It’s one of the spookiest taboos in the music industry: the elusive “ghost producer.”
A ghost producer is a musician who’s paid to create or work on a song that they never release themselves. Instead, they quietly sell the rights to the track to another artist. In a world where producers pride themselves on their sound design knowledge and production skills, fans and critics alike tend to look down on artists who use the services of ghost producers. However, ghost production can be an excellent source of revenue for artists who haven’t yet built up a big brand, despite having the production chops to make professional-quality music. Sometimes, ghost production can even be a springboard to launch a budding producer’s career.
The controversy begs the question: what does music “production” itself actually mean? Sean Love Combs, the legendary producer formerly known as Puff Daddy, once famously quipped, “I don’t write beats, I write checks.” Typically, those who might contract ghost producers have more to worry about than simply making the beat: their job might include selecting a producer to make a beat, then selecting a vocalist to record over it, then shopping the record, dealing with the label, marketing the release, handling rights administration, and a laundry list of other tasks that make the song a success. Even if you can identify some famous examples of artists who have used ghost producers, it’s not cool — or accurate — to imply that the artist whose name is attached to the record is doing nothing but profiting from the ghost producer’s creativity. Often times, music is a team sport.
It should be noted that in this article, I’m not going to call out specific names of artists who may have contracted the services of ghost producers. I base this choice on the stigma that still exists against ghost production, despite my own personal belief that using a ghost producer is nothing to be ashamed of. Instead, let’s give a little shine to three of the highest-profile artists who have (allegedly) worked as ghost producers throughout the course of their careers.
1. Maarten Vorwerk
Frequently cited as “the most famous EDM ghost producer,” Maarten Vorwerk played a key role in the rapid proliferation of the festival house sound. That said, his Dutch electro house roots go all the way back to the turn of the millennium, when he released an official remix to the stone-cold classic “Satisfaction.” Vorwerk famously doesn’t do DJ performances, choosing instead to remain in the studio cranking out bangers. Who can blame him?
One of the first artists to release a sample pack on Splice, Niles Hollowell-Dhar has been widely known as an outstanding sound designer and producer for over a decade. Casual EDM fans, however, might not know that he was a member of The Cataracs, the production team responsible for arguably the most ubiquitous release of 2010, “Like a G6” by Far East Movement. A few years later, he began his own solo career as KSHMR, but chose to remain anonymous for quite some time following his debut.
3. Martin Garrix
The young phenom Martin Garrix may be one of the most heartwarming success stories in all of ghost production. In his own words:
“I made a ghost production for somebody else — I can’t tell you which track I made — but this track got signed to Spinnin’ Records and became really big. They found out that I made it, and so they invited me to their office and I played them my other stuff — and we signed.”
This was Garrix’s big break, as he went on to release “Animals” with Spinnin’, the track that turned him into a household name. Who knows what direction his career might have taken if selling his services as a ghost producer hadn’t gotten him in touch with the label?
Ghost production is a strange beast. While fans may feel disappointed if their favorite artists use ghost producers, ghost production in general can be a great option for talented producers looking to turn their skills into cash before their brand is fully developed. Let’s face it: it’s pretty darn difficult to get a track to succeed worldwide unless it’s released by an artist who has established their brand. Performances, nuance, strategy, personality, desire for publicity, and a litany of other factors can influence a track’s success, regardless of who tweaked the knobs to make the sounds. If not for big artists contracting ghost producers, the world of modern mainstream electronic dance music could look very different indeed.
Who are some of the most important ghost producers in your book? Let us know in the comments below.
October 29, 2019