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 ________.”