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GREIN ON GRAMMYS, TAKE 1: PRODUCER OF THE YEAR

As late as 1973, the Grammys didn’t have a Producer of the Year, Non-Classical category; they finally added it in 1974, the 17th year of the awards. Even now, the award isn’t presented on the air—though the winner gets a quick shout-out and a close-up on the telecast.

But within the business, the award is right up there with the Big Four. The last three winners for Producer of the Year—Max Martin, Jeff Bhasker and Greg Kurstin—are as in-demand as any artist.

The category will likely take on added importance to producers this year, because a recent move by the Recording Academy has made it significantly harder for producers to be nominated in the Album of the Year category. Under the old rules, if an album was nominated, every producer who worked on that album was nominated. Starting this year, producers (and all other creative participants) must have worked on at least 33% of an album’s playing time.

As with the Big Four awards, a select committee determines the final nominees—after the voting members winnow the field down to the top 20 candidates. The “craft committee” that determines the nominees for Producer of the Year isn’t the same as the Nominations Review Committee that determines the final nominees for the Big Four, though it functions in the same way.

Starting this year, producers (and all other creative participants) must have worked on at least 33% of an album’s playing time.

In general, the producers who wind up with nominations have worked with a number of different artists during the year—though that’s not a requirement. Two years ago, Blake Mills was nominated even though the only credit by his name was the Alabama Shakes album he worked on that year.

The focus in the category is on individuals. In the last 11 years, only one collective—The Smeezingtons—has been nominated. That threesome consisting of Bruno Mars, Philip Lawrence and Ari Levine had back-to-back noms for 2010 and 2011.

Artists-producers are sometimes nominated—Dan Auerbach and Pharrell Williams were back-to-back winners for 2012 and 2013—but the focus in the past few years has been on full-time producers.

OK, now that you’re up to speed on how the category works, let’s take a look at this year’s leading contenders. I’ll show you some of the producers’ top credits for the year and let you know if they’ve been nominated or won before in this category. I’ll then fearlessly predict who the final five might be.

Steve MacThe Brit co-produced Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” and Clean Bandit’s “Rockabye” (featuring Sean Paul & Anne-Marie). Produced Sabrina Carpenter’s “Thumbs” and Liam Payne’s “Strip That Down” (featuring Quavo).

Jack AntonoffProduced the ZAYN/Taylor Swift collab “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever (Fifty Shades Darker).” Co-produced Lorde’s “Green Light.”

Benny BlancoCo-produced Julia Michaels’ “Issues,” Ed Sheeran’s “Castle on the Hill” and “Perfect,” Maroon 5’s “Don’t Wanna Know” (featuring Kendrick Lamar), Halsey’s “Now or Never” and Lana Del Rey’s “Love.” He also worked on The Weeknd’s album. Blanco was nominated this past year.

Mattman & RobinThe Swedish team of Mattias Larsson and Robin Fredriksson produced Imagine Dragons’ “Believer.”

Metro BoominHe just may be the hottest young producer (he’s just 23) in the business. He co-produced Migos’ “Bad and Boujee” (featuring Lil Uzi Vert), Post Malone’s “Congratulations” (featuring Quavo), Big Sean’s “Bounce Back,” Kodak Black’s “Tunnel Vision” and Gucci Mane’s “Both” (featuring Drake). Produced Future’s “Mask Off.” He also worked on albums by The Weeknd and DJ Khaled.

Jeff BhaskerProduced Harry Styles’ “Sign of the Times.” He also worked on albums by Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars and Katy Perry. Bhasker has been nominated twice. He won two years ago.

Dave CobbProduced Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s The Nashville Sound. Co-produced Chris Stapleton’s From A Room: Volume 1. Produced Zac Brown Band’s “My Old Man” and Judah & the Lion’s “Take It All Back.” Cobb was nominated two years ago.

Mike Will Made-ItCo-produced Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble.” Produced Lamar’s “DNA.” Worked on albums by Jeezy and Katy Perry.

Max MartinThe Swede co-produced Katy Perry’s “Chained to the Rhythm” (featuring Skip Marley) and Ariana Grande’s “Side to Side” (featuring Nicki Minaj). Worked on The Weeknd’s album. Martin has been nominated twice. He won three years ago.

Greg KurstinProduced Niall Horan’s “This Town.” Co-produced Kendrick Lamar’s “LOVE.” Worked on Halsey’s album. Kurstin has been nominated three times. He won this past year.

