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Top 40 most important people in guitar music [20 to 1]

So who is the most important person in guitar music? Well it's time to find out as Guitar Planet top 40 countdown reaches its climax, but who will claim the top spot: a legendary band, an influential producer, a canny label boss or a new media innovator?

Monday, 26. September 2011  -  by  David Hayter
  • 20. Muse

    Muse are this generation’s all conquering stadium juggernaut, every bit the equal to and the rival of AC/DC, Iron Maiden and Pink Floyd. Few bands have set their sights higher than Muse. Having successfully escaped the Radiohead copycat tag the Devonshire three piece soared higher than any of their peers to unfathomable, preposterous, heights.

    They created a Glastonbury “moment” in 2004 when they seemingly took everyone by surprise with an imperiously dynamic headline set, and they haven’t looked back since. Headlining Reading and Leeds twice, Glastonbury twice, as well as selling out Wembley Stadium three times.

    Muse thrive on grandeur and live for the ridiculous, their stage shows have included giant space crafts, huge satellites, dancing robots and flame throwers over the years and within the next twelve months they intend to play a gig in space; the most expansive and strangely appropriate setting imaginable for their future prog-rock sound. Muse are mammoth, and with a new album due to drop in 2011, only one question remains; is there a single venue left big enough to contain their tyrannical ambition.

    In Short Muse are the maximalist kings of modern day stadium rock.

  • 19. Zane Lowe + Huw Stephens - Radio One DJs

    Zane Lowe has been the face of rock in the UK and Europe ever since he packed his bags and left New Zealand as a young man. Zane may represent the status quo in 2011, but he is no less daring. His Radio One flagship rock show plays all the latest and hottest singles in contemporary rock, indie and rap. He’s shown a startling commitment to new music, and whether he’s on TV, on the radio, or Deejaying at your local club, he’s continually attempted to foster a sense of community and inclusiveness among music fans.

    Huw Stephens is imbedded in the new music and festival culture of the UK, and as one of the BBC’s leading lights, he’s been committed to giving young and upcoming bands the kind of airtime that money just can’t buy. Huw is responsible for keeping a diverse range of new artists in the limelight, and his commitment to the new music cause is unquestionable, unparalleled, and entirely admirable.

    In Short Radio One’s two leading lights, together the fill the void left by John Peel, keeping the new music flame burning in an age of retrospection.

  • 18. Rick Rubin – Producer

    Having helped Slipknot and System Of A Down take the big leap from abrasive metal behemoths to festival headliners and mainstream crossover success stories, Rick Rubin assured his place in the heart of all music fans with his brilliant work on Johnny Cash’s America Series. America V in particular proved a fitting epitaph for the man in black, an enduring finale statement, that captured the power, grace, fragility and repentant/unrepentant splendour of old age.

    Rubin’s style is simple. He strips everything down, including his artists. Whether that means sending the Red Hot Chilli Peppers to a secluded mansion to record the brilliant Blood Sugar Sex Magic or forcing Metallica to recapture the hunger and fire of youth on Death Magnetic, Rubin always finds a way to displace distractions, push pageantry to one side, and force bands to rediscover their true selves.

    In Short The back to basics producer has all the world’s biggest bands in his contact book, and for good reason, he’s a career revival specialist.

  • 17. Fender + Gibson

    The world’s two biggest and most famous guitar brands have proved truly inseparable, how could one leapfrog the other in this list? Both brands with their instantly recognizable style and iconic models have been instrumental in getting hundreds of thousands of people across the world to forget the fiddle, ditch the decks, dismiss the drums, and pick up the six-string.

    The two corporations have exercised and maintained an incredible dominance in the market place, and have earned the support of so many of music’s greats over the years, whether it’s BB King classic Gibson or Eddie Van Halen’s hybrid Frankenstrat, Fender and Gibson are the face of guitar music’s past, present and future.

    In Short Where would the world be without Gibson and Fender? Who knows, but millions of guitarist past and present got their start with one of these two industry giants.

  • 16. Dave Grohl

    Dave Grohl could have made the list simply for his role as the lead singer and creative force behind the globe straddling Foo Fighters, but there are more strings to the “nicest man in rock’n’roll’s” bow than just his incredibly famous day job.

    As one of the most famous and talented faces in rock Grohl is capable of bringing the spotlight of superstardom to any of his projects. Whether that means giving Queens Of The Stone Age that extra-rub of cross over appeal to break the big time, bringing together rock icons Josh Homme and John Paul Jones to create Them Crooked Vultures, or drumming for Jack Black’s Tenacious D, all Grohl’s projects have one thing in common: success.

