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The power of ghostwriting in music

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Ghostwriting in Music

Ghostwriting has been a common practice in nearly any creative field, from literary and journalistic works, through visual arts, to, of course, music.

Are you considering becoming a professional music ghostwriter? Or are you new to the topic and would like to learn more? Either way, this article will provide you with everything you need to know about ghostwriting. Let’s dive into it!

What is ghostwriting?

Ghostwriting is an unofficial term that refers to being hired to write a content piece that is credited to someone else. The content piece may be an article, nonfiction or fiction book, memoir, medical report, scientific research, or lyrics and song melodies. This means that while the ghostwriter is the one scribbling, composing, or simply creating the work of art, officially, someone else, often a celebrity or a respected public figure, is credited as the author.

A professional ghostwriter is usually a freelancer who goes from one project to another. While a ghostwriter can be hired for numerous reasons, it is usually due to time constraints or lack of discipline, experience, and skills of the credited author.

In the music industry, ghostwriting has been common in practically any genre, whether it’s classical music, pop or rap, and hip hop. In fact, ghostwriting could be traced back to the 18th century, when the one and only Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was paid to ghostwrite music for wealthy patrons.

Nowadays, ghostwriters are most regularly hired in pop, electronic music, and, most notably, hip hop and rap, where, to make a mark, one has to impress with catchy beats and profound, raw, authentic lyrics. In fact, hip-hop-related ghostwriting has been a pretty hot topic for years now.

Back in 2015, Canadian rapper Drake was alleged by his American counterpart, Meek Mill, that he used ghostwriters during the songwriting session for their song R.I.C.O. Later on, other Drake songs on which the artist was reportedly getting help from ghostwriters resurfaced, while Mills received support from other artists, most prominently Funkmaster Flex and, later, Pusha T.

Although the case’s only result was a bitter feud between the artists, each of whom responded with their own diss track (as it was never proved that Drake did in fact used ghostwriters), Drake was not by far the only well-known musician to be accused of making use of ghostwriters. In 2018, rapper Cardi B was also rumored to have used help to write her songs (and has categorically denied the accusations).

The Dutch DJ Martin Garrix, on the other hand, has admitted that he himself was hired to ghost-produce other artists’ music in the past and was actually signed to Spinnin’ Records thanks to that.

Ghostwriting can be other things, too

While what we mentioned above is what’s traditionally believed to be ghostwriting, it can, at least theoretically, be experienced in different forms, too. Key to ghostwriting is that there's a level of misinformation about a specific content piece or work of art, that aims to benefit someone — either their reputation, credibility, or work balance (or all three of them). This means that just like one doesn’t get credited for the work they’ve done, someone else’s name can simply be added to a work’s credits.

In different countries, they also have different names to refer to an activity that is similar to, or basically the same as ghostwriting. In an article published on Vice, American A&R executive Chris Anokute, who’s worked at Island Def Jam, Capitol, and Universal Motown, said that while the concept of ghostwriting is rather prevalent in the USA (specifically in comparison to the UK), it is not common for major labels to get someone to ghostwrite for them in the usual sense — as this is considered illegal.

Instead, labels will make so-called ‘work for hire’ arrangements, in which someone's involvement in a song is simply bought out. The way this works is that the label pays out for the song and becomes the owner of the song’s copyrights. This is regarded as a business transaction where the original author is simply hired to write a song for someone else. From a legal perspective, the song was therefore not credited to them in the first place and thus it’s not considered ghostwriting.

Ghostwriting in music

The benefits of ghostwriting

You may be wondering why someone might want to become a ghostwriter when it literally means that something you create won’t actually be yours. However, ghostwriting may actually be rewarding if you’re doing it for reasons suitable to you.

First of all, ghostwriting can pay incredibly well and for those who can truly establish themselves in the profession, it can become a crucial part of how they earn their living. Generally, a hired ghostwriter will charge per hour with rates usually ranging from $50 to $200. However, it’s been reported that ghostwriters for well-known rappers can earn from $5,000 up to $50,000 or more per rap they write.

Moreover, even though the songs you write, whether melodies, lyrics, or both, are not credited to you, you may well build your reputation in the industry (maybe secret but valid) as someone who is really good at songwriting. You can create valuable connections and expand your list of clients while doing something you love and earn great money for it.

As we’ve mentioned in the case of Martin Garrix, it’s also not impossible to turn from a ghostwriter into a releasing artist yourself. It very much depends on your needs and priorities — in the end, chances are that as a ghostwriter you may be earning more money than as an artist releasing their own music.

Last but not least, ghostwriting usually comes with a great amount of flexibility. Not in the sense that you can dictate your conditions and do what you want to do when you want to do it (although with great reputation this may be possible, too) but rather in terms of your location. All you need for ghostwriting is a laptop and an internet connection, which means you can work from almost anywhere in the world. That’s not so bad, is it?

