Ghost production is a standard in mainstream music, and it happens more frequently as you climb the ladder. As a practice, it’s actually not all bad. If both parties were consistently happy with their arrangements, nobody would have anything to say in regards. There are artists that don’t mind rolling out of bed, working on sound design in their home studio, wrapping tunes, and collecting a sizable check as the artists that they are ghosting for claim ownership of records that they never worked on.
More than a dozen times last year, I’ve been handed a record that was later sold and repackaged to be a collaborative tune with an artist that never touched the song, or sold outright with the original creator’s name removed. And because the proper paperwork and payment took place, you will never know what those tunes are. Everyone is walking away happy. The only way that you would ever be alerted to someone quietly using a ghost producer is if there is a public slip-up (hey, DJ Snake), paperwork being made public, or a lack of payment.
Sadly, this lack of payment happens more often than you can imagine. I’ve talked to dozens of producers that have had credits completely removed. Had their work published under someone else’s name without their permission. Had stems stolen from them. They’re quiet because they don’t want to be seen as snitches, and don’t want to rock the boat of opportunity that might pass them by down the road. They talk to me because they know I will speak to them without leaking specifics. But nearly every time, they refuse to comment publicly. I can do nothing but respect their wishes.
But this industry isn’t comprised of simply industry insiders. And if you listen to mainstream dance music, you should get comfortable with the thought that you’re probably being mislead. One of your favorite artists probably doesn’t make the tunes that you praise them for. They are more human and less genius than you think. But there are rare instances like Benny Benassi, who actually cites his cousin Alle as his ghost producer. And goes even further by publicly using the term:
Sure, this isn’t news. Beatport actually ran a marvelous interview back in July of last year with Alle Benassi where he says that “the DJ is the musical memory of the duo and brings the club vibe into the equation while the musician plays the parts.” These cousins are collaborators that don’t hide the moving parts to the machine, and it’s commendable. DJs admitting to using ghost producers is becoming more commonplace, and we’re applauding this open honesty.
We’re seeing more and more mainstream artists willingly list their collaborators. Though Chuckie‘s forthcoming single “Dirty Funkin Beats” only lists his name on the artwork, he credits Maarten Vorwerk, someone who has been cited as a ghost producer for more than a dozen acts that include Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike and Sandro Silva & Quintino. Vorwerk has repeatedly declined interviews to discuss this matter, and though the industry knows that his production is actually fueling quite a bit of mainstream dance music, he stays quiet and very few DJs actually admit his involvement. An instagram quote from Chuckie yesterday says: “My new club track “Dirty Funkin’ Beats” that I produced in collaboration with the legend Maarten Vorwerk is out at the end of January! Stay tuned! #dirtydutch #djchuckie“
Vorwerk walks away with a check. Chuckie gets to focus on spinning records. Great music is heard by large audiences. And everyone walks away happy. But these DJs actually admitting that they work with (or not so much with) producers that make the tunes that they’re pushing on tour is the last piece missing in order to turn ghost production into a positive business.
We also have seen honest dialogue from Bassjackers, who have an arrangement where Marlon Flohr publicly represents the brand, and Ralph van Hils produces. They don’t shy away from it, speak on it openly and publicly, and both are happy with this arrangement. It’s a business model where both parties contribute equally in their own way, and both are happy. Marlon doesn’t have to worry about making records, and Ralph doesn’t have to burn himself out touring on the road.
There’s debate to whether or not ghost production hurts the Producer/DJ that has the ability to both create the tunes that they’re putting their name on and play them out to massive audiences. Is the repackaging of work taking money out of other artist’s pockets? Possibly. We’re also seeing producers like MAKJ frown upon the practice, more for its lack of accountability than financial reasons:
Would anyone have a problem if DJs were honest and upfront about where their content came from? And if business is beneficial to all parties involved, is ghost production really a bad thing? Fans would no longer feel duped, producers could create on their own terms, and it would cease to be a taboo subject. And as this market is continuing to change and evolve, it would be wonderful to be the first generation of musicians and fans to steer this ship in the right direction.