    Come 2012 Dave Grohl will no doubt be headlining the biggest summer festivals with the Foo Fighters, but as a drummer, producer, guitarist, and let’s face it, celebrity, he’ll have his hand in more pies than any of us can even contemplate.

    In Short The nicest man in rock’n’roll might just be the hardest working man in show business, the Foo Fighters are impossible to ignore, but they’re just the start.

  • 15. Michael & Emily Eavis – Glastonbury Festival

    It might seem bizarre to list Michael and Emily Eavis alongside rock’s most powerful elite. Glastonbury may be the world’s most famous festival, but by their own admission the Eavis family has next to no money to spend. The festival pays its headliners less than a quarter of what Europe’s other big boys do, and they have no corporate sponsorship whatsoever. Glastonbury is the polar opposite of a commercial juggernaut.

    And yet, despite all of this, artists are queuing up to play Glastonbury whether that’s improbable legends like Stevie Wonder and Bruce Springsteen, or the biggest names in pop (Beyonce, Jay-Z), or those incredible “I never thought I’d see the day” headliners like Blur and U2. Glastonbury is the trendsetter, and they take risks. They let Muse, Kings Of Leon and Arctic Monkeys headline before anyone else thought they were ready, in what turned out to be insightful masterstrokes, and in Emily Eavis the festival’s future is assured, with a smart, trendy and forward thinking festival brain capable of living up to her father’s legacy.

    In Short Glastonbury is the world’s trendsetting festival, taking risks where others play it safe, and creating some of the craziest genre splicing line-ups imaginable.

  • 14. Google – Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt

    Google is universal; it shapes the way we all interact with music. While we might feel that we have power over Google’s search results, it’s their complex preference systems and their forthright decision not to censor their own product that is warping the music industry beyond belief.

    Google directs: it can lead it’s users to pirate copies, illegal videos, and huge filesharing networks, or it can provide us with instant access to new music streams, emerging artists and legitimate multi-billion pound businesses. It’s a strange concept but those Google listings can make or break an aspiring band or label, and it’s no surprise that in 2011 the absolute most important decision a band has to make is what to call themselves.

    Creative output? That’s old hat; Search Engine Optimization rules the world and if picking a name that’s obtuse like Friends or Daughter can do irreparable damage to an aspiring artist.

    In Short Like it or not, it’s Google, and not it’s users, that dictate the musical content we uncover, Search Engine Optimization has now entered the music industry rhetoric and if that wasn’t enough, Google Plus is beginning to take root and they already own YouTube.

  • 13. Live Nation – Promoters

    Live Nation have been in the concert and tour business since 2005, and have been one of music industry’s genuine 21st century success stories. As physical CD sales fell, live tours, especially big productions and comeback tours, boomed, and Live Nation were on the front line racking in profit and becoming one of the industry’s most imposing forces.

    More than 50 million people attend Live Nation events each and every year, and the company owns 117 venues across the world including the US’s legendary House Of Blues chain. Live Nation are also responsible for Hyde Park Concerts, Wireless Festival, Download Festival, Pinkpop, Lowlands and Hard Rock Calling as well as owning a 50.1% state in rival live events giant, Festival Republic.

    Live Nation’s ambition is supreme, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon with a record label set to launch, they could soon become the be all and end all of the music industry.

    In Short The ever-expanding giant, with a record label on the horizon, Live Nation have their fingers in every honey pot, making money where others have struggled.

  • 12. Josh Homme

    The thought of Josh Homme ranking ahead of the mighty Dave Grohl might raise a few eyebrows, but while both artists share a flair for spreading the love, it’s Homme who means more to rock music right now. Queens Of The Stone Age will never be as big as the Foo Fighters in terms of monetary value, but what they lack in superstar kudos they make up with artistic influence.

    Now that Jack White has left the White Stripes behind, Josh Homme is this generation’s de facto guitar icon, spreading his influence far and wide. Pioneering the Desert Rock sound, the red haired riff machine got the Arctic Monkeys to ditch quick-fire indie in favour of lavish texture guitar work in conjunction with his murky production on Humbug, and he helped give Biffy Clyro a leg up towards superstardom with his sawing solo on their run away hit “Bubbles”. Homme is irrepressible, aiding everyone from indie stars The Strokes and metal goliaths Mastodon to electronic pioneers UNKLE and rappers Lupe Fiasco.

