Does Payola Still Matter?

from the but-why? dept

As the news comes out about yet another admission by a record label that it will pay fines for being involved in a payola scam, it makes you wonder if payola even matters any more. Despite years of similar lawsuits and similar fines and apologies, the practice of paying to get songs played on the radio obviously still happens all the time. It doesn’t seem to stop. But with traditional radio losing out as a source of music compared to many competing offerings (online, satellite radio, etc.) will payola still matter? Payola makes a lot of sense when you have limited airtime with limited stations. However, when the coverage is much broader, then payola suddenly becomes a lot less valuable. While it did help create the megastars of today, it’s becoming clear that we’re moving towards an age where there may be fewer megastars, but many more successful musical acts — as they have a better ability to reach the right audience without having to go through just a few gatekeepers. There will always be some gatekeepers and tastemakers, obviously, but the field is no longer so limited. So, perhaps, it isn’t decades and decades of useless legal sentences and empty promises that will stop payola scams — but simply new technology that will make paying to get your music played a lot more obsolete.

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Comments on “Does Payola Still Matter?”

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Jeremiah (user link) says:


They were fined $5 million….??? Ok, so Warner will fire two artists… Oh, they’ve agreed to donate the fine, so now Warner gets a tax write-off too.

From the perspective of the conglomerates, a ten to fiteen grand in perks, cash, schwag, a small investment considering the windfalls they can reap from the publishing income derived via PRO’s (BMI, ASCAP) which pay royalties based on airplay (among other measures.)

And $5 mil is a small penalty to pay.

Casey Hales (user link) says:


Having started in radio in 1969, I am familiar with payola. Lots of talk about it, never knew anyone who took money to play songs, but if it was going on and it was, of course, it would be most effective. Even with play lists, Music Directors, etc., you could play what you wanted, when you wanted. Even without payola, people played their own tastes from time to time and no doubt effected sales of music.
Still today, even with online music, radio is still the prime medium for new music. It will be for years to come. You can access music more easily to buy via the Internet, but you first hear it, still, on the radio. If payola still exists at the level it did in the 50’s-70’s, it would still be a very effective way to manipulate artists and what people buy.
Radio, even today, is a powerful medium.
That’s my 2 cents worth, but don’t bother to pay me, I don’t accept payola 😉

Rick Gutleber (profile) says:

Re: Payola

Um, Casey?

No one is arguing that it isn’t happening, or that it’s not effective, but that it’s _corrupt_. Music promotion is not based on merit or popularity but bribery and extortion. That’s why most people hate commercial radio. I stopped listening to radio around ’91 or ’92, except for talk radio or the classical station. I know the chances of finding music I’m interested in are near 0%, and the “classic rock” stations have a playlist that is miniscule compared to my personal music collection… most of which is _not_ classic rock. Did you know the Doors had more than 2 popular songs? Or that Lynyrd Skynyrd had more than 3? Then you didn’t learn that from radio since 1990. I actually heard a DJ on-air apologize for playing the wrong track (a very interesting Bob Seger track I’d never heard before) on a “classic rock” radio station that used to brag about their massive library of music.

I could load a 1GB iPod and have more variety without commercials… as it is I own an 80GB Neuros packed to the gills… I buy new music all the time but music radio has nothing to do with it, nor is it a medium that provides me with any entertainment.

In the 80’s I could put on the radio and leave it on all night and hear all kinds of neat stuff, including new stuff. Now the music is generally much blander and the variety is greatly constricted… and from my point of view, there is much more interesting music coming out now than when radio was great in the 70’s and 80’s.

I blame payola, as well as massive consolidation, which is essentially the same thing (only less unethical). I understand that a lot of pop music is kinda dumb because a lot of people like that, but that can’t explain the success of so many artists who lack even a modicum of talent… events like Ashlee Simpson disaster on Saturday Night Live only go to show how thin the veneer of slick production and savvy marketing needs to be to promote someone (who is famous apparently because her sister has big boobs) whose talent is negligible.

If satellite radio didn’t require subscriptions, and it possibly won’t at some time in the future, traditional analog radio would have gone the way
of mechanical TV broadcasts in the 1930’s by now.
As it is, I imagine that analog music radio in 2010 will make AM music radio today look mainstream. And just like broadcast TV, they have no one to blame but themselves. Heck, one of the biggest competitors to broadcast TV is reruns of old broadcast TV on cable or on DVD’s.

The world is changing and the media companies are usually the last to admit it, but since they are so powerful and rich, they can exert a ridiculous amount of pressure on Congress and the market to perpetuate their failing business models when in a freer market they would just die out.

But that’s just my 2 cents… I’m not in the business nor do I know much about it. Just a consumer who long ago switched to alternatives and never regretted it.

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