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In the early 1970s, Iovine became a recording engineer, working with John Lennon and Bruce Springsteen, among others. By 1973, Iovine was on staff at the New York studio the Record Plant, where he worked on Springsteen's Born to Run and Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell albums. He came to prominence via his work on the 1978 Patti Smith album Easter, which included her Top 40 hit "Because the Night". He teamed with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers on Damn the Torpedoes and U2 on Rattle and Hum. Iovine also produced Bella Donna (the first solo album for Stevie Nicks), Making Movies for Dire Straits, and Get Close for The Pretenders.
Iovine served as sound engineer for the Voyager Golden Records, a pair of phonograph records which were launched aboard the Voyager space probes in 1977.
Iovine was also responsible for supervising the music used in the 1984 romance film Sixteen Candles, Streets of Fire and the 1988 comedy film Scrooged.
In 1990, Iovine co-founded Interscope Records, which became Interscope Geffen A&M after a merger in 1999.
Iovine signed Tupac Shakur to a recording contract as one of the first hip-hop acts on the Interscope label in 1991.
Iovine was also responsible for providing distribution, initial funding and financial oversight for the highly successful Death Row Records hip-hop label in the 1990s. Death Row operated as a subsidiary of his company Interscope, and was largely responsible for Interscope's initial platinum selling chart successes throughout the 1990s, which later launched the company into greater success in the 2000s with platinum artists like Eminem and 50 Cent.
In 2002, Iovine co-produced the Academy Award-winning Eminem film 8 Mile, which opened at #1 at the box office and went on to gross more than $240 million worldwide. Additionally, Iovine executive produced the 2009 LeBron James documentary More than a Game and 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin'.
In 2008, Iovine teamed up with Dr. Dre to co-found Beats By Dr. Dre, a headphones brand. The company had captured 20 percent market share of the headphones industry by 2012.
In January 2013, Iovine announced the expansion of the Beats brand into the online digital music world with Daisy, a new service slated to launch in late 2013. Former Topspin Media executive Ian Rogers and Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor were said to be involved.
On May 28, 2014, Apple Inc. announced the acquisition of Beats Electronics. Iovine was hired to assume an undisclosed position at Apple where he helped in the creation of Apple Music.
In 2005, Iovine made a guest appearance as himself on "Don't Make Me Over", an episode of Seth MacFarlane's Family Guy.
From 2011 to 2013, Iovine was a mentor on Fox's American Idol. Iovine's protégés—Scotty McCreery, Phillip Phillips, Jessica Sanchez, and Candice Glover—release their music through Interscope. Iovine stopped working with the show in mid-2013.
In July 2017, HBO ran a four-part documentary about Jimmy Iovine's relationship with Dr. Dre and other musicians titled The Defiant Ones.