    In Short More so than any other guitarist, Josh Homme has created not only a commercial empire, but an instantly recognizable style of his own.

  • 11. Pitchfork Media

    The altar at which all indie kids and hipsters worship; in an age where print media has lost it’s relevance and a 10/10 review means less than ever, Pitchfork have made themselves invaluable to the record industry. Surprisingly, it’s not their internet TV network, their podcasts, their superstar interviews, their dubious blog network, or their international Festivals that make them a powerhouse: it’s their reviews, and their ludicrous rating system.

    An 8.1 from pitchfork, as opposed to a measly 8.0, and that all-important “Best New Music” tag can transform an artist’s career. Not only leading to a boost in sales and illegal downloads, but a good word from pitchfork, forces the big boys, The Guardians, The NMEs, The MTVs, to sit up and take notice.

    In Short Having escaped their snarky origins, earning credibility the old fashioned way, Pitchfork Media can make or break careers, helping the most inaccessible of artists achieve genuine commercial success.

  • 10. The Warner Music Group – Label

    So despite huge loses, and a very protracted sale to Access Industries that was only finalized in July, the Warner Music Group remains one of the most influential players in modern rock music. Simply put, Warner owns all the big boys. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, Green Day, R.E.M, hell even Jimi Hendrix, all call WMG home.

    The third biggest label in existence may be sagging, in an eerily similar fashion to sales of rock music, but under the stewardship of Lyor Cohen there is a feeling that the musical goliath is finally finding its feet in the digital age. Optimism has returned, there’s a sense that “they finally get it”, and for the sake of guitar music, we better hope that they do.

    In Short This wayward colossus finally has its house in order, WMG is leaving its past behind, and tentatively embracing the future.

  • 9. Stuart Galbraith – Sonisphere Festival

    Since parting company with Andy Copping and Download Festival Stuart Galbraith has become one of the most important and innovative minds in the festival industry. The Sonisphere experiment has been a run away success. On paper it seemed like suicide, promoting a travelling festival that runs all across Europe (and perhaps the US in future) takes incredible bravery. The red tape that must be navigated let alone the local connections needed to ensure success are unfathomable, and yet Galbriaith and Kilijamiro pulled it off.

    It’s not just the scale of Sonisphere that sets the festival apart; Galbraith has continued to innovate as a booker. The decision to bring back the dual main stages system, ridding the world of the long waits between bands and allowing the paying customer to see every major act if s/he so choses, was a stroke of genius. Booking a comedian on the main stage, finally securing a Rammstein headline slot at a UK festival, and most of all re-uniting Thrash’s Big Four for a Europe wide tour gave Sonisphere a well earned reputation as the festival that gives fans what they want most.

    In Short With the perfect mix of ambition and bravery, Stuart Galbraith has taken on the established names of the Festival landscape, re-writing the festival rulebook in the process.

  • 8. Mark Zuckerberg – Facebook

    Facebook, like so many of Internet platforms mentioned, is an imperfect medium. It’s not naturally built for playing music, yet alone selling it, but despite not having the inbuilt players or the tour date information, Mark Zuckerberg’s brainchild has completely wiped MySpace off the map. To the point where bands are being advised to get off MySpace altogether.

    So what does Facebook do? It’s a network of course, and while it doesn’t offer the intimacy of twitter, it does facilitate greater (and lengthier) discussion. It allows fans, festivals, musicians, promoters, and advertisers to unite together and sell through subterfuge. Facebook’s greatest weapon is its universality, unlike MySpace, they don’t deal with hardcore music obsessives, but the broader, casual audience. 

    Facebook is subtle, by simply “liking” Metallica, even if you have no motivation beyond expressing your affection for the metal giants music, you will have your news feed subtly infiltrated by Metallica’s marketing team. Debate topics catch your eye, news items grab your attention, music videos that you’d never otherwise have seen suddenly breach your horizon, and like it or not (no pun intended, honest) Metallica and all those bands you clicked on for fun have a highly subversive route to your wallet.

    In Short Facebook is continuing to evolve but with millions of people wasting their days on band pages, Facebook provides a vital link between musicians and a huge casual fan base that was once lost or off limits.

