Ghost production is a business arrangement whereby a music producer composes a track for another artist who releases that track under his/her own name. Ghost producers receive an income in the form of either royalty payments or a flat fee for their work.
There is a misconception that ghost production arrangements only exist in EDM, most likely because this genre is where the practice comes under most scrutiny. However, ghost production has existed for years in practically every music genre that attracts a large commercial audience. Think of any prolific artist in hip-hop, pop music, or r&b, and it’s highly likely they will have used a ghost producer at some point during their career, or that they will do so in the future.
In the EDM genre, ghost production arrangements are frequently subjected to criticism and negative connotations. The EDM scene is somewhat unique in this regard—controversy about ghost production is minimal to non-existent in other music genres. Critics often describe DJs who use ghost producers as lacking in integrity or cheating their fans. However, there are several positives sides to ghost production that often get left out of the discussion.
A 2014 article in VICE helped provide some balance to the negativity around ghost production. According to the article’s author, many of the ghost producers he spoke to couldn’t understand why their work was so reviled. The same article also highlights the importance of ending the culture of shame that revolves around private collaboration on EDM tracks.
It’s important to note that many talented producers prefer to stay out of the limelight that comes with being an internationally recognized DJ. Only a select few individuals can handle the fame, the lifestyle, and the pressures of the modern EDM business. Ghost production gives so-called bedroom producers a platform to earn a living for what they love doing—making music. If a high-profile DJ gives a positive review for a track made by a ghost producer, that alone can catapult that person from earning a pittance to comfortably paying their bills for many years.
Furthermore, for producers who do want to make the transition into DJing for huge audiences worldwide, ghost production enables them to expand their network to include big-name connections in the music industry. Who you know is just as important as what you know—many labels ignore prospective DJs without connections in the music industry, in particular, producers outside Los Angeles who are far away from what is now arguably the main hub for electronic dance music.
Considering how prevalent ghost production is, it’s imperative to understand its positive impact on the overall quality of music people listen to. In EDM alone, several timeless anthems and genre-defining tracks would never exist without the contributions of ghost producers. The same rings true when extrapolating to all music genres—end consumers of music would be left worse off without ghost production.
Read the following interview for a more in-depth discussion about the positive aspects of ghost production that nobody talks about.
Let’s get this out of the way first, what does a ghost producer do? What are some of your roles and duties?
As a ghost producer, I mainly work on full productions in collaboration with or directly for DJs and other performers. I also write melodies or help with sections of a track like a breakdown or sound design for a drop.
What doesn’t a ghost producer do? What happens before you begin a track? What happens after you hand the track over?
Every ghost producer is a bit different in what they will and won’t do as far as the entire process of creating a track from concept, production, sound design, mixing & mastering. Personally, I don’t advise having the producer of the track do the master, however, some certainly do. Before I start with a track, I’ll spend some time really understanding what a client is going for whether that is listening to their references or take what they want to do performance wise and work backwards. It’s all about getting a clear idea of what the job is so you can approach it correctly. After the track is handed over then my role in the project is finished and the artist can take it from there.
These producers are obviously talented enough to have their music signed to labels (even if it’s not under their name). Why don’t they make music and release it under their name?
A lot of ghost producers aren’t artists in the sense they don’t like the performance side of things. I had performed a few shows and felt really uncomfortable so I grew to dislike that aspect of music. Being in the studio is much more my element and I know quite a few other ghost producers who feel the same way. The studio is our domain and the stage is the domain of our clients.
How much can an average ghost producer expect to make per month? Year?
The amount of money per track can vary wildly depending on a number of factors. Generally, tracks range from around $300-$5,000 or so. There are certainly those who charge $20k+ per track and up.
How many tracks have you ghost produced?
I have sold over 500 ghost productions over the last few years. Many of them have been played out by some big artists and had success on Spotify. It’s been cool to hear some of the tracks I’ve made at festivals.
How did you get into ghost producing?
I started producing around 9 years ago and naturally had a lot of producer and DJ friends whom I spent most of my time with. Performing was always very uncomfortable to me, but I still produced on a daily basis. Since I had no intention of going the performance route, I started teaming up with local DJs in my area where they would perform and I’d make the music for the brand. On top of the brands I’m involved with, I initially worked with affordableghostproduction.com, but had bigger success with a platform called edmghostproducer.com to sell tracks. It is a good outlet to sell tracks I’m not using for other projects or tracks simply taking up space in my hard drive.
How does that work with edmghostproducer.com? Can any producer upload their tracks for sale or is there a review process?
The site operates as a platform for producers to sell ghost productions to DJs and performers. They have an approval process and not every producer or track is listed, but if you’re a capable producer, it’s a great resource. I’ve actually been selling majority of my tracks there as opposed to private clients.
What were you doing for work before ghost production? Do you do ghost production for a living now?
Before ghost production I was promoting local venues and selling tickets to people I went to school with. It was quite a grind and not something I really enjoyed, but felt it could lead to a job in music. Now I “work” full-time as a ghost producer which means no more late nights passing out fliers when the clubs let out!
How instrumental has edmghostproducer.com been in that transition?
It was a very important factor for me to make the jump into ghost producing full-time. It was a scary transition though, as I didn’t get paid all that well promoting, but it was still a consistent paycheck and I had bills to pay with no real savings. I started using edmghostproducer.com to supplement the producing I was doing for private clients, but over time I’m actually producing there more than private clients.
Do you believe purchasing a ghost produced track makes someone a less legitimate artist? Especially in EDM culture, so much of an artist’s exposure is through DJ’ing and touring.
I really don’t think so. There are vastly different skill sets involved with performing and producing and it is really uncommon and hard to expect someone to do both at a high level. There is a lot that goes into being an artist and there are teams of people behind every big name. If having a team behind you makes you illegitimate, then there aren’t any legitimate touring artists that I’m aware of.
Obviously, we’d be surprised to learn about certain artists using ghost producers. Have you ever encountered a situation where you were truly surprised, maybe heartbroken, that an artist was asking for a pre-made track?
I’ve definitely been surprised a few times, but never heartbroken about it. It is how things have worked in this industry for a very long time. I think the most surprising thing to me was just how many DJs do use ghost producers or get some help in the studio.
There’s a definite stigma against using ghost produced tracks, but no one really mentions the morality of the producers making the tracks. Do you find that veil of ignorance a blessing?
Some people do hold negative opinions of the producers, however, this really is an ideal job for someone like myself who is more comfortable in a studio. The majority of music on the radio isn’t done exclusively by the performer, so at the end of the day, I think people just want to hear good music and ghost producers are a part of the process.
Is dance music the only genre that uses ghost produced tracks? It’s certainly the only genre where the producer is really the star of the track.
Definitely not. Ghost producing & writing are present in every form of art from music to paintings to writing books. Even within music, it is pretty common knowledge that most pop stars don’t write the lyrics or help with the production.
It doesn’t seem like there’s any reason for ghost production to go away any time soon, do you see this being a long-lasting career?”
Ghost producing will never go away. Mozart was paid to ghost write symphonies for rich people so this is nothing new. As long as there will be music, there will be ghost producers.