If you’re seriously surprised or upset by hearing that some of your favorite EDM tracks were made by ghost producers, like Jay Spring seems to be in his article last week (READ HERE), you really need to do what most people who love their craft do, and learn some history.
I recently came across an article on Celebrity Networth and I couldn’t help but draw a comparison to the recent EDM debates. The article talks about Max Martin, a Swedish born songwriter who has written a TON of hit songs since the mid-nineties, for the likes of the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry. (Why are the Swedish good at everything related to music?) He’s won ASCAP’s songwriter of the year 6 times! Which makes you think, this is acceptable in mainstream music, so what’s the difference with EDM?
In fact, this has been the standard in pop music for a LONG time. And it’s not like it’s a secret. True, maybe your average Joe doesn’t realize that Rihanna doesn’t write all of her songs, but if you’re in the industry, this is something that is a known fact. Motown was known for turning out songs like a factory. The Brill building in NYC was made famous by it’s songwriters in the 60’s with some familiar names like Carol King, Neil Diamond, Paul Simon and Phil Spector writing hits for many other artists.
The fact is, the majority of the Pop music you grew up listening to, the songs that define you as a human being, were NOT written by the artist.
From a different perspective you can look at Hip-Hop’s history of using samples. Yes, I know that flipping a sample incorporates it’s own form of creativity. I’ve made sample beats myself and it’s not always easy, but take a listen to DJ Riz‘s “Live From Brooklyn” mixtape series if you want another shock to your system (Listen at the bottom of this post). The first time I heard these four short mixes a little piece of my Hip-Hop heart died inside. But, it was replaced by a new found respect for Funk and classics in general. These are now my favorite mixes of all time!
Timbaland & Dr. Dre have people who produce under them. I went to school with one of Dre’s main producers, the super talented Dawaun Parker. I’ve been hearing people complain for years about David Guetta and Tiesto using sub-producers. But when you really think about it, it makes a lot of sense. For one, these guys are insanely busy. I’m pretty sure these people did produce their early works themselves, but once you have even moderate success, there just isn’t time to be a studio hermit anymore. They have to tour and perform and handle their business. And by business I mean their main sources of income. They need to go to meetings and work on deals. Yes, managers and agents help with that, but if I were them, I’d want my hand in the pot at all times to make sure I wasn’t getting screwed.
These artists end up being more of an A&R or executive producer than the person who listens to 1000 Sylenth patches, creates custom drum sounds or lays our melodies. They listen to ideas that their sub-producers come up with and either take it and add their own parts on top or tell the producers what to change to make it right. They become the face of a much larger network of people who are creating the music you love.
At first you may think being one of these lowly sub-producers is some lack-luster menial job that nobody would want, but in reality this is a great position to be in. You get your foot in the door and have the top ears in the business hear your work on a regular basis. This is a great launching pad for a career of your own as a global DJ/producer phenomenon.
In Jay Spring’s article he tries to play off of the fact that these artists call themselves producers, so they should actually be hands on in producing the music. As I wrote above, I believe most are, in fact, hands on. The question becomes, at what point does the amount of their participation in making the music shift from being ok to not? Spring sees a difference when comparing EDM artists to Pop artists who don’t write their songs, basically saying that it’s ok because everybody knows they don’t write their music. They still get on stage and perform, so that makes it ok for them to do, but not in the case of EDM. This is even when most Pop artists are using live auto-tune and you can barely hear them over their backing tracks. Are they really performing, or are they just up on stage jumping up and down and waving their arms around like our beloved EDM DJ’s?
As EDM becomes more and more mainstream, it’s no surprise that a mainstream record label approach would become the norm. These labels and producers have to live up to this bigger than life status, constantly putting out new music to stay on top. In reality, as long as the music is good, who cares who made it? This realization is a little bit like finding out that Santa Clause isn’t real. You can still enjoy Christmas!
BIG thanks to DJ Riz for uploading his “Live From Brooklyn” mixes. LISTEN TO THEM!! You’ll be glad you did!