Imagine sitting in a beach-adjacent studio in Aruba, making dance music hits that will prop up the careers of a multitude of brand name DJs who fist-pump their way to fame and potentially make millions while most of their fans will never even know your name. Sounds preposterous until you look deeper into the subject and realize that the reality may not be quite that simple. Riddled with controversy, there is no doubt about the fact that the topic is neither black nor white but rather a shade of gray. The topic in question? Ghost production.
Ghost production is one of the most hotly debated subjects in electronic music. To some, a dirty little secret in EDM, to others a consequence of the demanding and ever-changing music industry. An industry that increasingly puts pressure on DJ’s to consistently release quality records while still managing to relentlessly tour the world. The current landscape of electronic music is as saturated as it’s ever been, with more content being released than any other time in history. This has created a variety of consequences, the most pertinent one being: it is harder than ever before to cut through the noise and differentiate yourself as an electronic artist.
People who support ghost producing argue that the long-term value of a superstar is more important than the music they perform. Detractors argue that ghost producing destroys the spirit of music, tricking fans into believing their favorite artists are responsible for the music they release. Ghost production allows the more established artists to release a steady stream of new, relevant music, which helps them to avoid one of the most common pitfalls any musician faces historically: an eventual change in fan’s listening tastes. This makes the competition within dance music even more fierce, and the DJ’s who tend to succeed overwhelmingly in today’s saturated market are increasingly the ones who have mastered the art of marketing and keeping up with current trends.
As part of our Behind The Music feature, We Rave You had the exclusive opportunity to sit down with EDM’s most famous ghost producer Maarten Vorwerk and find out first-hand his thoughts on this highly controversial topic.
Maarten Vorwerk is a Dutch dance music producer based in Aruba who has been active on the scene for decades. Producing under a large variety of aliases and styles his extensive discography numbers over more than 400 tracks. His first successes in music began with the jump & hardstyle genres while later on in his career he shifted towards producing music for other DJ’s primarily focussed on EDM. His most notable productions are Jeckyll & Hyde – ‘Freefall’ & ‘Epic’ with Quintino which were the only two instrumental tracks since 1989 that reached the coveted number #1 position in the Dutch Top 40.
With such an extensive history in the industry, we set out to find what is Behind The Music and EDM’s infamous ghost producer gave us a comprehensive insight into his highly guarded and controversial world:
Who or what inspired you to become a music producer?
I have been producing music since 1996. Back in the day I was a really big fan of hardcore & parkzicht music (’92-’97). I listened a lot to the radio back then and I started visiting some parties from a pretty young age. I was always curious for new music and the radio programs on City Radio Rotterdam, Channel X Belgium and Radio Balance in The Hague really inspired me to make music myself.
What’s the electronic music scene like in Aruba and what does a day in your life in Aruba entail?
The electronic music scene in Aruba is pretty techno minded. There are a lot of smaller parties on the island and we have a few clubs over here as well. Once a year there are the Electric Festival & Love Festival which both host a lot of international artists. We had a few editions of ADE Aruba as well. In the morning I like to take a walk along one of the beaches and do some exercise before heading into the studio. I am always creating new music. I’m also making videos of my weekly Producer #Vorwerk #Tipoftheweek series. I recently started mentoring some new talents and trying to develop some other business ideas I have.
Ghost producing is a delicate subject yet you are quite open about the fact that you do this for a living. What is the reason behind that? How do you feel about the controversy that surrounds ghost producing? Is it justified or is it simply one part of the industry like any other?
I’m quite open about the fact that I am a music producer. I don’t really see that as a sensitive subject, especially since I have been doing that for the last 16 years. Let me take the opportunity now to clear up some confusion. There are people claiming that a ghost producer is someone who doesn’t get credited at all and there are people claiming that a ghost producer is someone who doesn’t feature as an artist, and is paid to do so, but is still mentioned in the credits. I’ll let the reader decide what their personal view on the matter is. Now since the digital era it isn’t so easy to see anymore who created what. Back in the day you just took the CD out of the closet and looked on the back who was involved. Unfortunately that isn’t so easy anymore. I think that that is the reason people get confused when they found out that their favorite artist hasn’t produced his own track. They might even feel betrayed. Nevertheless you have to realize that this isn’t something new and occurs in every creative industry. Realize for instance that a superstar artist like Rihanna doesn’t (always) write and produce her own tracks.
Considering your occupation, you choose to produce without wanting to DJ. Why?
Being a DJ has never appealed to me. Don’t get me wrong. I love seeing people enjoying my music. But to always be on the road while only seeing clubs and festivals would be a real brain killer for me. I love to travel but not in a DJ fashion. If I would DJ it would be solely for the money. In the end I really like to be more on the creative and business side of things.
How is a ghost produced track’s price calculated? Is it in proportion to something? (eg. Fame of the producer whom the track is made for)
It’s better to focus on the real problem here. You have DJ’s who earn between $10k to above $100k per show. Now let’s put that of against the ‘standard’ payout of a Spotify stream at $0.005 per stream (which is currently the number 1 source of music royalty income). Let’s say you get a million streams which grosses at $5000. Now split that between the label, and the other artists involved and minus some recouped costs and you have made yourself $500. Meaning that a producer has to create about 80 of those tracks to get a gross salary of around $40k a year. Which of course is impossible. My personal opinion is that this is one of the reasons that there are ‘ghost producers’ in the first place. You need to be paid to get something made because royalties alone ain’t gonna cut it.
