It’s no longer the dirty secret of the international dance scene. It’s become a known fact. Some of the world’s most successful names in the industry use ghost producers to create, boost or complete their productions. In the past few years, the amount of ghost producing services have risen to great heights, and more and more respectable producers also offer their skills to help others to creating their breakthrough hit. Though, a disclosure agreement is key to a collaboration as such, and there’s always a big matter of trust involved, we found one guy who’s willing to spill the beans about the world of ghost production. Meet Dutch producer Michael de Kooker, who’s been running a successful ghost producing company for the past 4 years.
Producer Loops: Hey Michael, thanks for hooking up with us and lifting a tip of the veil on the sometimes shady world of ghost producing. Let’s start off by getting to know you a bit. How did you get into producing music and what can we find in your studio these days?
Michael: Hey there! First of all, thank you for asking me! Of course I’d be happy to answer any of your questions. I started music production back when I was maybe 12 or 13. A friend of mine came by and installed Fast Tracker 2 on my computer, which was the new hype in computer music production those days. I think I was hooked instantly. I’ve always had a thing for music, listened to all sorts of music all day long. My parents had to spend a lot of money buying compilations and singles just to get me to shut up. At that point I could literally name every track in the charts, at any given point, by just hearing a few seconds of it. So when I realized the possibilities of Fast Tracker 2, being able to create your own music, I was fascinated.
Of course when comparing Fast Tracker to the DAWs of now, you could say the Trackers were pretty limited. But back then, wow! The first few years I was mostly just playing around, nothing too serious. I combined it with software like Magix Music Maker and just had fun with it. Then one day, I came across a demo of FL Studio and realized that was really a big step up, the next-level from what I’d been doing. So, from that moment I’ve been using FL Studio as my main DAW and I still am today. I’m mostly an ‘in-the-box’ guy, producing with software mainly. So, what you can find in my studio is a fast ‘self-built’ studio computer, some nice Neumann studio monitors as main monitors and KRK’s as my second monitors. AKG headphones, a Samsung Android tablet that supports ‘professional audio’, with apps such as Lemur, TouchDAW, ILremote, and some other midi keyboards / controllers.
Producer Loops: What was the mean reason you started a company in this particular niche? Why didn’t you choose to pursue a career in the spotlight for yourself?
Michael: Well I did chase that career when I started out. I waited quite some time before sending my tracks to record labels so I could perfect them. Because of that, the first few tracks I did send out; produced with a friend of mine; did get released instantly and got some nice momentum from that moment forward. This gave me some nice opportunities which I used to chase a career in the music business.
There were several things that never felt quite right for me though. The fact that everybody involved tries to push you in a certain direction annoyed me. Everyone had plans, but I really didn’t. Besides that, when chasing a career as an artist, at some point, you need to start performing. Most of the times as a DJ, especially in the dance music scene, I did as well. But to be honest, I found DJ’ing incredibly boring. Sure, playing in front of an audience gives you a rush. But the DJ’ing itself is just really, really simple. I was hooked on producing music, endless possibilities, zero limitations. Compared to that DJ’ing felt so limited and boring. It just wasn’t for me.
So, I went looking for alternative ways I could make a living doing what I love most. Throughout my years in the music industry I got the same kind of questions over and over again: “Hey, how do you make this sound?”
and “How do you make this sound good?”
and “Can you help me with my track?”
. I figured that the thing I love most is creating new music, and apparently there are a lot of people looking for some help with their music. So, I started Ghost Producing. A way that I could make a living with my number one hobby and help other people in the process. It’s a win/win situation for me really.
Producer Loops: You’ve had quite a few big releases in the past yourself, including remixes for Armin van Buuren, Veracocha and originals released on Cloud 9 and Armada Music. Do you ever miss having stuff released under your own name?