The disadvantages of ghostwriting

Now, these were the great advantages of becoming a ghostwriter but one has to know about the drawbacks of it, too. It’s true that you can earn a lot of money as a ghostwriter. However, if your dream has been to become an artist who releases music and gets heard, ghostwriting may not be the right choice for you.

It will give you the opportunity to be part of the music industry but seeing other artists take your hard-crafted work and make it their own may have a negative impact on your artistry and mental well-being in the long run.

This applies especially if a song you write that is credited to someone else eventually becomes a huge hit. Also, bear in mind that after you give your song to someone else, however much you’re paid for it, you will most likely not be able to earn any royalties from it. This, too, may be somewhat painful if the song gets massive.

One must also understand that ghostwriting is not about simply writing a song you like and then giving it to someone else. Instead, ghostwriters are required to produce a product that meets the needs and expectations of their clients, which can sometimes be extremely challenging. We all know how frustrating it is at times to finish something you‘ve worked on for hours just to be told later that it needs to be revised or, even worse, completely rebuilt.

Unfortunately, this is something you may experience quite often when you become a ghostwriter. There are also other factors to consider other than the expectations of your clients. Every artist and their artist brand is different, meaning they have different styles, exhibit different defining characteristics, and target different audiences. It’s therefore important that you know how to write content, both melodies, and lyrics, that may not particularly resonate with you as an artist or that showcases a style that is distinct from yours.

Ghostwriting in music

How to become a professional ghostwriter

1. Start by working on your writing skills

This one should be pretty natural for you, especially if songwriting is something you love and want to do in your professional life. There are many ways to work on your writing skills. There is a great amount of teaching material available on the internet for free, whether it’s blog articles (including ours), academic articles, or YouTube videos. Listening to different genres, studying diverse styles of musicians out there, exploring various fields of the industry, or reading books (especially poetry) can definitely help, too!

If you want to feel more committed to the craft, you can also enroll in creative writing or songwriting classes. Websites like Skillshare, MasterClass, or Udemy can offer you some hands-on courses to enhance your skills as well as your creativity.

It may also help to just write stuff down. Get into the habit of dedicating some time of your day to simply putting down your ideas. Not everything you write will be of high quality but it may teach you how to rhyme better, develop a flow in your lyrics (or melody) or simply express yourself better.

Often it is the case that we have an idea we really like but forget to write it down or don’t know how to articulate it (so we don’t even try). However, producing content, whether it’s good or bad, is exactly what can help you practice your skills and improve.

Also, you never know what one simple idea can eventually yield! Having your ideas, concepts, and thoughts written down on paper allows you to go back to them at any time. This may be incredibly helpful, especially when inspiration deserts you and you have deadlines to meet. Suddenly, the stuff you wrote before can come in incredibly handy, providing you with existing material you can use or helping you discover new ways of saying what you want to say.

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2. Create your online presence

It’s difficult to learn about someone’s skills, abilities, and ghostwriting services if there’s no information about it whatsoever. Just like other artists have their websites, you need to create your own, too. Make people aware of what you have to offer and make it easy for everyone to know how to contact and hire you.

Also, don’t be afraid to directly state on your website that you work as a freelance ghostwriter. There will be a lot of people happy to receive that information without having to ask you about it.

If you’re focused on writing lyrics, it may be a good idea to add a blog section to your website, to put your writing skills right into the spotlight. Should you be good at writing melodies, creating beats, or producing music, showcasing audio snippets on your website may be a good idea, as well (or at least stating that you have demos available for those that are interested).

Just like a website, establishing a social media presence is necessary, too. Your social media accounts should act as an extension to your website, allowing you to further showcase your skills, by promoting your blog posts or demos. You can also create posts with quotes and testimonials (if possible) to build credibility.

3. Mingle with people from the music industry

Getting yourself out there can help you establish some connections beneficial for your career as a ghostwriter. You can attend concerts, open mics, and specialized industry events like conferences or fairs (if possible) to meet important people.

It’s also never been easier to connect with people online. If you come across musicians that you are inspired by or feel they could be a good match for your artistry, you can drop them a message or slide into their DMs.

Wherever and however you meet people, don’t necessarily try to get anything from every interaction. Sometimes it’s simply enough to show up, introduce yourself and connect. Sooner or later, something valuable may start blossoming.

4. Put in the work

Now, this one certainly applies to any type of work and profession. However, one cannot stress enough how the quality of work you deliver may influence your career. Be also sure to always be on time, pay attention to your clients, and try to make it easy for them to work with you.

Don’t forget that word of mouth is a powerful tool that can lead to both an increase or decrease in the job opportunities you’re presented with. In the latter option, there’s no doubt that both your reputation and wallet will eventually suffer.

Conclusion

Although it may have a rather negative connotation, ghostwriting is and has been a serious profession both in and outside the music industry. In this article, we have therefore covered all the crucial information about ghostwriting, from the benefits and disadvantages to the ways one can become a ghostwriter in real life.

Whether you’re considering getting a ghostwriting job yourself, or are just interested in improving your songwriting skills, check out our articles on the ultimate songwriting tips or the top songwriting softwares in 2023.

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