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Industry Insider: Getting To The Facts About Ghost Production With Alex Larichev

We dive into the opaque world of ghost producing to learn a little more about this dark art.
Alex Larichev

Ghost production is one of the dirtiest words in electronic music up there with pre-recorded set. It happens all the time, especially at the highest level, but it is hidden away from the public with expert care. How it occurs can vary. A producer may outright buy a track from a bank of records, they may request a song based on a reference track and give feedback until the track is approved and the ghost producer could be someone just assisting with production to help create the final product the DJ wants. The common theme is that the extra producer won’t get credit. They may be paid up front, with a percentage of royalties or both.

Why people use ghost producers is often not hard to see. The pressures of the road make it almost impossible to have real studio time with jet lag, fatigue and potential writer’s block sapping away any free time at home. In the modern playlist era, putting out new music consistently is required for almost all DJs to stay on the road. Even DJs without massive touring schedules doing 100+ gigs a year will still buy tracks because they have hit a dry spell in production and don’t want their career momentum to stall out.

Does any of this excuse their behavior? That is the debate as fans may feel cheated knowing that their favorite DJ didn’t actually make the song they love so much. To try and parse this out, we chatted with edm-ghost-production founder and CEO Alex Larichev about the dynamic between ghost producers and their subsequent clients and how songs become ghost produced. His service facilitates this process by lining up DJs with ghost producers to make specific tracks and having a general bank of songs that can be bought.

Ghost production is a dirty word in dance music. How can you change that reputation, if possible?

True, I wish I could make the right wave and change people’s mind. But so far, I can’t make this appeal to public. However, I’m trying to open the backstage of ghost production in order to reduce the negativity and bullying.

I assume that expectations from DJs are too overestimated. In 2019 we need to acknowledge that electronic dance music scene is not about nerds who are making tracks at home and spinning them out in clubs. Those days are nearly over. Yeah, that might sound controversial, but that’s my opinion and it’s based on facts. And the fact is nowadays a DJ is not just one person -- it’s a brand and a company -- a company that relies on labels, managers, booking agencies, charts and so on. It’s just physically impossible to do everything by yourself especially while you are touring.

You can’t make a great DJ career without constantly releasing new music. That’s where ghost producers come in to maintain a DJ’s musical profile. It doesn’t mean that the ghost producers are the ones who create the idea and decide what’s better to make or release for a DJ. DJs hire ghost producers to realize their ideas into high quality sounding tracks. They are working closely together, sending files and feedback back and forth. So, don’t get upset, your favorite DJ is not fooling you, he is fully involved in production process and he has major impact on the track.

Looking on another side of the coin, let’s talk about ghost producer. He is not ruining EDM. He does what he loves, making music, tweaking sounds, doing creative work. I was always hankering after this job. Making a living out of music is definitely a dream job and I’m happy to be the one of those lucky guys. I’m getting paid as a hired musician and I invest a big part of my income to dance music scene.

Ghost producers buy plugins, samples, presets, and new equipment, subscribe to magazines and share their knowledge with others on YouTube. We support those developers with the money we earn and that’s how we contribute to EDM world. Just imagine how many producers sit in their bedroom studios. That’s a lot more than DJs in clubs and festivals worldwide. Not everyone wants to be on stage or can make it happen. There are so many reasons for that and we need to respect it.

How many tracks do you guys service each month?

We publish a little over 400 ready-to-use EDM tracks to our catalogue. It’s filled by producers from all around the world. In regards to custom-made tracks, my small team and I handle roughly 20 custom-made tracks.

How much do producers generally make per song they sell?

This year the average price for a track in our catalogue is $399. When it comes to custom-made tracks, the prices may vary from $800 to $1500 on average. At EDM Ghost Production the producers receive fair 70% from sales.

What types of clients do you have? Any big DJs?

Really big DJs have their own ghost producers or co-producers, they don’t need to search through ready-to-use track catalogues in order to find something that fits their artist profile. I’d say that the vast majority of our clients are just starting their careers or are mid-level. They play regularly in local clubs and festivals; have a few international gigs a year and get decent streaming numbers. They are happy to get a top DJ support their track in their set or radio-show and they focus on getting a team around them to reach higher goals. Of course, I can’t tell you names because I work under non-disclosure agreement but this is the estimated overview and image of our client.

