Written By: RayTrill Harvey
Aww, the taboo topic of Ghost production…
It exists in every genre, not just electronic music, from Hip Hop to pop to R&B; Ghost production is something that is alive and flourishing in music. The one thing we can all agree on is that NOBODY agrees on this topic. We’re going to break apart this subject piece by piece and give you the dirty lowdown details from the experts. We’ve interviewed artists and industry professionals. We’re going to reveal some secrets and give you perspectives on both sides of the fence. We want you guys to take something from this; after an examination of both sides, we want you to reach understanding before making a final opinion.
“I think so many die-hard fans, if they saw proof, if they saw what we’ve seen… would be crushed.” – @TheFPIA on Twitter.
Ghost production is only defined by one source, which isn’t a credible source but nevertheless. Urban Dictionary defines Ghost Production as: “A piece of music that has been created by a certain artist or artists (who will not be credited), and is sold and distributed under another artist or musician’s name.”
A simple online search of the term, “Ghost Production”, will bring up hundreds of websites offering ghost production services at a range of prices for electronic producers. It’s not cheap. Some of these websites shamelessly state in their biography, “Kickstart your production career with a professionally produced track!” This sort of statement can make a music lover sick to their stomachs… But what you have to be asking yourself, “Is there any good reason for ghost production?”
We asked the same questions.
“When there becomes an over abundance of ghost production, it takes away a big part of what artistry means to me. If all an artist is doing is using a ghost producer for every song they make, then that’s when it becomes a problem. Some artists and people are so obsessed with the “popularity factor” of a song or of their own artist image that they forget music production is an art form” – Michael Placencia
I first discovered ghost production when I was a baby in the music industry. We all fall in love with a producer or a song when we jump into the world of electronic music and music festivals. My first artist love was one of the biggest in the country. I traveled all over the US to see this artist play in venues and festivals revered the world around. I met some of my best friends by finding groups of people at festivals sporting their merch… so what a shock when visiting with one of my first artist friends, he reveals to me that one of their biggest tracks was made by someone else…
“It’s bullshit when you really stop to think about it. So many good artists out there never see the light of day. They either get stuck ghost producing or they never develop the right network to get their music shared. Or they end up being in the middle. Well known but no labels sign them cause they are a threat to bigger acts.” –@TheFPIA on Twitter
…what a shock AND complete heartbreak. I was taken aback that I spent so much of my time and money on an artist that lied to me! I couldn’t believe it! I made sure not to go just off of the friend’s word, I did research and asked more trusted artists. It wasn’t long before one of the actual ghost producers was revealed to me and confirmed from plenty of industry professionals. What a complete slap in the face to see that “ghost producer” complaining about not being where they should be on social’s and never getting the deserved recognition for all they had done for dance music.
I was left wondering… Why?
There are a few reasons that ghost production exists and not all of them are bad!
One of the main reasons ghost production began, besides DJs wanting an easy way in, was when touring DJ’s traveling from city to city, barely getting sleep, needed to fulfill one huge requirement… put out more music! These producers needed help… maybe they lacked inspiration, maybe they lacked sleep or willpower but either way, deadlines were on the table from labels and management. Eager, hungry producers were at the ready. These young, talented producers were not only willing to give up some of their greatest works for a check but the promise of bookings and a leg up in the industry that is typically provided to them. What comes from this is some of the best music we’ve ever heard and the careers of huge names live on to play another show with their names slapping on ghost produced tracks.
You might find yourself still saying, “No! Fuck that! I’m being lied to by my favorite musicians!” Let’s switch perspectives. Switch from the point of view of the big touring artist, who you might want to dehumanize, and look at the perspective of the young hungry artist. MOST producers, when they start, have nothing but a love of music that runs deep in their blood; a hunger and a laptop. What happens after a year of hammering out some of the best music that exists and gaining only a following of a thousand? What happens when these young, poor producers are on the brink of giving up their dreams of music to fall into a safe, stable career?
