Music isn’t all about how you mix tracks together. And in the world of rappers and DJs, we often neglect the people who put the beats together. In fact, we often neglect the music itself. We’ve put together a list to pay homage to some of our favorite producers both past and present.
We’ve checked out what GEAR contributes to each of these creative powerhouses’ unique styles and sounds, and what makes them special. Here is our top 25 DJ Producers on the scene currently. Enjoy!
Slovenian born Gramatik has been obsessed with music his entire life. At only three years old, his mother would find him practically attached to the radio, absorbing all the American funk, soul, jazz and blues that he could find. By the time he was 13, Gramatik began producing music on his computer, and found he was able to share his beats via free file sharing websites. He developed a following, got booked for tours and pretty soon found himself signed to a label and an agency.
Gramatik was picked up by Pretty Lights Music, which releases all of its tracks for free, which follows Gramatik’s own philosophy, of making music available to everyone. After a short period of finding his feet on US soil, Gramatik moved to Brooklyn, New York, a vibrant hub for creative people in the city.
Gramatik released his first album Expedition 44 in July 2008 and then the iconic Street Bangers Vol. 1 five months later, in December 2008. Street Bangers was in Beatports top 100 chill out albums for a total of six months.
Since his break onto the global downtempo hip-hop scene, Gramatik has had a huge impact on the world, releasing multiple albums, selling out shows, playing festivals and even releasing his own cryptocurrency – GRMTK. Gramatik uses an AKAI Professional APC 40 in his studio.
Norwegian born musician and producer Kygo has achieved international fame for his varied downtempo beats and unique electronic style. His biggest track to date I See Fire, a remix of a classic Ed Sheeran track, has amassed over 90 million views. On music sharing platform Soundcloud, Kyrre Gørvell-Dahll (better known as Kygo), has reached over 1.42 million followers and a whole lot more plays. After his breakthrough in 2014, Kygo was requested to remix the song “Midnight”by Chris Martin (the singer from Coldplay).
Kygo started his musical career early on, first learning to play the piano at the age of 6. Ten years later, after apparently discovering Avicii’s remixes, Kygo decided to try remixing some of his favourite music. After huge success on YouTube and Soundcloud, Kygo was contacted by some of his heroes to remix their music.
Even though he’s not Brazilian, Kygo was chosen to help launch a streaming channel Olympic Channel that is intended to keep interest in the games long after the closing ceremony in Brazil. Kygo stated that this opportunity is hugely exciting. Kygo uses Logic Pro X to make his remixes on a MacBook.
Whilst many of the producers on this list got their beginnings at an early age, some might argue that Flying Lotus started his career before birth, with a musical ancestry that will make any budding musician envious. Flying Lotus (real name Steven Ellison) is the grand-nephew of Jazz pianist Alice Coltrane and her extremely famous husband – John Coltrane. On top of that, Ellison is the grandson of singer-songwriter Marilyn McLeod, who notably wrote Love Hangover by Diana Ross and I Get High by Freda Payne.
Ellison is a multi-skilled creative, studying at the Los Angeles Film School and Academy of Art University. He has written and directed two films: Royal (2016) and Kuso (2017), as well as composing the score for 5 more films, including Blade Runner: Black Out 2022.
Whilst staying with his mother, Ellison saw an advert on Cartoon Network’s late night show Adult Swim, requesting song submissions. Ellison sent in some beats he had produced under the name Flying Lotus (a name he had created for himself inspired by lucid dreaming) and was accepted by the show.
Ellison then joined the Red Bull Music Academy and was soon signed to Warp Records (the same label as Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin), but left after one year to create his own label – Brainfeeder. Flying lotus uses the AKAI Professional MPC Renaissance Controller, which was gifted to him by AKAI themselves.
Simon Green, better known by his stage name Bonobo, has put downtempo and chill out back onto the global map, popularizing the genre and allowing new subgenres to profiligate such as lo-fi and chill-step. Bonobo uses vibrant melodic music to create a hypnotic soundscape that is intended to replicate life in all of its disgusting moments and beautiful ones.
Green grew up in rural Hampshire amongst lush English countryside and a vibrant British folk scene. Bonobo’s father was heavily involved in the local folk scene and apparently hosted endless folk jams, heavy with banjo and violin.
As a teenager, Green rejected his folk roots and instead became obsessed with alt-rock and hip-hop, but his father did help him develop a musical understanding that would help when learning guitar and piano. A 4-track tape recorder and effets pedal introduced Green to producing soundscapes and hip-hop.
