It’s an interesting comparison worth pursuing—songwriters and ghost producers are two types of people who provide remarkably similar functions, yet the attitude towards them in their respective industries could not differ any more. Just as a ghost producer creates music for a DJ, a songwriter creates music for a vocalist, typically a pop musician, to perform at their concerts and on their albums.
However, DJs who enlist the help of ghost producers are often vocally criticized for an apparent lack of integrity and letting their fans down within EDM circles. Thus, it is anathema for a modern DJ to be seen using a ghost producer, and many of them do their best to keep this darkest of secrets under wraps. On the contrary, hiring a songwriter is seen as entirely commonplace within mainstream pop music, and such a practice does not affect the reputation of the artist in the slightest.
Consider some of the artists who hire other people to write their songs. Rihanna, for example, is one of the biggest names in pop music with a huge global fanbase. But the vast majority of Rihanna’s songs are written by other people. Bibi Bourelly wrote Rihanna’s 2015 song “Bitch Better Have My Money.” Sia, herself a famous Australian singer, wrote Rihanna’s 2015 smash-hit Diamonds, which was certified quintuple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), topped the charts in 20 different countries, and became one of the best-selling singles of all time. Miley Cyrus, who went from teenage television star to adult sex symbol, didn’t write her Party in The USA song; the writer was, in fact, British singer-songwriter Jessie J.
The difference between the perspectives in mainstream music and EDM can seem perplexing. But in reality, one set of fans and critics sees the situation realistically, while the other (EDM) lacks empathy. In pop music, fans and critics alike have an innate understanding that what defines an artist isn’t just the songs they write, but the symbol they stand for, the image their idols portray. Rihanna is more than her songs, as is Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber and the plethora of other pop artists who enlist the help of songwriters.
The truth of the matter is that to be a successful artist in any genre, be it EDM or pop, is to be a symbol on stage who can inspire people. A 2015 interview with an unnamed ghost producer for the UKF website was telling, “Justin Bieber, Cher, Britney Spears – none of them write their own songs, none of them produce, none of them engineer, many of them lip-sync when you see them live. That’s the absolute truth of the industry and has been for years…most the big EDM guys have publicly admitted they’re not the sole producers of their music but people still come and see them perform, like they do with the bands and popstars I just mentioned.”
What is clear is that original content is not what defines a popstar, if by original content we mean to say that the singer writes every song that they perform. Similarly, a successful DJ is not defined by the originality of every new track they release. Once a DJ gains recognition from their work as a producer in the studio, their schedule becomes a ton more hectic, and feasible studio time dwindles. In such cases, for the biggest DJs, it’s not possible for them to constantly release new music of their own accord.
Thus we have ghost producers, who fulfill a real need within EDM and get paid to do so. Clever DJs who use ghost producers do it with some input on the tracks that are produced, as is the case for people like Alison Wonderland. The overarching message here is that it seems bizarre to criticize ghost production when one thinks about the bigger picture.