There was once a preconception that the role of a music producer was to add a coat of polish to a song or an album, but these days, producers can be the essential link to a hit project. Even with music being made on laptops, in bedrooms or on the go, no piece of technology compares to the trained ear of a professional, and these days, that often involves a hand in the songwriting, too.
All of this momentum, where names in the mill are no longer just the extended circle of Max Martin’s world, means a more profitable payday for the creators and their representatives, and it explains the perceived rise of management firms that specialize in behind-the-scenes hitmakers.
“Much of our job is taking a great song and finding a home for it,” says Lucas Keller, owner of Milk + Honey, one of the premiere firms which manages Charlie Handsome and Jonas Jeberg. “We don’t view that home as just being on a major label — for Demi Lovato, a song in a Toyota commercial or Lethal Legends video game are great opportunities as well.”
Unlike talent agency or artist management, this sector is smaller — you could count the top firms on both hands — and less cutthroat (Keller jokes that he’s “frenemies” with the competition), but demand often benefits only the top in the field. As Mark Beaven, the co-CEO of Advanced Alternative Media (AAM), whose longtime clients include Dr. Luke, Greg Wells and Toby Gad, explains: “A producer for anything but the top 10 albums makes less today. The market for producers — and their celebrity — evolved along with the growth of album sales in the early 1980s. The ceiling has been raised but much like our economy, only the 2% are getting richer.”
The company Beaven co-founded with Andy Kipnes 38 years ago is among the pioneers in the space, and where AAM ruled the 1990s into the 2000s, the 2010s top production house may be Electric Feel Management. Named after the song by MGMT, Electric Feel’s astounding success can be summed up in its haiku’d Twitter bio: 100x platinum records, 10 billion streams and 6.5 billion YouTube views. The indie management label’s founder and CEO Austin Rosen has curated an envious roster of A-list producers, including Louis Bell (pictured), named Variety‘s Hitmakers producer of the year earlier this month for his work with Post Malone and the Jonas Brothers, Frank Dukes (Camila Cabello’s “Havana”) and Billy Walsh, not to mention Post himself, among Electric Feel’s artist management clients. The magic happens at the Electric Feel studio on Sunset Blvd., where some of the biggest pop hits this decade were made.
Other top firms include Steel Pancake, co-founded by Andrew D. Luftman and Zvi Edelman, who, much like the producers and songwriters he manages (Benny Blanco, Andrew Watt, Happy Perez, Pop Wansel), flies under the radar. His official company website? A Tumblr page with two photos. “We prefer to remain in the shadows,” Luftman says.
Similarly low-key Larry Wade didn’t create a company site for Decible Entertainment “on purpose” but he’s hardly attention-shy when it comes to clients like Danja (Justin Timberlake) and Ricky Reed. “Ricky signed Lizzo to his Nice Life Recording Company in 2015 but 2019 has been a breakout year,” Wade says. “I could have never imagined that Ricky’s first No .1 song would have come from an artist that was signed to his own label. It goes to show that hard work, determination and a little patience can really pay off.”
Tim Blacksmith and Danny D. co-founded Tim & Danny Music, which includes a publishing company and a record label as well as an artist management firm. Among their best-known clients is the veteran Norwegian production duo Tor Erik Hermansen and Mikkel Storleer Eriksen, better known as Stargate, who have been crafting hits for the likes of Beyoncé, Rihanna and Katy Perry since 2006.
David Silberstein and Jeremy Levin envisioned their nine year-old Mega House Music as “a family-oriented boutique company.” The clan includes two Grammy-nominated BMI Songwriter of the Year winners, Ali Tamposi and Ammar Malik, as well as the Grammy-nominated collective Monsters & Strangerz (Zedd, Maren Morris and Grey’s “The Middle”). Together, their clients have produced songs that have sold over 200 million singles, resulting in 40 billion streams and 45 platinum certifications.
“What sets us apart is our focus on artist development and getting in on the ground floor,” says This is Noise MGMT’s Dan Petel of his roster. “Fundamentally, they’re not genre-specific,” he adds. But one thing that clients Ian Kirkpatrick, Cook Classics and Captain Cuts all have in common? The skills to turn out hits capable of launching careers, like Dua Lipa’s “New Rules,” Ava Max’s “Sweet but Psycho” and Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance.”