Green then moved to Brighton and began his DJing career, he began playing all night sets at numerous clubs in the vibrant town, and soon released his first chill out album Animal Magic in the year 2000. Ninja Tune heard the album and picked up Bonobo, considering him a major talent. Since then, Bonobo has released multiple albums, notably Black Sands in 2010 that put him on the radar of hip-hop and chill out fans across the world. Bonobo uses an Octave Plateau The Cat vintage analog synthesizer alongside an Ableton Push.
One of the biggest producers and DJs in the world right now, DJ Khaled has produced 10 studio albums, multiple number 1 singles and has collaborated with big name artists such as Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, Mariah Carey, Beyonce, Justin Bieber, Kanye West and Nicki Minaj.
Khaled got his start as a salesman in record stores, expanding his musical knowledge and helping elevate underground artists’ profiles. After moving into the DJ scene, Khaled moved to Miami where he picked up a radio show, co-hosting with Luther Camplbell on The Luke Show on WEDR.
In 2006, Khaled released his debut album Listennn… The Album on Koch Records. It peaked at number 12 in the US Billboard 200 chart. The following year, Khaled began working with big names like T-Pain, Trick Daddy, Rick Ross, Akon, Fat Joe and Lil Wayne. He even won two Ozone Awards, one for Best Video and another for Best Radio DJ.
The next two to three years saw Khaled receive multiple awards and number 1 hits, working with huge artists. Ultimately in 2009, DJ Khaled was appointed the president of Def Jam South. DJ Khaled has become one of the biggest producers in hip-hop right now. Khaled has the Genelec 1234A and Focal SM9 Active monitors in his home studio.
When she was only 9 years old, Wondagurl became obsessed with Timbaland and his production style. At first, Wondagurl began making beats on her keyboard, then moved up to Magix Music Maker, then Reason and finally FL Studio.
In 2012, WondaGurl entered the Battle of The Beat Makers and won first prize, walking out with a trophy and a Roland GAIA Synthesizer. With her competition win putting her on the radar of Boi-1da and Hit-Boy, Wondagurl became able to produce professionally.
WondaGurl sent out beats to a number of big artists via Instragram, including Drake. This helped WondaGurl to find herself with two placements on Drake’s mixtape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, specifically on the tracks “Used To” and “Company”. WondaGurl co-produced with Travi$ Scott, who passed on WondaGurl’s beats to Jay-Z. The beats passed over would eventually become the song “Crown”.
Since her rapid rise to fame, WondaGurl has worked with multiple major artists. She produced the hit single “Antidote” by Travi$ Scott, with producer Eestbound, whom WondaGurl would go on to sign as her first artist on her new label. Wondagurl uses the Zoom H4n Handy portable digital audio recorder.
Premier has collaborated with a huge list of the world’s greatest rappers and artists, including: Notorious B.I.G, Ice-T, KRS-ONE, Nas, Big Daddy Kane, D’Angelo, Janet Jackson, Jay-Z, Rakim, Mos Def and many more.
Best known for his teaming up with Guru to make Gangstarr, one of the 90’s and 2000’s best hip-hop duos. Gangstarr are best known for incredible lyricism, hardcore beats and jazz, funk and soul inspired samples.
DJ Premier’s background as a DJ has influenced his production style, using rapid beatjuggling of vocal samples to create new vocal phrases and choruses. In 2016, TV Writer and Producer Cheo Hodari Coker, creater of Netflix series Luke Cage, named each episode of the second series after a Gangstarr song. Premier uses an AKAI MPC60II in his studio.
Dr. Dre was born on February 18th, 1965 and began his music career as a DJ in his teens. He began hanging out at Los Angeles nightclub, Eve After Dark, which gave Dre the chance to practice his turntable skills. Dre joined the Wreckin’ Cru, which performed in various nightclubs. It was here that Dr. Dre created his name (based on basketball star Dr.J) and developed his persona fairly quickly.
Dr. Dre’s work with rap group N.W.A put him on the international rap scene. Together with N.W.A, Dr. Dre helped popularize rap across the world and helped define the sub-genre of Gangsta Rap.
In 1991, Dr. Dre co-founded Death Row Records and a year later released his first solo album, The Chronic, which became a huge hit. In 1996, Dr. Dre set up Aftermath Entertainment and signed Eminem and 50 Cent.
