At the Grammys last month, when a dapper gent stepped onto the stage alongside Adele as she collected an award for her hit "Rolling in the Deep", it would have been the first time most people had seen Paul Epworth. It might even have been the first time many had heard the producer's name.
Epworth has, up to this point, been backstage, in the shadows. Until he won the Grammy for his collaboration with Adele (and three more – all four of the categories for which he was nominated), few might have known that the producer had co-written the track that made her a No 1 star in America, in addition to two other songs on her Brit- and Grammy-winning 21, the best-selling album of 2011.
The 37-year-old producer from London is also the hit-maker behind chart-topping pop albums by Florence and the Machine, Plan B and Cee Lo Green, and another 2012 Grammy-nominated band Foster the People. One of Epworth's latest projects is the debut album by one of the biggest breakthrough artists of this year, hip-hop newcomer Azealia Banks, whose 212 EP is out later this month.
When he won his first Grammy (he already boasted one Brit Award for Best Producer), finally winning the public acclaim that he is due, he shot from obscurity to fame – and it's no surprise that his phone has not stopped ringing since.
Producers are normally the faceless ones behind the mixing desk. But Epworth proves that a producer can be involved so much more creatively than that. He also helps to create the sound of the albums that he produces – a hugely influential role in pop music since his first producing role on The Futureheads' dance-rock debut in 2004.
"My role has become much more someone who helps finish songwriting," Epworth tells me. "In some cases I make and perform all the music and then collaborate with the artist on writing the vocal and lyrics. That's... the way I work. I like the physical act of making music, not just recording it in a certain way.
"[With] other producers, they help shape the sound the artist has rather than help create the sound the artist has."
There are other producers who take a songwriting role similar to Epworth, beyond the mixing desk. Former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler has famously worked with Duffy and, more recently, rising star Jodie Marie, whose debut album Mountain Echo is out next month. Ed Harcourt, who has released five of his own studio albums, also co-wrote songs with Marie, as well as with Paloma Faith and Lissie. Typically it takes stepping from behind the mixing desk into the role of performer to bring a producer into the limelight. Cue the rising number of producers, from Mark Ronson (who, famously, produced Amy Winehouse) to Chase & Status (Rihanna), doing albums under their own name, or forming bands, and becoming stars in their own right over the past few years.
Dubstep's popularity has seen producers step into the spotlight more than ever before, with Skrillex, SBTRKT, Jamie xx (of Mercury Prize-winning band The xx), and James Blake all performing headline shows. The creative role of the producer was celebrated further by Radiohead who picked their favourite up-and-coming producers from SBTRKT to Jamie xx to rework their songs for the remix album TKOL RMX 1234567.
Also stepping into the limelight is a group of top producers who have formed their own band, called The Producers, so that they are no longer the faceless people behind the mixing desk. Many know Trevor Horn as frontman of The Buggles, and for his production work with Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Pet Shop Boys, but there's also Lol Creme, who was in 10cc and has produced Duran Duran and Kate Bush. Completing the line-up are Stephen Lipson (Paul McCartney, Annie Lennox) and Ash Soan, a graduate producer of the Tech Music School and drummer on Adele's 21. Between them they've scored more than 200 hit singles and albums, but it's only now that they've stepped forward to perform their first London gig, at Bush Hall, and set out on a UK tour. The group formed in 2006 and are now gearing up for the release of their first album, Made in Basing Street, due to be released in May.
"We just wanted to get up on the stage and entertain people," says Creme. "We got together because we've all worked in studios most of our lives. The plan was, 'wouldn't it be fun to play live?'. It's a way of getting out the day job and the discipline of a recording studio because it's all very meticulous. When you're in a group you can plug in and make a big racket."Reuse content