The Ghost-Producer: The Scenes Deepest, Darkest Secret

Electronic dance music has a secret, a secret its biggest “artists” don’t want you to know about. In the new producer/DJ paradigm, the age of the tastemaker DJ is over, being a DJ is now synonymous with being an electronic music producer. Releasing your own tracks is a must, and having a viral hit in this day and age can turn you into an overnight success. This has caused an overwhelming epidemic of “ghost-producing,” where successful DJs use their newfound wealth to hire another producer to create their tracks.

Many of these successful superstar DJs are portrayed as studio geniuses, a one-man show who create all their music and play it out all over the world. The truth is that a lot of these producers are far more than the “one man show” that they’re portrayed as. Many of the scenes biggest players utilize ghost producers, and pretty much every producer/DJ with any semblance of fame most likely has a little help.

Whether it’s an engineer whiz kid who can finish off a good idea, a sound designer who makes incredible synth lines, or a full-fledged ghost producer there are a ton of people involved. There’s a huge amount of man hours that go into a professional sounding song, there’s so many facets of production that it’s borderline impossible to be a master of everything. There’s the sound design, melody writing, drum programming, recording vocals, arrangement and any other lose ends. And there’s the mixing and mastering stage, which is just as much an art form as the production itself. Yes, there are geniuses like Wolfgang Gartner, Boys Noize, Steve Duda, and the artists of the 90’s “Golden Age” but you’d be surprised at how rampant ghost production has become.

The harsh reality is any producer who’s used a Massive preset, Loops or a Vengeance pack synth shot is effectively utilizing a ghost producer whom they will never meet. But let’s not waste time on thinking about the horrific world of Soundcloud hangers on who create unprofessional and uninspiring work. I’m talking about the people who’ve “made it,” touring around the world, making thousands of dollars per gig, being honored by the media, and some even earning a Grammy or two (hint hint). With access to this nearly endless supply of disposable income from touring, a lot of the best and brightest of the scene hire some real help to take themselves to the next level.

Once you realize ghost producing happens, it’s pretty easy to see who the obvious perps are. While I was going to name names, in the interest of my reputation and protecting my sources I’ve chosen to leave the investigating up to the reader. There are the blatant offenders, where you hear it and think, “there’s no way they had anything to do with this.” There’s the shady collaboration, where a powerbroker trades his influence for a feature on the track to give a previously un/under-known producer more exposure. And there’s sound trading, like what occurred between Skrillex and Dillon Francis, where Dillon used sounds from “Ruffneck Bass” in his track “Falling Up.” The lines between collaboration and co-opting are often blurred to the point where it’s hard to see a definitive right and wrong.

There are shades of grey in this taboo practice, but personally I’ve tried to shift my expectations rather than deal with my disappointment. The reality is these type of things happen all the time, and have happened throughout the recording industries history. And now that electronic music has gone into the mainstream this is the price the die-hards have to pay. A music producer in the industry sense is someone who finds the best pieces to the musical puzzle and puts them together. Any song with high production quality has to have a few hands on it other than the artist who gets credit.

Have you ever heard of Dr. Luke? He’s one of Pop’s biggest producers, producing Top-40 faire for the Ke$has and Katy Perry’s of the world.

Yet he’s effectively a ghost, nobody outside of the industry knows who he is when he’s defining the modern Top-40 record. The Katy Perry’s and Ke$has are the faces of his operation, taking the credit that Dr. Luke probably doesn’t even want. And Dr. Luke is one of many in a long line of Rick Rubins, Nile Rodgers’, and countless “legends” who go unrecognized to the general public. By leaving the underground, this is a reality that electronic music is going to deal with.

Rather than believe the “one man show” hype, have a more vigilant ear so you don’t get fooled so easily. Yes there are genius producers who fulfill the godly producer/DJ stereotype, but they’re much rarer than we’re lead to believe. My advice: take everything with a grain of salt. Oh, and also be weary whenever you see “Diplo Featuring ________.”

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  • Fort Knox Five

    Dr Luke also did some amazing underground work with Ursula 1000 and A Skillz & Krafty Kuts! Those tunes were amazing!

