EDM’s Dirty Little Secret

The music industry has a big secret that they don’t want the public to know about. Their dirty little secret is ghost producing, one of EDM’s most controversial topics. Ghost production is the process where a producer creates a music production for a certain DJ without being credited for their work after the track is released. The ghost producer is simply the producer the creates the track, but it remains a secret to the public and hence nobody knows who originally made it. However, there is no differences between a regular producer and a ghost producer. This behind-the-scenes endeavor has a long-standing part in the industry and happens for frequently as artists get bigger. There has been a shift in culture within the EDM scene with a saturation of DJs trying to make it into the spotlight. If you want to get gigs as a DJ you need to consistently release music in order to gain a fan following and increase the music’s exposure. in this music age, anyone with a laptop and music editing software (i.e., Ableton, Logic Pro) can create music. A phenomenal track can turn a bedroom producer into an overnight sensation.

Among many relatively unique features to the commercial EDM scene, the very frequent collaboration among DJ/Producers happens in the club scenes and festivals. In comparison to Pop music, where the line between artist/performer and producer is generally clear, in EDM, the trending notion is that a DJ is also the producer of music. When one listens to a song by David Guetta, that person usually expects the song to be produced by David Guetta. The DJs who work closely with the commercial EDM business are like celebrities, and the fact that they are not merely the performers but also the creators and producers of their music excite people. In other words, one needs to produce and play, to be more famous and to meet the expectations of its general audience in the EDM world.

UKF magazine recently did an interview with an anonymous ghost producer. He explained how the nature of ghost producing works and how it influences the music industry and mainstream EDM. He highlights how larger artists approach ghost producers and how the transaction happens. “Say a DJ Mag top 10 artist approaches me for a track, I know for a fact that the track will go Beatport top 10 without question. So I’ll charge a very low day rate for getting the track done but I’ll negotiate a credit, royalties, PRS and mastering etc into my contract. I’ve had DJs come to me saying a festival wants to book them but they need a history of releases and Beatport charting tracks. They’re quite honest about it, they say it doesn’t need to be a hit, just something with their name on it.” Clearly, these up-n-coming music producers are not making music for the love of music, instead, they are doing it for the fame of performing as a popular DJ in front of a massive festival crowd. My point of view is shared throughout most of the respected artists in the music community and more of these artists are speaking up about it.

From the undergrounds to the mainstream, the issue on ghost production is now being blatantly discussed in the music industry. When the topic is brought up, several write-ups make it seem like fans should be outraged; ghost producers should be given sympathy and credit while DJs and artists don’t deserve the fame and attention. The feeling of “being lied to” can be immensely problematic. There are many people, including myself, who appreciate different aspects of music through feeling the relationship between music and its creator. Knowing about the author, especially in art, is crucial in experiencing the artwork to a much higher level, whether the experience is of an emotion or of an admiration for the artist’s technique and sensibility. In music, it is not the lyrics and composition, but also the interaction between author and its creation that complete the experience of a musical work. Adele and Kurt Cobain are both great musicians, but if they sing each other’s song, it is different not just musically, but emotionally. The identity of a creator can alter the experience of an already produced work.

Ghost producing is a grey area in the music scene and happens in many ways throughout the scale of popularity. There are the blatant offenders, where you hear it and think, “there’s no way they had anything to do with this” or it is not within their stylistic range and quality. There are the shady collaborators, where a more popular artist trades his influence for a feature on the track to give a previously under-known producer more exposure. And there’s sound trading, where artists will share their samples in songs they’ve produced and other artists will use them in their upcoming tracks. The lines between collaboration and ghost production are often blurred to the point where it’s hard to see a definitive right and wrong. In an interview with Fuse TV, Nicky Romero talked about his views on ghost producing, “We spend so much time and effort making the sounds and arrangements, finding the chords and everything and you just send an email saying, ‘I’m going to pay you a certain amount of money and I want to have a song.’ It’s just insane. It happens all the time. There are rich dads in this world that just pay for their sons and pay producers tons of money to have music out there and make them a big artists. But an artist is created by creativity, originality and discipline. It is not created by money.” Once you realize ghost producing happens, its pretty easy to see who the obvious sell outs are due to an overexposure of media. Furthermore, sites like edmghostproducer.com openly sell pre-produced songs made by ghost producers. The price is not cheap, a single song can range from $300 to $700.

Don’t get me wrong, the practice of ghost production is not a bad job. It makes complete sense to have artist roll our off bed, working on music in their home studio, completing quality music and collecting a check at the end of the day. This way both parties are happy even though the artist is claiming ownership of a track they never worked on. Creating wonderful  tracks takes time, knowledge and talent so it only makes sense that ghost producers are paid well. Ghost-producing tracks could be something one can do on the side or it can become a fulltime paid gig. Depending on contract, producers may also earn from copyrights and royalties. In some cases, the producer receives a couple of gigs and will be in the inner circle of a certain DJ, which both creates a lot of networking and growing opportunities. I am fine with DJs, ghostwriters, and commercial EDM business that some say is pushing too hard. They are all generally satisfied, and it’s a win-win game that rapidly produces quality music. I listen to music without doubting every time whether a song was mostly done by another producer; however, I do feel somewhat uncomfortable with the fact that emotion and feeling of admiration I experienced from the connection between the music and its creator may have been fake.

If one does not care about ghost producing, then it may not be a problem for that person. However, this phenomenon should be noted by the general audience because it can be a problem, especially if one is a fan of electronic music. The reason some might not care is because they experience to an active listener. Not only lyrics, but rhythm, melody, pitch and ton all tell a story in relation to its creator. For example, artificial intelligence nowadays can compose music that cannot be distinguished as being artificial, even by professional ears. The algorithm compiles the data from man-made musical pieces, analyzes patterns and techniques and produces a totally new music based on its learning. If we continue down this road of ghost production, then where does the artist respect come from? In the future, there will be no way to distinguish the originality of an artist’s work and therefore, we will never understand the true value of music through the lies of our favorite artists.

By Conner McEuen




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