The Secret Songwriter
Posted by James Murray [editor of Sound Revolution] on Mar 29, 2013 in Featured, Features: http://soundrevuk.com/the-secret-songwriter/
We got a chance to speak to a recognised US ghostwriter, an advocate of the music industry’s best kept secret.There is no doubt that outrage is rife over the so-called trade of ghostwriting. When you’re told that your favourite techno producer might not have produced his own loops, or that your beloved rap idol doesn’t write his own bars, unsurprisingly, it causes some angered responses. Despite the faux outrage that seems to be omnipresent across tight-knit music circles when they hear about ghostwriting, there still remains one fundamental problem with the whole theory. As ghostwriters are anonymous, it’s impossible to gauge how much of it actually goes on. One anomaly is Kris Bentz, the hardworking songwriter caught up in the secretive word of ghostwriting.
Kris first got into songwriting when his brother bought turntables and a Numark mixer way back in ’97. The pair of them started off by looping samples which gave them a platform to begin writing. There was never any doubt in Kris’ mind that he was talented, even from the very first track he created: “I used a Heptones sample and a drum machine, and the track seemed to really get a lot of positive attention.” It didn’t take much longer for Kris to be approached, but unlike the conventional method of being scooped up by a record label, Kris was instead asked directly to help another musician on their album. He wouldn’t be credited and nobody would ever know that he was involved in the writing and production the songs, but he would get paid for his efforts. Since then, Kris has never looked back.
While the majority of readers will believe they know exactly what ghostwriting is, you may be surprised by how much more than simply writing applies to the term. Kris explains: “Sometimes I come up with the whole idea for the song, if that’s what’s required. Sometimes I’ll do a creative contribution in the form of ideas or writing”. Ghostwriters are not only a source of talent that can be approached once you need to lay down some vocals or tighten up a production, they often also act as the music industry’s answer to writer’s block – when no ideas surface whatsoever, creative ideas will be expected.
It seems like a fairly seedy trade – and we can now clarify, it’s certainly not sugar-coated. Ghostwriting essentially acts like the black market of the music industry, as ghostwriters are paid either up-front or in smaller installments – but almost always in cash to ensure the artists and ghostwriters relationship remains completely untraceable. Kris assures us that there are occasions where ghostwriters may be credited, however, this is extremely uncommon: “Ghostwriters can be acknowledged, but that is a very generous situation on behalf of the employer and this has not been my experience nor do I think it’s very common in light of the whole volume of ghostwriting taking place.”
Surely for a talented ghostwriter, with so much to offer, while the money may be excellent, the issue would be that you’re not getting credited for your own work. Any journalist would be outraged if a publication paid for an article and put somebody elses name on the byline, so what’s so different about music? Kris explains: “It doesn’t bother me that credit isn’t given publicly, because those that I help know that I helped them and refer others in their tight circles to me. I enjoy the creative aspect and the opportunity to write songs in other genres such as pop, electronica, rock, reggae, and soul/gospel.” Kris continues; “Sometimes I contribute more than concepts and lyrics, such as song arrangement and/or editing. Yes, it’s a good additional revenue stream, but I really enjoy the creative process and working with other artists to create something powerful, something hot.”
Breaking the rules of staying anonymous, Kris Bentz is certainly a glitch in the system, however, for him, just like in any other trade, it’s about moving upwards. Unlike other ghostwriters Kris proudly promotes his own material and has a growing catalogue that he uses to support other artists while simultaneously boosting his merit as a ghostwriter. Kris will release an EP on April 7, the first in a series – and you can also find Kris on Twitter and at his website where he openly and proudly promotes his ghostwriting services.
If you’re still not convinced that there’s a possibility that your favourite band, artist or producer didn’t actually write all of their material themselves, it then seems fitting to leave with this final interview question:How much ghostwriting, from your experience, takes place in the music industry? Lots… more than anyone could ever possibly think.