Eicher studied music at the Academy of Music in Berlin. He is a record producer and a double-bass player. In 1969 he founded a record label in Munich called ECM - Edition of Contemporary Music. Some of the famous artists he has recorded over the last 40 years are Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Chick Corea, Gary Burton, Jack DeJohnette, Anouar Brahem, Dave Holland, Pat Metheny, Ralph Towner, Terje Rypdal, Steve Kuhn, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
In 1984 Eicher started up a new label, ECM New Series, for written music, or European classical music. Some of the artists whose work was released on the New Series were Steve Reich, Arvo Pärt, John Adams, Meredith Monk, and the mediaeval composer Pérotin. Perhaps the most remarkable record was the best-seller Officium (1994), a collaboration between Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble, performing some compositions by Cristóbal de Morales, Pérotin and others.
Eicher has produced most of the records released on his label. On average, each jazz record takes just two days to record and one day to mix. Most of the records have been recorded with Jan Erik Kongshaug (of Talent Studios and later Rainbow Studios) as sound engineer. To date Manfred Eicher has produced more than a thousand albums.
Quote: "I believe the producer’s role is to capture the music he likes, to present it to those who don’t know it yet."
- 1976 Down Beat: Producer of the Year (category introduced for the first time)
- 1986 honorary “German Record Critics Award” for his achievements
- 1998 Music Prize of the City of Munich
- 1999 Commander of the Royal Order of the Polar Star from the King of Sweden
- 1999 V Class Order of the Cross of St. Mary’s Land from the President of Estonia
- 2000 Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters by the University of Brighton in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the development of contemporary music
- 2001 Commander of the Royal Order of Merit from the King of Norway
- 2002 Grammy Award for Classical Producer of the Year, nominated again in the same category for 2003 and 2004
- 2007 Bundesverdienstkreuz (Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany)
- 2008 Down Beat: Producer of the Year
- 2010 Down Beat: Lifetime Achievement Award and Producer of the Year
- 2012 Down Beat: Producer of the Year