American duo The Chainsmokers have had enormous success in the last couple of years. Their tunes haven’t been only popular on the EDM scene—they’ve made it into the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100 chart with the likes of “Roses” and “Don’t Let Me Down”, with their 2016 track “Closer” hitting the elusive number one spot that escapes the grasp of many artists.
Often in the music industry, success of this magnitude is soon followed by some degree of controversy. Recently, accusations of stealing songs have been leveled at the pair; made up of Andrew Taggart and Alex Pall.
According to some critics on the internet, the duo’s biggest hit, “Closer” sounds identical to Fetty Wap’s “679” which was released in June 2015. So are these skeptics correct or are they essentially just people who fail to understand songs can sound similar without being the same?
An internet poll was conducted by YourEDM on Twitter, with 43% of voters saying that the two songs don’t sound similar, and 24% saying that they can’t tell. The truth is that many songs sound the same without being copied, but the controversy doesn’t end there.
The pair took action in September this year when word spread in blogging communities that their “Closer” hit also sounded like The Fray’s “Over My Head”, with the implication being that the song was either copied, or that The Fray were used as ghost producers for the track. Isaac Slade and Joe King, two members of The Fray, are now credited as writers for “Closer” on the website of performance rights organization, ASCAP.
Crediting other artists on a track is nothing new for EDM artists—Benny Benassi has done something similar in the past, although he lists his own cousin as a producer.
The truth of the matter is that many skeptics of The Chainsmokers and other mainstream EDM artists seem to be confused about common production practices. Sampling isn’t considered theft, and all producers will likely be credited in some sort of capacity on a given song, whether that’s through a technical capacity or label staff. This is true even for a lot of ghost producers—you’ll often find them hidden somewhere in a song’s credits if you look hard enough.There is no doubt that The Chainsmokers have a large production team, with many sources used to produce each track, but to accuse them of stealing seems plain wrong.
And if a given producer doesn’t get credit for a track despite their input, we have a classic case of ghost production, which is an arrangement that is put in place because it works for artists on both sides of the equation. Some producers simply want nothing to do with being credited for a track, they just want to get on with producing music.
This is not dissimilar from the practice of ghostwriting. Famous authors often leverage the value of talented writers who otherwise would never be able to get their writing in front of a large audience. The unknown yet talented writers can then get paid for doing what they love instead of going hungry.
In The Chainsmokers case, nobody knows the exact influence or input that The Fray had on the track. No major details have been released by either side. Some critics speculated that an impending lawsuit influenced The Chainsmokers’ decision to retroactively credit two members of The Fray on “Closer”. The most likely scenario is that the duo were covering their backs.
It’s interesting to note that in the writing industry, there is nowhere near the level of controversy that ghost production attracts in EDM. Fans are just happy to get on with reading quality books, and they are smart enough to realize that even if their favorite author is using a ghostwriter, the arrangement is likely practical for both sides.
The EDM fans and critics who spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to devalue ghost production would probably be happier if they spent more time listening to and enjoying the tracks in the genre they love.
As The New Yorker notes in an article from September 2016, the internet poses a lot of copyright issues for artists like The Chainsmokers. It is now easier than ever to draw attention to potential copyright infringement. One viral post on social media can open up a can of worms for artists, even if it’s evidently clear that they aren’t stealing music.
The American DJ duo The Chainsmokers evidently decided that the smart move for a smash hit like “Closer” was to acknowledge that it sounded like previously released material and move on. By giving up a portion of their royalties and crediting two members of The Fray, they ensured that any copyright problem was stopped in its tracks before it gained traction.
If you’ve ever listened to both tracks, you’ll know that the similarity between them would’ve been difficult to identify if your attention hadn’t been drawn to it online. Unfortunately, this is a damning indictment of the modern music industry, and for The Chainsmokers, it has meant minor public embarrassment and the loss of royalties.