  • 7. The Next Big Thing

    For many selecting The Next Big Thing may appear to be a copout, and five years ago it would have been, but once or twice a decade the industry finds itself awaiting the next big boom. This can come in many forms, it can be the next great leap forward sonically, it can be the hot new trend, or it can be nostalgic revival, but whatever it is, in 2011 its desperately needed.

    Guitar music is yearning for a genuine superstar; the indie boom of the early 2000s has more than run its course, despite producing some noticeably mammoth bands, as artists continue to retreat from the mainstream towards tinier and more peculiar niches. Hard rock in particular is more than due for a revolution, while indie can at least claim the tepid nu-folk gang, metal hasn’t had a sweeping culture movement since the regrettable Nu-Metal days of the late 90s, while hard rock hasn’t hit a real cultural home run since Grunge exploded in 1991.

    Make no mistake, there is some truly fantastic music being made in 2011, but much like the year 2000 that great music isn’t penetrating popular culture in a meaningful way, sadly, it just isn’t all that important; guitar music needs The Next Big Thing to emerge, sharpish.

    In Short The Next Big Thing in guitar music is long overdue, and while it may be little more than a figment of our imagination, the effect of its absence is anything but.

  • 6. ITunes + Amazon – Retailers

    Unsurprisingly, iTunes is the more powerful of the two Internet institutions, and yet both iTunes and Amazon deserve to be discussed together. ITunes and Amazon’s downloading services represent the way in which we consume music today, they are the two biggest individual retailers. Purely as a gateway to music, and for presenting such streamlined, easy to use, and adaptable services they deserve to make the list, but there is also a second, far more insidious reason they place so highly.

    While few ever question or complain about the information that both Amazon but particularly iTunes display, it is unquestionable that their recommendation systems are instrumental in shaping what gets bought and what doesn’t. Amazon’s system is simple, and based on “similar users”, but iTunes has been recommending albums and singles based on genre lines for years. Their choices are rarely unconventional, but can often be eye catching, and however slight, or unintentional it may appear, the iTunes store is having as profound an effect on our purchasing habits as anyone or anything.

    In Short The two biggest retailers in the marketplace, with the strongest name brands, and the furthest reach, who may, or may not, be insidiously shaping our decisions as consumers.

  • 5. Metallica

    In large part because the world still awaits an enduring Next Big Thing in metal (see entry no.7), Metallica have become more important in 2011 than they’ve ever been before. They are metal’s flagship outfit, and while their studio releases have largely declined in quality and quantity, the Californian four piece have committed themselves to relentless wide scale touring, raking in millions in the process.

    The true strength of the Metallica was tested in 2009 when Sonisphere Festival launched. It was a make it or break it year for the festival; they had to succeed, and they had to succeed everywhere at once. So who do you call when you have to triumph in genuinely untested waters? Metallica, that’s who. 

    The metal goliaths have successfully headlined fifteen Sonisphere events across Europe in three years, and are set to take the festival into the Indian market later this year. Metallica are a proven commodity as a draw, as tumultuous live force, and as a professional dependable outfit. 

    In Short What Metallica have achieved in the last three years is beyond incredible, for all of Sonisphere’s bravery, it’s the raw power of the Metallica name brand that has turned that festival into a cross continental success story.

  • 4. Nigel Harding & George Eragoudtis – Radio Bosses

    Every country in the world has their own versions of Nigel Harding and George Eragoudtis, and usually the majority of music fans don’t know their names, but hate them intensely all the same. Harding and Eragoudtis in this case are the two most powerful figures at BBC Radio One. They are the defacto tastemakers of a nation, and for all the power that’s been ascribed to social or traditional media in this list so far, no one, not even MTV programmers, have the power or the influence of these two men.

    Harding is commonly believed to control, and be the driving force behind, the Radio One playlists. Those pesky 19 track strong playlists that infect a nation through repeated, and I mean repeated, plays. To their credit, unlike other commercial radio stations, Radio One makes good use of its B, C and New Music playlists, but nothing is more important to a musician of any genre than getting on one of the four main playlists. Make the grade once, grasp the opportunity firmly with both hands, and you can imbed yourself in the popular consciousness of a nation for years, radically altering your career trajectory, sometimes permanently. 

    In Short One is the most powerful man at BBC Radio One (Eragoudtis), the other is the most influential (Harding), together they are the nation’s official tastemakers.