Michael: Yes, I’ve had some great opportunities in the past. I've officially remixed some awesome artists, worked with other great artists and had support from most of the top jocks. And it’s definitely an awesome feeling when you see your tracks do really well in the charts or get played out in front of crowds of tens of thousands of people. Those are things that also give a rush. On the other hand, when Ghost Produced tracks do similarly well, it gives the same kind of rush. The biggest difference is, you can’t tell anybody. So from that point of view, I sometimes miss releasing tracks under my own name. I just celebrate the successes in my own little way in the studio these days.
Producer Loops: Once you’ve completed a track and you’ve sent it to your client, do you continue to follow its success? Check the charts to see if it pops up, perhaps?
Michael: Not always. Sometimes I know the name of the client but not the artist name he’s releasing under. Or in case of labels or artist agencies, I don’t always know to which artist they assign the track. It happens that I’m checking the charts on music portals and suddenly hear something familiar, without recognizing the artist name or track title. But when I do know the artist name, I try to follow what happens every once in a while. Not too often though, as it can take up a lot of your time!
Producer Loops: How have people's opinions of ghost producting changed over the years? Has it become more known, better respected?
Michael: I think the term Ghost Production has had a negative association, but it’s really something that has been happening since forever. In music, we’ve had studio producers and session musicians ever since the invention of music studios. Even in classic paintings, the master painters sometimes put their signature on paintings of their students, and passed it off as their own. It’s basically just selling your experience/skills as a producer, in return for money. The buyer still has a lot of input and definitely has his creative touch on the projects. And the producer is just the one who turns his ideas into soundwaves.
Producer Loops: What are the main reasons clients want you to produce a track for them, rather than learning to produce themselves?
Michael: They don’t have the skills or experience yet, or they lack time. To put it simply; they have the ideas, but they don’t have the experience / resources / skills to turn those ideas into a real track. And that’s where we
come in. It doesn’t mean they don’t want to learn to produce though. I think browsing through the project files is actually a really good way to learn about production and production techniques. More often than not, our clients are already producing themselves. Just not the quality they’re looking for. Clients of ours often send their own tracks to use for feedback and we will tell them what to improve and how to improve it. If they want, we can do it for them, but we definitely encourage them to learn it for themselves.
Producer Loops: Lots of people think it’s a form of cheating, of fooling music fans into thinking someone’s made the track themselves. What’s your perspective on that matter?
Michael: I think it’s something that happens in every industry. Especially the entertainment industry. DJ’s and producers are no longer people, they are brands. They should present themselves as brands and act as brands. I don’t necessarily see it as a bad thing though. In the end it’s about the music itself.
Producer Loops: Maarten Vorwerk, ghost producer for the likes of Lady Gaga, Pitbull, Usher, Major Lazer and Tiësto, often gets his name in the credits. In which tracks can we find your credits? Or do you mostly choose not to?
Michael: Yeah, he’s definitely a great producer with an amazing resume. He’s been in the business quite long too. The fact he’s credited means he has probably made a deal where he gets paid a share of the royalties and publishing rights. This can be very lucrative when working with the bigger artists or when you expect radio airplay or tracks licensed to advertising brands. But, being credited means it’s easy for people to find out who’s behind the tracks. So from that point of view, you could argue the ‘ghost’ part of ‘ghost producer’ doesn’t really belong there. I personally choose to do it the other way around. If I do a track for a client, record label or artist agency, there will be no way to tell I did that track. I’m not credited or anything. If the other parties keep their mouth shut, no one will ever find out.
Producer Loops: What are some of the craziest and weirdest requests you've had from your clients? Ever had problems with anyone?
Michael: I sometimes get requests which, from the start, I’m sure will never work. In those cases I always advise my clients to look for something else, and recommend other options. A few of the weird requests I’ve had is: stuffing a track full of adult sounds, use the recognizable sound of a car engine as the main sound throughout the track. The funniest moment, however, was when a client asked me to remix a track I had previously ghost produced for another client. I produced for both of them, but neither of them knew I was. Of course, I’ve run into some problems too. So far, I’ve been mostly lucky, never had a disappointed client, probably because I keep producing until they’re satisfied. And the return percentage of my clients is really high. The vast majority come back for a new track after the first, or the second, or the third.. I did have a few occasions, maybe 3 or 4, of people ripping the tracks and disappearing on me though. But because I watermark the tracks, both audibly and non-audibly, I’ve been able to prevent them from actually using these tracks.
