Some of you might know Ashley Wallbridge from his soaring, emotional melodies on tunes like ‘Keep The Fire’, but if you don’t recognize the name… we’re betting you still know who this hit-maker is. That’s because behind the scenes, he’s a successful ghost producer with a grip of charting-topping Beatport songs, only they’re under other people’s names. Well, he was a successful ghost producer.
2016 marks a new chapter for the English musical savant, one where he’s decided to not only quit ghost production for good, but poke a bit of fun at it in the process. Teaming up with Gareth Emery, the two started satire group CVNT5, a bumbling duo with loads of cash and ego, ready to buy songs, but no talent to be had. Now in the wake of CVNT5 tremendous response and a new signing to Armada music, Wallbridge speaks to DJ Mag USA about deciding to fully enter the spotlight, and why he has left EDM’s problematic ghost production issue in the dust.
The CVNT5 project makes fun of the pandemic ghost producing issue, yet you are a participant in this having ghost produced several #1 songs. How do you reconcile this?
“We didn't make any statement about ghost producing, we just made what we thought was a funny as fuck video that was a satire of a lot of the clichés in dance culture today. We're laughing as much at ourselves as other people, a lot of the content for the video comes from stuff Gaz and I have actually done ourselves (maybe not the pissing in the fans’ faces part).”
Near all genres of music have other producers/engineers/songwriters/musicians involved in the process - what makes ghost producing in dance music a separate, icky issue?
“Producing for someone else is not an issue at all. As you say, it happens in all other genres – 99-percent of pop music won't be produced by the artist fronting the act. But there is a big difference. If you look at the album credits, these people are always named. Ghost production means you sign an NDA [a non-disclosure agreement], and you can never mention your part in the record, and you will never receive any credit. You don't build a discography, you don't build a reputation… you're a ghost. Imagine if Michael Jackson had Quincy Jones sign an NDA for example, and claimed to produce his own work. What would Quincy's reputation be today? Nothing. Instead, he is one of history’s most renowned producers.”
In an ideal world would there be no ghost producing, or do you see the need for it?
“In an ideal world people would be credited for producing, engineering and co-producing so they can build their reputation. The uncredited NDA bullshit should stop. It's also really unauthentic; you are selling the fans something totally fake. All these young kids thinking you're a shit hot producer when actually you can't even make a basic demo.”
I have been told that this year 'no amount of money will buy you an Ashley Wallbridge hit record.' What does this mean?
“Well, maybe if you offered me a million [bucks] I'd reconsider! [Laughs]. Seriously though, I'm not ghosting for anyone anymore, no matter what I get offered. All my time and effort is on my own productions. Within the first two months of the year I created a catalogue of seven originals and two remixes. I had big offers for a lot of the originals but turned them down."
How did CVNT5 come to be?
“A drunken conversation down at the pub. Where else do great ideas come from?"
CVNT5 has released two songs now, what's coming next?
“I could tell you, but then I would have to kill you! We've got something pretty fucking amazing coming soon. We've been so surprised at how many offers for shows, collaborations, and appearances we've had – it’s crazy! We're going to continue to have fun with it for sure.”
Did you ever see CVNT5 as a long-term project or was it simply to make a point? What is its purpose?
“We had one purpose, to have a laugh! Making the video was an amazing time – the whole crew and team just loved every second of it. We had to do numerous retakes of scenes because people would start laughing. Part of the genius of it is not having a purpose, and letting the audience and dance press project their own thoughts of what it represents.”
How do you feel about dance music becoming pop music and breaking into the mainstream the way it has over the past few years?
“I think it's great, seeing the kids out at a festival when 10 years ago it would have been a rock concert. Pop music comes in cycles and when it's chewed up and spat out dance it will move on to something else! The heartbeat of dance music will always be in the underground; it's where it began, and it's why it will never go away no matter what happens in the pop crossover world.”
What was the tipping point for you to decide to come out of the shadows and attach your name to your work?
“When you need to pay your rent and someone offers you $10,000 for two days studio work, you say yes. Ghosting has helped me out financially so I can’t slam it too much. But, seeing tracks I have created change people's careers, watching them earn a fuck ton, talk about how they made the record/their production skills, lying to the fans, etc., just felt so fucking wrong. Add to that the ego that also grows with the success… they would come back to me for another #1 and speak to me like I was serving a Big Mac at McDonald's. No respect whatsoever and I'm done with it.”
People are well aware of ghost production within the dance music industry... but is there something that you can tell us about how it works that might surprise everyone?
“First is the NDA that I mentioned earlier, basically stating that you can’t say anything about the DJ for the rest of your life, and they will never acknowledge you. Secondly, there are two ways of providing the service. Either naming the price ($5,000 to $25,000) per track, or asking for a percent of their gross income for ‘x’ amount of months and in that time period I would then provide ‘x’ amount of tracks. It's a very big business because ghost producers can make a lot more than the actual DJ if it's done properly.”
Where do you see dance music heading in the next 10 years?
“I'm not sure about the next 10 years... there's probably some 12-year-old kid sitting in his bedroom on Ableton right now creating a new genre none of us have heard of yet! But certainly in the near future there will be a return to melody in the mainstream; as big room dies there’ll be more melodic, chill, really musical stuff. In the club scene, progressive will come back in a truer form, and a lot of people are talking about a trance resurgence. The cool underground will keep enjoying whatever the latest social media hating hipster is putting out.”
You have several releases coming out with Armada this year - what's the working relationship been like? Why choose to sign with them?
“Armada is arguably the biggest EDM/dance music label in the world; they have a great team of people working behind the scenes. I've built up a pretty cool relationship with the guys there and it makes me feel a lot more relaxed as I get honesty.”
What forthcoming release are you most excited for and why?
“I really can't put it down to just one (sorry!). I am so fucking excited for them all! “But I want to name my top three... ‘See Your Face’ with Carlos Pena, ‘Melody’ with the amazing Karra, and ‘Won't Back Down’ which was co-written with Paul Oakenfold.”
You have an uncanny knack for emotional melodies - where does that inspiration come from? What's your process in the studio?
“I don’t really get inspiration from certain things. I kind of just sit there in the studio and play on the piano for a few hours. Sometimes it clicks, sometimes it doesn’t. Never really had a process. Sometimes I will be in bed and melodies will come in my head and I will hum them in to my phone and the next morning I will play them on the piano. No one will ever get to hear those though.”
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