Now, a successful businessman and one of the most influential producers in the world, Dr. Dre co-founded the headphone company Beats Electronics with Jimmy Lovine. The Beats by Dre headphones were extremely popular and the company was eventually sold to Apple in 2014. Dr. Dre has been quoted in interviews stating that he loves his AKAI MPC3000.
J-Dilla began collecting vinyl records at the age of 2, and according to his mother could match pitch perfect harmony at the age of two months. Whether this is true is up for debate, but the fact that it could be believable is a testement to J-Dilla’s musical skills.
In high school, J-Dilla formed a rap group with friends and classmates T3 and Baatin. They called themselves Slum Village, and J-Dilla began producing the beats using a simple tape deck and his record collection.
In 1992, J-Dilla met the detroit musician who allowed J-Dilla to play with his Akai MPC, which elevated J-Dilla’s production standards. In just a few years, J-Dilla would be producing beats and remixes for a number of big names, including Janet Jackson, Pharcyde, De La Soul, Busta Rhymes, A Tribe Called Quest and Q-Tip’s solo album, though many of these productions were released without his name being credited.
In the early 2000’s, J-Dilla moved away from producing, though by this time he was recognized as one of the world’s best producers, and recorded a solo album where he only performs as a rapper, though this album was not as successful as the music that had earned J-Dilla a cult following.
J-Dilla teamed up with MC Madlib in 2002,and created Jaylib, which released their debut album Champion Sound in 2003. They would spend the next two years touring, performing and recording though J-Dilla’s health was rapidly deteriorating. Unfortunately, three days after the release of his final album Donuts, J-Dilla passed away. J-Dilla used a Boss SP-303 Dr.Sample
Shortly after leaving school, Calvin Harris began stocking shelves in supermarkets and working in a fish processing factory to buy DJ equipment. He began recording demos as a teenager and released two singles when he was 18 under the name “Stouffer”. Harris began posting his songs on the social media network Myspace, where he was discovered by talent booker Mark Gillespie.
In 2006, Harris signed with Three Six Zero Group for his management, EMI as his publishers and Sony BMG for his recording. Later that year, Harris released his first major track, a remix of All Saints’ Rock Steady. His debut album was released in 2007 and peaked at number 8 in the UK and number 19 in the US. At this time, Harris began touring, supporting Faithless and Groove Armada.
Heavily inspired by the music of the ‘80s, Calvin Harris released his second album Acceptable in the 80s, the first single reached number 10 in the UK and remained on the charts for 15 weeks, whilst the second single reached number 3. This album would put him on the radar of superstars like Kylie Minogue and Dizzee Rascal, where Calvin Harris’ career would explode. Calvin Harris is now one of the wealthiest producers and DJs in the world and still uses the API 1608 Console.
The famous french duo are well known for their blend of house, funk, electro and techno as well as only ever being seen in their iconic android costumes. In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, Daft Punk were one of the most popular electronic acts and producer duos.
Guy Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter met in school in their native Paris and formed an indie rock band. The band were unremarkable and didn’t go far, but a reviewer did give this band an idea for their next project, by calling them “a bunch of daft punk.”
The duo fell in love with dance music and began producing their own electronic beats. Their music became extremely popular and DJs across the world were including Daft Punk tracks in their sets. Their costumes created a huge mystery and press interest which helped Daft Punk crate a bidding war between record companies.
Eventually, Daft Punk signed to Virgin records and releasd Homework in 1997, with a number of excellent music videos and unique production style helped Homework to go gold in the United States. Five years and a few side projects later, Daft Punk returned with Discovery, which put them on the global dance music scene.
Since then, Daft Punk have released numerous albums, worked on video games and even produced the soundtrack for Hollywood blockbuster Tron: Legacy. Daft Punk use the classic Roland TR-909 or the TR-808 when producing drum beats, but of course, they can afford it.
Joel Thomas Zimmerman, (aka Deadmau5) is a Canadian electro-house producer and DJ, based in Toronto. His stage persona, (pronounced “dead mouse”) was inspired by the body of a frozen rodent that he found in a computer that he built. To preserve his identity and add to his stage persona, Deadmau5 wears an iconic helmet/mask that basically looks like a mouse’s noggin.
Deadmau5 works within the house, electro and techno genres, but puts his unique sound into the music that has earned Deadmau5 a multitude of awards. He has been nominated for several Grammy Awards and performed on the 2012 award telecast alongside rock legends, the Foo Fighters. Deadmau5 is also the four-time consecutive winner of Canada’s Juno Award for dance recording of the year, and was nominated for artist of the year in both 2012 and 2013.
