bangerz,” including the two hit tracks “23” and “We Can’t Stop.” His expertise with autotune and voice alterations has sculpted tracks like Lil Wayne’s “Love Me,” Ciara’s “Body Party,” Rihanna’s “Pour It Up” and Kanye West’s “Mercy.”

Strangely, unlike the high-profile artists whose careers he shapes, WiLL stays out of the public sphere of hip-hop and rap artists. However, keeping this low profile has only helped his silent success.

WiLL’s collaborator Williams is noted as one of the greatest producers of all time. He worked on three of 2013’s biggest hits — “Blurred Lines,” “Get Lucky” and “Happy.” Recently, Pharrell graced the iconic album “Beyoncé” with his presence, producing “Blow” and “Superpower,” and even making a cameo in the music video for the latter.

Many other well-known stars work behind the scenes as well. For example, David Guetta produced and wrote “Phresh Out the Runway,” Rihanna’s famed Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show track. Guetta also produced and wrote for two of the most anticipated pop albums of the past year, Britney Spears’ “Britney Jean” and Lady Gaga’s “ARTPOP.” He has collaborated with countless big names in the pop and hip-hop genres in order to define himself as a producer, writer and artist, rather than just a DJ.

Ryan Lewis stepped into the limelight in 2013. While Macklemore raps, Lewis serves as engineer, producing the million-dollar magic in “Thrift Shop,” as well as all of the other tracks on the duo’s incredibly successful album, “The Heist.” Although Lewis’ work has been confined to making music with Macklemore, many artists have noted his talent and will surely begin collaborating with him.

Timbaland has been the force behind Justin Timberlake’s success since his first album “Justified,” and any popular artist in today’s industry has at least one or two tracks produced by Timbaland. “The 20/20 Experience,” “Suit & Tie” and “Mirrors” are some of his most successful productions. He also produced “Grown Woman,” the first release and sneak peak of Beyoncé’s self-titled, industry-changing project.

Although the vocalists are ultimately credited and praised for their releases, it is the minds behind the music that have crafted pop culture from the shadows.

Still, modern music fans know the names and works of many producers affiliated with their favorite artists. Evidently, as the industry develops, these producers are going to continue to step into the spotlight and claim their recognition as celebrities in their own right.

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, April 10 print edition. Aicha Fall is a staff writer. Email her at


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Felipe De La Hoz

Multimedia Editor | Felipe De La Hoz is a Colombian national studying journalism at the College of Arts and Sciences. Having been born in Colombia and raised in the United States, Mexico and Brazil, Felipe is a trilingual travel aficionado and enjoys working in varied and difficult environments. Apart from his photography, Felipe enjoys investigative reporting and interviews, interviewing the likes of Colombian ex-M-19 guerrilla fighters and controversial politician Jimmy McMillan. He has covered everything from governmental conferences to full-blown riots, as well as portraiture shoots and dining photography. Having worked under Brazilian photojournalists for Reuters and AFP, Felipe hopes to one day work on demanding journalistic projects and contribute to the global news cycle.

Ann Schmidt

News Editor | Ann is a liberal studies sophomore who lived in Florence during her freshman year. She plans on double-majoring in journalism and political science and is always busy. She is constantly making lists and she loves to laugh.


Daniel Yeom

Daniel started at the Features desk of WSN last Spring, writing restaurant reviews whilst indulging on free food and consequently getting fat. Last Fall, he was the dining editor, and he this semester he is senior editor. Daniel is in Gallatin (living the dream) studying Food & Travel Narratives, incorporating aspects of Food Studies, Journalism, and Media, Culture, and Communication. He loves food more than life itself.

Hannah Luu

Deputy Multimedia Editor | Hannah Luu is a ridiculously great Deputy Multimedia Editor. She is a sophomore from Northern California. If you think Northern California means San Francisco you might need to closely examine a map. She is passionate about NPR and being half Asian.

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