How long on average does it take to complete a track?
I get this question all the time. You can’t really tell actually. If I have a good idea, probably a full week to completely finish a track. But finding that great idea can take a lot of time. And sometimes you make a track in one day and get it signed the same day.
How do you feel about websites like www.edmghostproducer.com offering the services on such a public platform with such comprehensive details including prices?
I’ve met the guys who run this website and they are by far the #1 track-selling website. I have no problem with these types of services at all. Can you imagine a young kid in Brazil who made a cool track which he could sell for $500 via this website! That’s a nice hobby. And on the other end someone who is trying to get his DJ career on the road but needs music to build his profile and hasn’t got a big budget to hire someone like me. It’s a win-win situation.
What are your thoughts on the DJ Mag poll? Should it exist? Has it lost its credibility?
Sure it should exist. I’m always looking out to see who won the popularity contest this year. One day I hope to be in it. I do believe it has lost some credibility due to the fact that people can market themselves into the list with extra advertising and aggressive vote collecting.
Do you feel that the quality of electronic music has deteriorated in recent times? What’s right and what’s wrong with today’s music scene?
I don’t think the quality has deteriorated. Especially not with all the new studio technology these days. There’s not really anything wrong with today’s music scene. There is more wrong with today’s music industry. The good thing about today’s music scene is that you can become famous overnight. Just look at the Apple/Pen Song.. Brilliant.
How do you think the recent popularity and expansion of EDM in the USA has affected the dance music scene?
The expansion to the USA has created a whole new generation of dance music lovers. I think it’s awesome to see such a big (PLUR) culture surrounding dance music. Take a look at EDC for instance. Those influences will also determine the future direction of electronic dance music. It has also created interesting fusions of styles. For example electronic music combined with trap and hip-hop.
Who do you consider to be the best producers who consistently produce quality music?
The best producers for me are Adam Wiles (Calvin Harris), Thomas Pentz (Diplo) and Giorgio Tuinfoort. These guys have (had) a huge influence on today’s music.
What are the cons of producing a track? What do you do when you lose inspiration?
The creative process can be a battle sometimes, but that’s also what makes it fun: when you finally have that ‘Yes, this is it!’ moment. When I lose inspiration then it’s best to get out of the studio and head over to the beach. Reset your mind, take a swim or snorkel a bit and then try it again.
How do you feel when you hear your own music being played by another DJ?
That’s always a great feeling. To me it feels like a compliment. When I am in the club myself and I hear my own music then I’m always listening to how it sounds and what I could have done better.
What music genre do you prefer to produce?
I don’t really have a preference. I like the challenge to produce very diverse styles of music. As long as it’s electronic. I always say a good song is timeless and genres are a trend.
You recently teased the return of Jeckyll & Hyde. Can you tell us about the return of the project?
Yes! Back in 2005 I started this alias ‘Jeckyll & Hyde’ which featured a more melodic type of jumpstyle. I had a few big hits (#1) in 2006-2007. Now 10 years later it felt right to go back on stage. Bringing back the nostalgic sound from then and maybe even put out some new music!?
How do you feel about the mainstream VS underground dance music debate?
Haha. That debate is already going on since I first got introduced to music. It’s stupid. When something is underground it can not grow. But when it starts to grow in popularity and gets bigger then it’s suddenly mainstream. There are always people who think mainstream isn’t cool. So they decide they need to find something underground again. Aren’t we calling them ‘Hipsters’ nowadays?
Can we expect you to be releasing a track under your own name soon?
Yes you can! My latest ‘Vorwerk’ release was back in 2008 if I recall correctly. So it’s been a while. I recently produced a track together with my protégé and with one of my favourite singer/songwriters. I’m really looking forward to the release. And for everyone that wants to know – no, I’m not going to be a DJ now.
What kind of events do you enjoy?
Well back in the jump days I tagged along quit often and have seen every club in Holland, Belgium, Spain and the North of France. Nowadays I tend to only go to the bigger festivals or clubs. Ultra Miami & EDC Vegas is already on the calendar.
What other interests other than music do you have?
I’m a gadgetfreak, I love Movies, games, travelling, the beach and just enjoying life with my girlfriend and 9-month old daughter and family & friends.
What inspired you to start your TipoftheWeek?
I get tons of messages every week about mixing and producing and I can not answer all of them. So I decided to start the #Vorwerk #TipOfTheWeek where I explain one question at the time so everybody can learn from it. We are now at Tip 138 so it’s starting to become a serious production manual. I recently started to put out videos of the released Vorwerk Tips as well. So now you can also see how I do it right here on Vimeo.
You give advice to aspiring producers on a weekly basis but if you could choose one golden piece of advice for them what would it be?
Follow my weekly tips at facebook.com/vorwerkmaarten