Producer Loops: You’re pretty all-round when it comes to different styles, going from prog-house to trance, techno and pop. What’s the style you’re most comfortable producing and how do you make sure that no matter what style you’re producing, it’s top-notch?
Michael: I think it’s because I can appreciate all kinds of music. Every style of music has its own strong points and weaker points. If you take trance for example; melodically the style of trance as a whole is really strong, but rhythmically it’s mostly all very basic and straight-forward. On the other hand, the average techno track focusses much more on rhythm and atmospheres rather than complex melodies. Of course there are exceptions though, this is just a broad generalisation. If you can recognize the similarities tracks in a certain genre share, and you can appreciate them, you can start understanding the genre as a whole. That makes the production of such tracks a lot easier. Also, with some experience and with the knowledge of other styles, it’s easier to combine the strong points of several genres and create something that’s unique.
Besides that, on the technical aspect, it’s all about referencing your tracks! How do other tracks sound? How does my own track sound? How do they compare? And how can I make my track sound similar to the reference track? This is often both a combination of just using your ears, as well as using tools that can help you on the way. A spectrum analyzer such as Voxengo Span is a good starting point, as well as plugins that visualize the stereo image, volume metering (RMS, LUFS), waveform visualizers, etc.
Producer Loops: It must be pretty stressful at times too, because you constantly have to create something big and new? How do you prevent writer’s block and how do you find your inspiration, track after track?
Michael: The deadlines can be stressful. But that’s mostly because you try to put a creative job into strict deadlines. The deadlines are often not solid though. Sometimes a track can be finished way faster, sometimes it takes a bit longer. Especially when the production is a team effort, consisting of the client, the producer, the songwriter, the vocalist and the mastering engineer. Sometimes, a session musician comes in to play as well, for example when a real saxophone or guitar recording is needed. When you have to take all of their schedules into account, you can imagine setting a fixed deadline isn’t as easy.
From an inspirational point of view, I’ve never really had any problems with that. If one aspect of a song doesn’t work at that particular moment, I work on another aspect. Or sometimes work on a different song altogether. Finding inspiration isn’t much of a problem for me; I think the best way to avoid writer’s block is to stay curious and eager to learn. Listen to other music, ask yourself why that random artist does this in that particular way. Watch a movie and see how the sounds and music are used there, and ask yourself how and why. Or video games, or regular art, or sounds in nature, etc. If you keep asking questions and keep trying to find the answers, you’ll get inspiration all the time.
Producer Loops: Being a Sample Pack website, you can see why we’re curious about the packs and brands you use?
Michael: I’ve actually had a Producer Loops account for a long time now. I think I’ve even had multiple accounts with different e-mail addresses because I forgot my password at one point haha. To begin with: I’ve always liked Producers Loops
in-house sample packs. One of the more recent packs of Producer Loops I really like is the UK House Anthems
pack, with some great catchy melodies, but also groovy percussion. Besides that, Soul Rush Records
has some really good packs too. Good quality, original and very useful. Their Stadium Drum & Bass
is one of my favourite packs in a long time. Besides that, I always check the sample charts, the new releases and everything. If a pack is really good, and I have a use for it, I’ll buy it. But if I’m looking for specific samples, I just do a search on ProducerLoops.com and listen to all the resulting samples until I find a pack that suits my needs.
Producer Loops: Last question... For anyone who is thinking about being a ghost producer, what would your advice be?
Michael: Have something to show for yourself first. I did quite a lot of music production before I started Ghost Producing and because of that I can ‘showcase’ my musical history. This, together with high quality demos, is really the only way you can show potential clients what you’ve achieved and what you are able to do. I get a lot of e-mails from people that want to do Ghost Productions as well as pursue a career as an artist themselves, but who have never even released a track and whose production quality is just not good enough. I always ask them the question; if you can’t make it work for yourself, why would you be able to do it for someone else?