26 July 2005

payola is the answer

...to the burning question of "Why is there so much crappy music on the radio???" which I lamented about in a previous post ("Radio killed the pop star").

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.


Elaine said...

Steph, I always look forward to one of your new blog entries, because I know it will be informative, relevant to culture and society, and well-written, and your payola entry is no exception. I've heard here and there about "payola," and I think, like you say, it exemplifies in part that a lot of crap is shoved in the general public's face and that the supply of that crap isn't necessarily being dictated by the demand...of course, many people embrace bad pop or generic rock music once they hear it (and some of it isn't bad), but that doesn't mean it has to be so heavily promoted at the expense of more experimental stuff, nor does it discount the fact that many people determinedly search for an alternative from the mainstream. As the Tribune's Greg Kot documented not too long ago, FM radio listeners have gone down in the last several years for various reasons; IIRC, he attributed it in part to lack of variety and experimentation on the radio.

I think Spitzer is a great Attorney, by the way. So many of the corporate crimes that we read about in the news nowadays might be unknown were it not for his office. (Now if only we didn't need an attorney like Spitzer in the first place, but alas, we do...)

Susannah said...

Steph, you know I have a talent of linking subjects that are entirely unrelated yet related at the same time...
You might be equally shocked by how blatantly corrupt people are if and when you see the movie "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room." It cannot be described; one needs to just go see the movie to understand what I'm talking about. Payola seems downright saintly compared to Enron!