Sony BMG just admitted to the illegal practice of "payola," which consists of paying off radio stations for airplay (some articles: New York Times, Pitchfork, and Los Angeles Times). Radio stations and their DJs got cash, vacations, Sony electronics and other valuable items for spinning the records of Sony artists such as Good Charlotte, Jessica Simpson, J-Lo, and probably many other craptastic acts (though I do admit to liking Franz Ferdinand, John Mayer, and a J-Lo song here and there). Surprisingly, I wasn't surprised at all to hear about this...it seemed like a "duh" to me, but I was pretty shocked to read just how shameless and extensive the practice is (a funny example from the NYTimes article:
a Sony BMG executive considered a plan to promote the song "A.D.I.D.A.S." by
Killer Mike by sending radio disc jockeys one Adidas sneaker, with the promise
of the second one when they had played the song 10 times.
I was also surprised to hear how much Sony was fined. The terms of the settlement call for $10 million, which will go towards non-profit charities and music education programs. I guess it makes sense given how much the payoffs add up to and how harmful payola can be for some recording artists. New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, the apparent champion for the people against corporate conglomerate crime, is quoted as saying, "This is not a pretty picture; what we see is that payola is pervasive...It is omnipresent. It is driving the industry and it is wrong." He's also looking into payola with other radio stations and major labels such as Vivendi Universal, the Warner Music Group , Clear Channel, and the EMI Group. Yeah, good luck w/ that Eliot.
At least it's comforting to know that maybe the general public really doesn't have musical taste so poor that a radio station would play Good Charlotte every 40 minutes or so. But I think I'll stick to listening to NPR and Launch.com's radio rather than take my chances with the corporate airwaves.