  • 3. YouTube – Chad Hurley, Steve Chen & Jawed Karim

    YouTube is an archive: a giant vault of human history and expression, ranging from the most trivial (80s TV theme tunes) to deeply personal moments (“I do’s” at Weddings) and history in real time (political protest brutal shot down). Some would cruelly characterize YouTube as a giant online collection of tat. Housing the kind of irrelevant trinkets that would traditionally litter the houses of the elderly, a grand and entirely disorderly mausoleum for human triviality, the great altar at which our collective inner kleptomaniac worships.

    Musically, it’s an incredible resource, new music videos, live performances (both professionally and poorly filmed), classic appearances, incredible rarities and regrettably one hit wonders all gather on YouTube. The video giant has a wonderful utilitarian quality, it has transformed the way in which we value music, what was once exclusive, the tracks and clips that only an elite few obsessive collators would ever own are now available to everyone, everywhere. Equally, however, what were once cherished private moments are now universally available, that special one off performance is now the property of millions, worldwide, at the press of a button.

    YouTube is more than just a resource for buying, selling, sharing and spreading; it’s a culture force that has fundamentally altered our conception of value at a human level. It has not only made music widely available for free in a quasi-legal fashion, it’s changed the way we think about, let alone broadcast great art and events.

    In Short YouTube: the biggest and most popular repository for quasi-legal file sharing anywhere in the world, a celebration of human triviality, or a socio-cultural revolution? Who can say.

  • 2. Radiohead

    Few bands will ever be as influential or consistently magnificent in the recording studio as Radiohead, but ever since parting company with EMI in 2004 the Oxford quintet have become dynamic and forward label executives (for a lack of a better term). Since taking their career into their own hands Radiohead have been tackling the dilemmas of the digital age in their own insightful and strangely prescient fashion. The pay what you want release of 2007’s In Rainbows proved an astute move on three fronts.

    Firstly it engaged Radiohead fans new and old, fanatical and casual. The idea of a free or lower priced album made In Rainbows sell like hot cakes, bringing long lost fans back into the fold. With the fees going directly to the band, Radiohead ended up earning a healthy profit and a huge amount of goodwill in the process.

    Secondly they printed a limited edition vinyl box set of In Rainbows retailing at a wildly inflated price that tapped into a renewed 21st century trend for collecting and the cult of exclusivity. It’s a trick they would repeat on follow up LP The King of Limbs, offering a limited edition newspaper, alongside multiple pressings and exclusive album packages.

    Thirdly, it was a brilliant publicity stunt that not only showcased a flair for creating an event (or an anti-event in The King Of Limbs case), but it sent a signal loud and clear to the entire online world that said: Radiohead “get it”. They understand that fans don’t want to be continually castrated for downloading for free, while simultaneously understanding that a large group of fans valued the posterity of yesteryear.

    In Short By negotiating the age of file sharing and predicting the record collector revival Radiohead proved that they, more than any other band, are in tune with the 21st century and it’s many challenges.

  • 1. Daniel Elk – Spotify

    At the end of 2010 The Guardian claimed that Spotify had yet to find a way to make money. In early 2011 Spotify announced that they had reached one million paying users amid some scepticism, by April Spotify significantly cut their free music allowance to non paying users, and as of last month, the brand finally, after many set backs, launched in America.

    It’s been a trying year, but Spotify still represents a realistic, intriguing and entrepreneurial attempt to rejuvenate the music industry through innovation. A hope that we can find new solutions to what is still a relatively new and highly complex problem.

    The unlimited streaming of officially licensed music for a monthly fee is a legitimate answer to the problems of sagging physical sales and Internet piracy. It’s a solution that satisfies both fan and artist, Spotify users don’t feel ripped off, and artists are not falling victim to criminality.

    But can it really make money? Will Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook find away to undercut it? Can the business model work universally across borders? Will the monthly charge inevitably quadruple? Who knows.

    These are the stumbling blocks that Spotify and it’s European peers must face, but right now, by tackling the toughest question and stickiest issue in the music industry head on, Daniel Elk is the most important man in music, period.

    In Short Spotify represents an innovative and entrepreneurial solution to problems of the digital age, and no story is more important in the music industry right now, than that of unlimited streaming and its profitability.

Criteria: Fear not, this will not be a list of anonymous suits and record executives. Instead the list will reflect creativity, innovation, and who or what is dictating today’s trends, and who is really making an impact.

The big hitters will still make an appearance, and we will discuss the crucial decision makers, but we won’t ignore the artists and producers shaping the sound of guitar music from the ground up.

 For entries 40-21, click here.

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