Ok, the title may seem like a rip off of a 70’s iconic movie turned animated cartoon, and it is. The intent and play on words behind it fit seamlessly as a headline title for this piece. In the film, four ordinary people with a belief that ghosts exist manage to unearth scientific breakthroughs, building gadgets such as a proton pack that exterminated the supernatural with a plasma stream or capturing ghosts in a ‘ghost trap’ before extinguishing them back at the disused fire station.
Ironically, the idea behind this film aligns perfectly with my view on the theme we will be discussing. As much as I would love to spend the whole article talking about Slimer (Is he good or bad?) and Egon Spengler being the geeky scientist we would all like to befriend. Or perhaps, just how good the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man would have tasted and how alluring Dana was after being consumed by Zuul. I will instead address a different sort of ghost. Ghost Production.
Ghost Production is a dirty word in the world of dance music and is quite a taboo subject.
The use of ghost producers is viewed as cheating by many in the industry. It is not a new thing though, as producers have worked with studio collaborators and engineers for years.
In layman terms, a Ghost Producer is this:
A Ghost Producer is a music producer that composes and produces tracks for other artists, allowing artists to focus on performing and touring. A Ghost Producer can either co-produce, produce the track entirely, or assist other artists with sound engineering.
In a sense, ghost production is a loose concept, encompassing the engineering and composition of a track. The end track may not be a full-on creation but supports an initial idea. Take an incredibly talented synth technician adding touches, for example. Maybe an engineering whizz that can put the final touches on that idea. The alternative is the whole track produced with no artist input and sold confidentially with all rights and stems to the music transferred.
At face value, the idea seems quite wise. It supports the busiest artists with their time management and expectations of them as global artists. A slight tweak or refinement to a beat seems reasonable for a DJ who is jet setting for 80% of the year.
The problem occurs when the original ideas behind the proposal are taken advantage of and used for different motives. The tweaks have become less of the use & plagiarism has taken over. I want to offer an insight into why DJs use these services, why they have become an issue whilst trying to remain balanced, and offer thoughts of why, just like the ghosts in the aforementioned Ghostbusters, should be exterminated.
So, why do DJs use ghost production services?
The game has moved on.
Whether you like it or not, the game has changed. It used to be enough to have the technical ability and perform as a DJ alone. Many made their name just by offering a masterclass in mixing. Sadly, these days are gone, and with the landscape evolving, there is immense pressure to produce to DJ on the big stage. The producers will now scoop up the big gigs. The unfortunate fact is clear. In today’s modern scene, you have to produce music to DJ on the biggest stage. It is something I have come to terms with but wholeheartedly do not agree with.
Do the best producers make the best DJs?
Absolutely not. As a DJ myself who has just started to delve into the production world, my opinion has always been this.
Allow the production specialists to produce. Leave the top DJs to DJ. Focus on where the talent lies.
Not everyone is talented in both forms. The problems caused by crossing the proverbial bridge are often catastrophic. The producers that cannot perform live sets will stink out an event with a poor showing (witnessed on many occasions). The DJs will rush out awfully produced music into an already over-saturated scene. What does this create? A repetitive churn and a mass influx of edits, and poor music.
After addressing how the modern-day DJ game has changed, this point becomes highly relevant. Brand identity as a DJ is paramount. As much as a large social media following is great on outlook (the following can often be fake or paid for), the search for that one ‘banger’ release to build the profile is rife. The pressure to drop that one release that makes your name and throws your alias into the ‘big booker’ category is immense. The theme then continues as the demand for a constant stream of releases is placed on the artist.
Enter the Ghost Producer.
Several problems arise from this. Imagine becoming known for a specific sound that is not even your own?! You hire a Ghost Producer to create your tracks. The sound links to your alias. Essentially you have zero clues about how it has been crafted and developed. Imagine not being able to answer questions in interviews or from fans and colleagues about the specifics of the track. Embarrassing.
The ghostwritten track may have given you brand identity, but at what cost?
I have carefully researched this area as I believe in due diligence and the vital role it plays. Keeping an open mind, I always try to offer an honest overview of the topic.
I have spoken previously about how some artist management companies will only take on ‘new talent’ if they fit a specific set of requirements. These requirements include tick boxes such as age, social media following, marketability and image etc.. some (not all) now hire ghost producers for their artists.
For balance, this does not filter through the whole industry as the use of engineers for breakthrough artists – who have full track involvement – is more an occurrence. As I alluded to earlier in this piece, this can be fit for purpose.
What sort of message does hiring a ghost producer for an artist to get them releasing music send out? I will tell you.
A terrible one. Please stop.
Pressure has been a recurring theme that flows through this piece. The constant and insane push to be releasing music, with the emphasis placed on having to have releases to build your brand identity and the ridiculous notion that this is all needed to become a big stage DJ.
Locating these services used to be a monotonous and time-consuming task. Unless you knew the people directly or had an ‘in’ through a network, the availability was at a premium.
As the demand for the services has increased, so has the availability. Our old friend ‘supply and demand’ comes to the fore. Many producers now see this as a source of income.
Scanning the internet, the ease and simplicity of purchasing a full, box-ready track are astounding. A simple ‘google’ search will pull up page after page of websites where you can click and collect a track within a chosen genre. You can view and listen to the selections, pay and download.
It is popular opinion that the scene needs to get back to one packed full of talent. Returning to better times where a DJ is a sole focus and the masters of the mixing craft can build a successful career on this alone, whilst the sublime producers drop those grooves consistently without having to break through the clutter.
Many agree that using ghost producers to get ahead in the music game is a sneaky and underhanded tactic, but what about getting help from co-producers, more musically advanced amigos, or studio engineers? There is a subtle difference between buying a previously produced track that ticks all the right alias identity boxes and utilising someone’s services to bring your ideas to reality. We can speak about what is classed as ‘authentic’ in this day and age or whether we should be thinking differently about artists who spend years developing their skills but this piece would turn into a thesis.
Like countless things in this world, when a tool is designed for a particular reason, it can work specifically for a purpose. It then gets abused and taken advantage of which culminates in a chain reaction that ruins the initial intention of the idea.
Whilst writing this, I cannot think of one artist that has admitted to using the services. I can only recall certain DJs being outed on Twitter. Hannah Wants and Fisher to name a few. This, in itself, creates an issue with the process. The artists do not openly admit to using ghost producers. Perhaps if this was the case, the secretive and shady reputation it has earned might become a little more acceptable.
I have touched the tip of the iceberg on this hotly debated topic. For me, transparency is the key to manage perceptions and shed light on how the industry works. This, in turn, may alleviate the constant pressure heaped on artists to turn to ghost production as a formula for success.
Do not get caught up in a web of lies. Spend time in the studio, learn the skill and take pride in your end product.