Furthermore, we have shifted to a new term called “rights free music” instead of “ghost production.” Our clients are not only DJs. There are a few game developers, advertisement agencies, bloggers, YouTubers and movie production companies -- basically, anyone who wants to get unique audio content with exclusive rights for any commercial use.

What happens if a producer speaks publicly about their work for you guys?

No mercy, no forgiveness. Seriously saying this is trouble for them. Our company is registered and based in the United States and all producers who work with us must sign a non-disclosure agreement, which has a lifetime period. We have strong legal actions, which may affect them. That's why nobody has gone off the hook so far. Also, in this business it's all about the reputation. Ghost producers don’t want to ruin their career. If they speak out to public, they wouldn't ever get paid from clients and on top of that get a lawsuit from us. It isn’t worth it.

Why do you think some artists go for ghost-produced songs instead of giving writing or production credit to other producers?

I think it’s a matter of business model. If DJ is starting out and doesn’t have much money, there would likely be no reasons to pay a flat fee + share publishing or any other royalties. If you give a credit, you definitely have to share income. But if you are working with a friend who is your ghost producer and he is a part of your project then giving credit and working without flat fee seems to be the best option.

Many of A-list DJs give a credit to their producers. They don’t pay flat fees, instead they give a credit with publishing and share roughly around 5%. But this “low” share can get you a nice car if the track hits charts in a big way. For our clients it’s just easy to buy a track in one click and simply release the track as their own without carrying about statements, contracts and shares with original producers. This business model is focused on speed and amount of transactions.

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How often do many DJs come and ask for new songs?

There is no formula but I think DJs should release at least one track a month. We have some people buying 4 tracks every month and some people buy one track every month or two. It just depends on their strategy.

Take us through the period from a song is created to when it is finally sold to a DJ. Are songs requested by DJs or do they pick from a selection of tracks?

There are two ways.

First way:

We provide a catalogue, which we update on daily basis. Any producer can submit a track to our shop and our managers will take care of it. If the track is really bad we will decline it. But if there is something that can be improved we will give valuable feedback. If the track is great we sign a contract with producer, carefully check his source files and upload the track for sale. There are a lot of genres and types of tracks. Prices vary. You need to be lucky to find a gem there because new cool tracks are sold like hotcakes.

Second way:

People like having tailor-made stuff. That’s where we provide custom-made track production service.

Client sends us a link to a reference track and describes their wishes and idea. Usually it’s enough for us to get on the same vibe about the upcoming project and start making a demo. In 2-5 days the producer creates a watermarked demo preview. Then the client has two options:

A. Approve and continue working with the demo. At this point we will have to discuss deadline, sign a contract and buyer will have to pay 100% of the price.

B. Give us more details if they are not satisfied with the demo and will make a few more demos for approval. If the following demos don’t fulfill buyer expectations, we just simply stop the project. They do not have to pay anything at this point, because we don't charge any price for a demo preview.

Once everything is settled, we send the full version, discuss it, get feedback and apply revisions until client is 100% happy with the track.

How many producers are making ghost produced songs and who are they generally?

In EDM Ghost Production there are over 1000 bedroom producers and generally they are located in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, India, Brazil and Argentina. Of course, there are producers from other countries but I've listed the vast majority of them. The income they generate from ghost production is enough to make a living in their countries. It’s hard for them to breakout as a DJ due to political, geolocational and economic issues, so that’s why they are doing this. Many of them are resigned to that fact and are just having fun making music. They have a passion for electronic dance music. It’s in their blood. It’s sad that we can’t see them on stage, but at least we can give them some respect!

How did you get into the business?

I had my own progressive trance artist career back in 2011. It all started when a friend of mine offered me to make a track for him in a genre that I didn’t produce for a long time. He offered a symbolic amount of money - $50. But it was a challenge for me to do requested sound-design and arrangement so I accepted the offer. Later on, I made a simple landing page website with my tracks as portfolio. I stated that I could be hired as ghost producer, co-producer or mixing and mastering engineer. Orders started to come in and I had to expand my production team. After a year working on custom-made basis with the team of 3 people I realized that there should be a room for producers from around the world to make and sell tracks. That’s how EDM Ghost Production was born.

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Alex Larichev links:

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