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Collapse of the Music Industry

"Ghost-Producing" Is EDM's Dirty Little Secret

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Mon, Jul 29, 2013 at 9:31 AM
click to enlarge CREDIT: MICHAEL MELWANI
  • Credit: Michael Melwani

You've heard of rap music ghostwriters, right? The guys who pen the words someone else performs, and get no credit for it?

A similar phenomenon is taking place in electronic dance music. In fact, a significant number of famous DJs aren't responsible for the music released under their names.

Those culpable usually have arrangements with an underling or an associate, ranging from commissioned edits and tweaks to outright purchases of entirely finished works. In fact, a whole industry of "ghost-producers" and engineers prop up the careers of a few brand name DJs who fistpump their way to fame and make millions.

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Though speculation is rampant, those in the industry are hesitant to explicitly out any of their peers. Superstar DJ David Guetta is most frequently mentioned as someone who's likely using ghost-producers. On his first three albums, almost every track credit lists French house pioneer Joachim Garraud as co-writer and producer. A notable DJ in his own right, Garraud wasn't even mentioned in the marketing, which was odd.

click to enlarge David Guetta - CREDIT: TIMOTHY NORRIS
  • Credit: Timothy Norris
  • David Guetta

Garraud himself was quoted as saying Guetta is "not a musician"and didn't know how to use a computer before they met, though he has since denied saying as much.

In any case, though the ghost-producing practice has been rumored for decades, recent revelations -- and subsequent outrage -- have brought it into the spotlight.

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London-based DJ and writer Ben Gomori noted that the practice was rampant in an article last year for Mixmag.

"I think it's pathetic," he tells us. "It's the apex of the materialistic, charlatan, ostentatious desire of certain types to become a 'superstar DJ' for the love of status rather than for the love of music."

Meanwhile, EDM duo PeaceTreaty told OC Weekly earlier this year: "When you get more involved and you start working with bigger people, having ghostwriters is just the way it is. Everyone that's big doesn't write their own music."

Naturally, then, there are those who make an honest living off of writing for big name DJs. Kenny Hanlon (not his real name) is the silent writing partner for a marquee name DJ -- you've heard of his boss.

Hanlon is your typical music nerd, a bookish 32-year-old technician with a nimble ear and a relentless stamina. He handles the vast majority of his employer's studio work from his bedroom in Pasadena.

"Most big DJs have a stable of writers, beats guys," he says. "For the most part these are young kids. Generally their payment is 5% of publishing...but 5% of a few million dollars is better than 50% of nothing."

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