Ricky ReedProduced Jason Derulo’s “Swalla” (featuring Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla $ign) and Fitz and the Tantrums’ “HandClap.” Worked on Halsey’s album. Reed was nominated this past year.

Frank DukesThe Canadian co-produced Post Malone’s “Congratulations” (featuring Quavo), Drake’s “Fake Love” and Lorde’s “Green Light.” Worked on albums by The Weeknd, J. Cole, SZA and Bryson Tiller.

Markus DravsThe Englishman produced Kings of Leon’s Walls. Co-produced Arcade Fire’s upcoming Everything Now. Dravs was nominated five years ago.

Emile HaynieCo-produced Lana Del Rey’s “Love.” Worked on The Hamilton Mixtape and albums by Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars.

Kuk HarrellCo-produced Rihanna’s “Love on the Brain.” Worked on albums by Lorde, Future and Kendrick Lamar.

John RyanCo-produced Maroon 5’s “Cold” (featuring Future), John Legend’s “Love Me Now” and Hey Violet’s “Guys My Age.”

Jay JoyceProduced Little Big Town’s “Better Man,” Brothers Osborne’s “It Ain’t My Fault” and Eric Church’s “Kill a Word.” Joyce was nominated three years ago.

Mark RonsonThe Brit, the 2007 winner, co-produced Lady Gaga’s “Million Reasons.”

Dann HuffProduced Brett Young’s “In Case You Didn’t Know,” Brantley Gilbert’s “The Weekend” and Kane Brown’s “What Ifs.” Co-produced the Thomas Rhett/Maren Morris collab “Craving You.” Huff was nominated in 1999.

CirkutThe Canadian co-produced The Weeknd’s “I Feel It Coming” (featuring Daft Punk) and Hey Violet’s “Guys My Age.” Worked on Future’s Hendrxx.

BusbeeProduced Lady Antebellum’s “You Look Good” and Lauren Alaina’s “The Road Less Travelled.”

Mike Elizondo—Co-produced Ed Sheeran’s “Galway Girl.” Worked on The Hamilton Mixtape. Elizondo was a 2007 nominee.

Julian BunettaProduced Niall Horan’s “Slow Hands.” Co-produced the Thomas Rhett/Maren Morris duet “Craving You,” Hey Violet’s “Guys My Age” and Thomas Rhett’s “Star 
of the Show.”

Don WasCo-produced The Rolling StonesBlue & Lonesome. Worked on the 50 Shades Darker soundtrack. Was has been nominated twice. He won in 1994.

Greg FidelmanCo-produced Metallica’s Hardwired…to Self-Destruct.

As noted above, the focus in recent years has been on full-time producers. But a few artist/producers have been especially strong this year.

DJ Khaled—Co-produced his own album Grateful and its hits “I’m the One” featuring Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance the Rapper and Lil Wayne), “Wild Thoughts” (featuring Rihanna and Bryson Tiller) and “Shining” (featuring Beyoncé and Jay-Z).

The Chainsmokers—The team of Andrew Taggart and Alex Pall co-produced “Something Just Like This,” their collaboration with Coldplay. Produced their hit “Paris.”

Blake Mills—Worked on albums by John Legend, Perfume Genius, Laura Marling, Jim James and Jesca Hoop. Mills was nominated two years ago.

No I.D.—Worked on albums by Logic and Jay-Z.

Alex da Kid—Co-produced Imagine Dragons’ “Thunder.”

Joey Moi—The Canadian produced Florida Georgia Line’s “God, Your Mama and Me” (featuring Backstreet Boys) and “May We All” (featuring Tim McGraw) and Chris Lane’s “For Her.”

Zedd—The DJ/producer, born in the former Soviet Union, co-produced “Stay,” his collaboration with Alessia Cara, and the Hailee Steinfeld/Grey collaboration “Starving.”

Calvin Harris—The Scottish musician produced his album Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 and its lead single “Slide” (featuring Frank Ocean and Migos). He also worked on DJ Khaled’s album.

Going out on a limb, I’d say the early front-runners to be nominated are Benny Blanco, Steve Mac, Metro Boomin, Jeff Bhasker and Dave Cobb.

Check out Grein’s initial picks for:

Album of the Year

Record and Song of the Year

Best New Artist

 

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