Throughout 2015, there was a rising furor over the role of "ghost producers"—or uncredited musicians—creating hits for some of the biggest names in mainstream electronic music. Over the summer, an online image began to circulate on social media alleging that artists like Tiësto, David Guetta, and Steve Aoki were enlisting other producers to make songs for them. The accusations quickly spread from Twitter beef, to legitimate editorial musings, and slinging mud on everyone from Diplo to Martin Garrix.
In November we covered the story of Nadja Brenneisen, a Swiss woman who tricked club promoters, festival bookers, and concert-goers worldwide into thinking she was a successful EDM DJ as part of an elaborate art project. According to Brenneisen, ghost producers played a large role in her immaculate stage present by creating the music she passed off as her own.
"It makes me angry that other DJs pass off real musicians' work as their own," she says, referring to the practice. For Ben Mühlethaler and Avesta, though, the two hired guns she enlisted for the project, she says public recognition isn't really a concern. "Success is not their top priority," she says. "What they care most about is making music for a living and being able to pay their rent."
This statement pretty accurately sums up some of the contradictions of ghost production. Depending on your thoughts on authorship, it's a practice that could easily be deemed problematic, but in the real world artists are, apparently, more than willing to sell their art for le pain quotidien. An industry has arisen in which producers who want to make money selling music can do just that—at the expense of identity.
In a 2015 Noisey article, Peter Robinson wrote about the growing trend of online services profiting from the longtime practice of ghost production in the music industry, including the electronic-focused website EDM Ghost Producer. Wanting to know more, we got in touch with one of the brains behind the US-based site—which allows producers and artists to buy and sell songs anonymously—to talk about the business.
THUMP: When did you get the idea for the website?
EDM Ghost Producer: A little over a year ago, my partner and I had a vision to build a platform to facilitate the transaction between ghost producers and artists. It started out with a few of our producer colleagues and myself producing tracks for the site, but as more and more producers wanted help selling their tracks, we quickly grew to become the world's biggest ghost production platform.
Why are people so upset about ghost producers?
A lot of people are upset because they don't understand it. The reality is ghost services have been around forever and are common in industries outside of music.
In music, many singers from all genres including pop, country, rock and rap have teams of ghost writers, yet they sell out stadiums based on music they didn't write. So we aren't sure why there is a double standard within dance music. Everyone should understand. As long as there is music, there will be ghost producers.
People feel ghost producing is a dirty job and musicians who use ghost producers are "lazy" or "fake," but that's certainly not the case. Many artists are very hands-on in the creative development of their music and may lack in certain technical areas.
What did you think of [London producer] Mat Zo's rant about ghost producing in EDM?
Honestly, we feel he was a bit childish in his remarks and the way he handled it. Ghost producers aren't chained to their computers in a studio being forced to produce for DJs. For most ghost producers this is a dream job and many don't desire the spotlight. We've declined opportunities to be credited in collaborations because we truly don't want the attention.
Why is it important for you to remain anonymous?
We choose to remain anonymous for several reasons. First and foremost, we take anonymity very seriously with our clients and vow to never expose their personal information. Second, we choose to be ghost producers because we don't want to be in the spotlight, so our privacy is important to us.
How do you find and vet your producers?
We vet our producers thoroughly. We receive quite a few submissions on a daily basis and are always looking for talented producers to provide them with the opportunity to sell their tracks. We require several key elements from the production that can only be generated from the original creator of the track. Additionally, we have an internal copyright screening to make sure all material is free of any copyrights. Only around 30% of tracks submitted are accepted to be hosted for sale.
How is the purchase cost of a track split between the service and the producer?
We have a 70-30 split with our producers. They take home 70% of the sale.
Artists pay for logos and equipment, do you feel that paying for songs is just another aspect of being a working DJ today?
The industry demands that up-and-coming artists not only have to be a DJ/producer, but also do their own PR/marketing, graphic design, and social media. Ghost producing has become a tool available to anyone who feels it may help them express musically what is required of their artistic brand, even if they do not have the skills to have that complete "artist profile"—which is interesting because when DJing began, up until the EDM explosion, it was not a requirement for a DJ to be a producer too.
Do you think ghost producing compromises electronic music as legitimate artistic expression?
Electronic music as a whole is still a legitimate artistic expression. The expression comes from one's connection to the music, as it is listened to or danced to. There is a certain level of purity in the feeling that electronic music instills in people, and from that purity comes the anger against ghost producing. It makes people feel as though the artist is not as invested in them. We can appreciate that purity, as we too are dance music aficionados. Through our passion and love there has been a thorough analysis of the industry, and as the need for this facet of the industry has evolved, we've been able to put that passion to work.
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