As well as an interesting production style, the performance of Deadmau5’s shows has put him on the map, using spectacular light displays and visualisations alongside live performance. Deadmau5 uses a range of synthesizers, but noteworthy is the Monome 256 grid.
Martin Garrix is a Dutch producer and musician known for being one of EDM’s youngest stars. Garrix has ghost written a number of tracks for major artists, as well as releasing much of his own music. DJ Mag ranked Martin Garrix as the number 1 DJ in their Top 100 DJs list for both 2016 and in 2017. In 2016, Garrix created STMPD RCRDS after his departure from Spinnin’ Records. In 2017, he was announced as a resident DJ at internationally famous club – HI Ibiza.
Garrix learned to play guitar at age 8, and around the same time, he became interested in becoming a DJ after watching Tiesto perform at the Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony in Athens. Tiesto’s show inspired Garrix to download FL Studio, and he began producing his own tracks. In 2013, Garrix graduated from the Herman Brood Academy, a music production school in Utrecht.
Tiesto discovered Garrix and mentored him, prompting Garrix to describe Tiesto as “inspirational, humble and legendary.” A short time after, Garrix was signed to Spinnin’ Records, and released a collaboration with Jay Hardway.
Garrix then released Animals which launched his solo career and topped charts all over Europe. The track made Garrix the youngest person to ever reach the number 1 spot on beatport. Garrix often tweets about the Cakewalk by Roland A-500S.
DJ and producer Marshmello has taken the world by storm. His hidden identity, signature production style and collaborations with EDM superstars like Omar LinX, Logic, Slushii, Jauz, Migos and Tiesto.
It appeared as though Marshmello came from out of nowhere and instantly rose to stardom. In 2015, he released his first song WaVeZ on Soundcloud, and as he began to release more tracks shortly after, he began to receive recognition and support from other top DJs, including Skrillex. All of a sudden, Marshmello was performing at some of the United States’ top EDM festivals.
In 2016, Marshmello released a compilation of all of his tracks released to date, which made it to number 5 on Billboard’s Dance/Electronic Albums chart.
Marshmello kept its identity a secret, but numerous publicity stunts and promotional tactics alluded to the true identity of Marshmello. At Electric Daisy Carnival 2016, Marshmello removed his helmet, revealing himself to be Dutch producer and DJ, Tiesto.
This was discovered to be a publicity stunt and the true identity of Marshmello is thought to be Christopher Comstock, an American producer. Comstock and Marshmello have a similar style, the same manager and reportedly the same tattoo. Marshmello has spoken about his reFX Nexus 2 plugin, a lot and we can see that it adds to his style.
Sonny John Moore (better known as Skrillex), is a songwriter and producer well known for popularizing heavy dubstep and electro-house. He bridged a gap between emo/hardcore with dance music, making dance more accessible to a wider range of music lovers.
Skrillex originally sang for post-hardcore band From First To Last, but after a few years of touring and multiple successful albums, Skrillex left the band to pursue a solo career in dance music. Skrillex released his first EP My Name is Skrillex online as a free download, which kickstarted his career and got him signed to Deadmau5’s label Mau5trap Recordings. At this point, Skrillex released Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites.
Skrillex’s EP exploded and his music was featured in TV adverts and video game trailers. Skrillex began producing for Korn and the band even joined Skrillex on stage during his Coachella 2011 set. Numerous awards and accolades have been given to Skrillex and his reputation knows no bounds.
Taking his studio on tour with him, Skrillex uses a Macbook Pro with Ableton Live, two KRK Monitors, a Focusrite Saffire Pro 14 interface and a two octave Alesis controller. You can catch an interview with Skrillex where he discusses his kit here.
The highest paid female DJs in the industry, Nervo are famous for their songwriting and production abilities. Australian born twins, Olivia and Miriam Nervo were already signed with Sony/ATV Music Publishing by the time they were 18. The duo have written for Ke$ha, Rachel Stevens, Richard Grey and the Pussycat Dolls.
As their contract with Sony expired, the twins instead joined Frederik Olsson’s publishing company in 2008. At this point, Nervo wrote “When Love Takes Over” which went on to win a Grammy Award. The duo then released their own club track “This Kind of Love” through Loaded Records, which went on to enjoy chart topping success.
