Ghostwriting in the Music Industry: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

ghostwriting Jun 17, 2022
Black and white image of two microphones in front of lyric pages.

by Mary C Long


 

Ghostwriting in the music industry is almost as old as the industry itself. It was common practice before the 1920s, and it’s still extremely popular today. While there are plenty of positive aspects to hiring ghostwriters, there are some cases where ghostwriting has caused serious problems with big names in the music industry.

What’s the deal with ghostwriting in the music industry? Is it really all that bad? Let's look at the arguments from both sides and share our two cents on the controversial subject of ghostwriting in the music industry.

People have been using ghostwriters for as long as they have been writing. Ghostwriters are responsible for some of your fondest childhood memories – Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and even Little House were all ghostwritten to some extent.

In a world where authors write celebrity memoirs and political speeches, ghostwriting is common – and it wouldn't surprise you if you followed the scandal that has caused tempers to flare in the rap/hip hop world.

Meek Mill vs. Drake
It all started when Meek Mill attacked Drake on Twitter, calling out fellow rapper Drake for using ghostwriters: “Stop comparing drake to me too. . . He don’t write his own raps!” In an attempt to emphasize the sinfulness of the transgression, Meek Mill attempted to expose the alleged ghosts as if they were criminals.

Then the whole story got even more salacious, rumor had it, apparently, Drake ghostwrites for Lil Wayne. Finally, Puff Daddy revealed that Drake had been working as his ghostwriter all along.

Is there really a struggle here?
In the rap world, there was a lot of controversy over ghostwriting, which is said to go against the essence of the art form. However, ghostwriting is not just a problem in the rap world. Do you remember "BookGate?" When Carole Radziwill and Aviva Drescher of The Real Housewives of New York spent much of a season fighting because Aviva accused Carole of using a ghostwriter?

The ghostwriting debate has two sides – the perfectly acceptable and well-known side, and the only for myself side. Both positions are valid, but that's not the real problem. The issue is trust, and a trust was broken - but not the one the rappers are talking about. The first rule of ghostwriting is not to mention it. One of the consequences of breaking this rule is where all the trouble really started.

Is your fame crap for hiring a ghostwriter?
Since hip hop was created, the industry has been haunted by these ghosts. Sugarhill Gang's first rap hit, "Rapper's Delight," was ghostwritten. What’s all the fuss about? If it doesn't matter that Drake's worked with a ghostwriter, then why even bring it up? Is that shocking or even surprising?

Ghostwriting is a perfectly respectable profession. You reshape and refine other people's thoughts. It's important to help someone express themselves in a way that resonates. You enable another person to communicate with the world in a way it will understand. There's nothing wrong with that. The reasons a person might use a ghostwriter vary. Many people don't have the time to write because that's what it requires, time. Perhaps their writing skills are just not that great, for which writing is a skilled art and many don't manage it well.

No matter the cause, the best option is to be discreet. As a ghostwriter, you never out a client (unless there are legal implications). When you're the client, you usually don't want others to know that you aren't writing for yourself. If you decide to share that information, it is YOUR decision, not someone else's.

Summing up
As a protest, you may counter that rap is a form of art that bases its claim to an audience on authenticity. And perhaps it is. But it's a business too – one of the most profitable endeavors. And in the end, it often pays to use a ghostwriter in your business.

So long as you don't talk about it. Remember what the first rule of ghostwriting is?