  • Superduck

    jaded and passive aggressive. stick to collecting vinyl.

    • Ian Stapleton

      thank you haha this article is ridiculous

      • T

        As a ghost producer. I think you’re the main reason this is all relevant.

        You don’t know any better and listen to garbage.

  • Jas_zamora

    what you said about skrillex and dillon francis, you say its “sound trading” when it actually is just discovering those sounds. you and i both don’t know if they ACTUALLY “sound traded” but im pretty sure they didnt due to the fact of when having a music software you FIND and DISCOVER these sounds or should i say synths, everyone can find similar types of synths but it all depends on how you master the synth. So what im pretty much telling is that you’re wrong about “sound trading”

    • Cylock

      Most of these guys don’t just “find synths,” man. A lot of them make their own synth patches from scratch. That is what they trade, the patch, not the actual software.

      • T

        You don’t trade patches, you would trade samples.

        But as a sound engineer, producer, ghost producer… If you are half an artist you can recreate any sound, unless it’s analog.

    • T

      The words you just attempted putting together made you sound like you don’t know wtf you are talking about.

  • Nedly

    great write

  • D. Gio

    I don’t think people would get so bent out of shape if some of these star djs weren’t trying to pretend that they made their hit track start to finish including mastering on a laptop in their bedroom on crap speakers.  

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  • mm

    Ghost producing much like ghost writing ain’t necessarily a bad thing. I think most people know that these artists don’t do all the work it takes to complete a record. They however already have a name out for themselves and can sell a record. You may choose to deny it but everyone wants to make some money. Its ridiculous when i hear people say “i don’t do it for the money!” BS. Every producer out there would love to have their record heard around the world even if it means sticking another person’s name on it. everybody wins!

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  • Jeremy Conner

    This is the silliest article I have ever read. I don’t know who made the rules that producers have to do everything themselves now, collaborating with other musicians and producers is just what they do. The term producer used to mean the guy who gets people together and oversees them in making an album, now dj culture gets to come along and tell us whats what. I am of the opposite persuasion and think that the more collaboration happens on music the better. Also, by the logic of this article you are cheating if you use A PIANO in your track if you did not INVENT THE PIANO.

    • Jeremy Conner

      (yes I produce EMD and occasionally dj, preferably in colaboration with other artists!)

      • rob

        I invented the piano – Al Gore

    • nick

      you dont get it its one thing to collab but he means that an artist will essentially create the hook and 90% of the track, and then another artist will come along and just put their signature sub bass on it and boom there name is on a track, the music industry is all marketing and this article is dead on.

    • SWRV

      Jimi Hendrix was a Ghost producer because he didn’t invent the guitar.

  • Heliograf

    Skrillex has 12 ghost producers, i know one of them.

  • Alfredo Martinez

    the sad thing is I know a dj/producer, Shreddie mercury, the guy that one the contest for zedd’s spectrum and he makes all his sounds, all his drums, all his mastering and mixes and he is not as recognized as he should!!! he is such an amazing guy so if you get a chance give a listen to his music. Real non ghost produced

  • DJ Swerve

    This is Truly sad.
    My whole life I’ve looked up to artists like Jimi Hendrix for creating music that was new, different and awesome… but now I realize that “The harsh reality is any “ARTIST” who’s used a GUITAR, DRUMKIT, or ANY INSTRUMENT THEY DIDN’T INVENT is effectively utilizing a ghost producer whom they will never meet.”


    • T

      Keep hitting play, you’re not an artist. Thanks for your stupid input. Keep buying Aoki music.

      • DJ Swerve

        A: What is your definition of artist?
        B: I don’t happen to have any Aoki music
        C: I do more than hit play, I use different sound samples (usually created by other people or “ghost produced”) to create an arrangement of sounds that progress and combine to instill a desire to dance and translate certain feelings to the audience.
        When it comes to Dj’ing one has to do more than hit play if they are mixing song to song. It’s mostly a matter of timing and layering parts of songs to create a pleasant mix. Have you ever done it yourself?

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  • Dream Vibers
    • SWRV

      great place for EDM advertising lol