Nervo use the AKAI MFC42 Analog filter module,
Founder of Major Lazer, Jack Ü, the Mad Decent label and the Heaps Decent charity, Diplo is not just a producer, but a leading businessman in the music industry and philanthropist. Diplo (Thomas Wesley Pentz) has had music featured in adverts, video games and won numerous awards and topped charts with his EDM, Dancehall and Trap tracks.
Thomas has worked with a number of huge artists including Gwen Stefani, M.I.A (whom Diplo states helped bring Diplo to international fame), Die Antwoord, Britney Spears, Madonna, Shakira, Snoop Dogg and more. He has won numerous awards, including Grammy’s for his solo work and his part in larger projects.
We’ve seen the cute M-Audio O2 USB MIDI Keyboard in Diplo’s studio.
Mix Magazine’s fans rated him “The Greatest DJ of All Time”, and it’s no wonder why. Dutch DJ and producer Tiesto has produced more award winning tracks and been nominated for a number of prestigious titles, and it’s easy to see why.
Tiesto got his start producing hardcore and gabber tracks in the early 90s, before being signed to Basic Beat Recordings. Tiesto teamed up with Arny Bink where they created the sub-label Guardian Angel. After three years, Tiesto and Arny Bink left Basic Beat and created their own parent label Black Hole Recordings.
Tiesto then popularized the Trance genre across the world and continues to support upcoming artists in the EDM scene. He’s the first DJ to have performed a solo concert in a full-sized stadium. We could list off all of the festivals he’s headlined, the awards he’s won, the albums he’s produced and more, but really, Tiesto’s music speaks for itself.
Tiesto uses the Arturia KeyLab 61 Essential
in his studio, he’s been quoted as saying that “It’s top notch when it comes to analog synthesizer emulation.”
Armin Van Buuren
Dutch trance music producer Armin Van Buuren is a household name across the world as one of the premier trance producers in the world. He’s been producing chart topping club tracks since the mid ‘90s, and has used his tracks to become one of the most popular and recognizable producers in the world.
In 2001, Armin van Buuren started his own radio show on ID&T radio called A State of Trance, which has helped popularize and push forward the careers of smaller trance artists and producers of popular tracks. The track lists of his sets can then be found on the radio show website. When the ID&T radio changed genre, Van Buuren moved radio station to Fresh FM and later SLAM!FM. The show is now broadcast across a range of stations, both FM and online.
After 200 shows of A State of Trance, Armin Van Buuren released his second studio album and began ranking towards the top of DJ Mag’s Top DJ list, and by 2007, Armin had reached the top spot, a position he help for three consecutive years. Armin Van Buuren has been seen using the Maschine Studio by Native Instruments.
By the time he was 25, Robbert van de Corput, more commonly known by his stage name “Hardwell”, reached the top of the 2013 Top 100 DJs poll, as voted for by the readers of DJ Mag. At the time, this made Hardwell the youngest DJ to have ever won the award. He would win the position of top spot again the following year.
At the age of 6, Hardwell was already playing piano which gave him a solid grounding for music production. When he was 10, Hardwell watched a documentary about trance music and the world’s top DJs at the time, inspiring Hardwell and creating an interest in electronic music.
He played his first gig when he was 12, to an audience of 100 people at a friend’s birthday. At this point, Robbert van de Corput adopted the moniker “Hardwell”. Two years later, he landed his first record deal and began playing clubs in the Netherlands. Hardwell was forced to take his parents, as he couldn’t legally enter the clubs he was playing in alone. The next ten years were characterised by multiple releases, becoming an online sensation and topping charts.
Hardwell uses the Crane Song Avocet Remote II to control volumes and monitor levels.
Swedish born Eric Prydz has quickly become a household name through a series of chart hits. He’s reached number 2 with UK hit singles three times and holds the record for fastest selling release on Beatport.
Eric Prydz keeps himself out of the public eye, and hasn’t given an interview in many years. Prydz never appears in any music videos and doesn’t self-promote on any platforms. Call On Me, a single track released by Prydz in 2004 rapidly made it to number 1. Eric Prydz reportedly didn’t approve of the promo material and wasn’t happy with the famous music video.
After he joined the label Data, run by Ministry of Sound, Eric Prydz was given permission to sample Pink Floyd, being the first artist to ever do so. With these permissions, Prydz released Proper Education, a Pink Floyd inspired track that samples Another Brick in the Wall and made it to number 2 in the charts. The music video and promotion was controlled by Prydz and has been used by Greenpeace.
Prydz uses the Arturia Spark LE.