“Electronic music has rotten teeth that need to be pulled.” So declared a recent Twitter rant from Grammy-nominated British producer Matan Zohar, known as DJ Mat Zo, taking shots at some of EDM’s most -prominent players — including Tiesto, Diplo and Markus Schulz — for employing ghost producers, the anonymous beat-makers who are paid to create music for famous DJs behind the scenes, usually without credit. “I’m just a nerd standing up to the jock who stole all the nerd’s homework,” wrote Zohar.
Uncredited studio collaborations are fairly standard in pop (a big name might be listed as “producer” for work done by proteges and underlings) and hip-hop (Deputy is now beefing with Kanye West over claims that he produced “90 to 95 percent” of Rihanna‘s “Bitch Better Have My Money”), and now in EDM they’re increasingly prevalent — and controversial. It makes sense: DJs are famous for their beats, so learning that a track relies on another producer’s work can make the listener feel cheated. It’s why most producers are fiercely protective of their reputation as creators. Deadmau5 appeared to respond to Zohar’s rant by donning a suit of armor and challenging him to a duel. “Cometh at me brethren,” he tweeted.
But is it really that big of a deal?
Brian Scully, an artist manager with New York’s Moodswing Management, says that often ghostwriters aren’t hired to trick audiences, but to save the star act time by providing a second opinion or assisting with finishing touches. And plenty of EDM-focused companies are loud and clear about their intentions. The website EDM Ghost Producer, for example, touts, “Purchase unique tracks and release them as your own!”
SiriusXM music director/host Geronimo says transparency is the best policy. “There could be some level of disappointment if an artist is serving up something that isn’t their work.” Scully is more flexible. “I don’t have a problem with it if the person not getting credit is benefiting professionally or financially,” he says. “I do have a problem with experienced artists taking advantage of young producers. A talented kid who looks up to you isn’t going to say no or negotiate higher rates.”
Indeed, ghost producing can be very lucrative, earning anywhere from $1,000 to $20,000 per track for A-list DJs. And thanks to the intense touring demands of big-name EDM acts, whose schedules keep them on the road and out of the studio, it’s more common than ever. But one EDM insider insists there are plenty of producers who choose to remain largely anonymous. “They’re listed in ASCAP and BMI, but they’d rather make money behind the scenes.”