A sense of desperation may arise to keep their dreams alive. And suddenly… an opportunity… to not only get their music heard by possibly millions but to feed themselves or their families. Ghost produce a track for a bigger artist and live to fight another day.
“Most big DJs have a stable of writers, beats guys,” he says. “For the most part these are young kids. Generally their payment is 5% of publishing…but 5% of a few million dollars is better than 50% of nothing.” – Name Omitted (quoted from LA Weekly)
The perspective of the ghost producer is one we can’t ignore. Some ghost producers have a terrible problem; social anxiety. Some producers would never want to put themselves in front of a crowd or around people. These ghost producers just LOVE to make music and have no desire to ever play shows, they just want to make music or have their music heard. Some people are so unmarketable that it makes no sense for them to ever take that route. These producers rely on other ‘artists’ to sustain their passion. You’d actually be surprised how many producers and touring DJs have sold ghost produced work, it’s incredibly easy money. a quick couple hundred per track could help pay any bill that could be troubling a person.
Regardless, though many good reasons do actually exist for ghost production, so many shameful ones prevail as well.
It’s a sad thing to fans when they find the artists that they are so fond of having lied to them. It’s a terrible thing to cry or feel euphoric to the music of a producer and feel a deep connection to the person you think is behind it just to find out, you have no idea who created such a beautiful work of art. There exists a plentiful amount of “producers” that have never touched any production software and have purchased their way into the hearts of millions.
Some of the biggest DJ’s in the world recognized one key point that has allowed the industry of ghost production to flourish… DJing is much easier than producing and not everyone is born with creativity. As electronic music has reached an all-time high worth at $7.4 billion, the time to slice off a piece of the pie has never been better and the path to success never been more clear; if you have enough money to buy the best songs in the world and slap your name on them… why the fuck not, right?
“A lot of ghost writers sign agreements where they’re not allowed to work for anyone else or do their own thing. They’re getting locked into signing non-disclosure agreements. It’s predatory because a lot the kids have no understanding of the music industry.” – Name Omitted (quoted from LA Weekly)
Why the fuck not indeed… it’s a shady, shady thing to have no love or passion for what you’re doing, to lie to your adoring fans about your body of work and never have a part in creating any of it. Countless producers slave over their art while some people easily lie and network their way to the top.
“It’s the apex of the materialistic, charlatan, ostentatious desire of certain types to become a ‘superstar DJ’ for the love of status rather than for the love of music.” – Ben Gomori (London Based DJ in an interview for Mixmag 2012)
In the past, you used to be able to make a reasonable living just off of spinning, DJing was enough to sustain you. Now, you can’t even make a decent living unless you know how to produce… this fact is one of the many reasons ghost production is flourishing. It’s caused an entire community of branding and marketing in the industry based off of fake talent.
While some big name producers/DJs don’t deserve ANY of the credit for their success and deserve to have it stripped… some of them actually have full creative direction in the process, telling the ghost producer what they want in a track, provide plenty of examples, the idea behind their vision and then help to make those ghost producers incredibly successful.
One of the longstanding controversies in electronic music is the DJ Mag top 100 debates. Countless producers have come forward along with friends, family and industry professionals, telling the tale of DJ/producers buying their way on to the list… This is one of the many fucked up aspects of this industry, a list that is supposed to list the best of the best and most talented in electronic music, paid for by greedy artist teams. A list that usually consists of close to half being artists who use ghost producers. This list is looked at all over the world to determine who will be the highest paid and most recognizable artists; it’s disgusting.
Ghost production is going nowhere, it’s alive and well, existing in many forms when it comes to the capitalism of art. It’s hurtful to be lied to and while we don’t support the buying of ghost production or the lying and falsification of bodies of work… we have reached a form of understanding and acceptance. A sort of appreciation at even being able to hear so many incredible works of art has taken the place of the initial hurt that was felt at being lied to. While I find so much of the business of ghost production to be fucked up and just completely fake, I am able to accept that there is an equal amount of good to balance the scales. An intricate business that can keep talented artists from never reaching the top but can also help many make one hell of a living and launch the careers of others.