Payola–so-called “pay for play”–still exists in radio. While it was straigtforward in rock’s early days in the 50s, now it’s sheathed in the guise of “independent consultants” who get songs “placed” on major (and minor) radio stations using moneys given to stations for “promotional expenses.” Those “independent consultants” are then paid by the major labels, and in some cases are actually owned by broadcasters, like Clear Channel, which acts like its own middleman.
(Whereas, in college and noncommercial radio the station staff just get free CDs, promo schwag, and free drinks and drugs when they go to free concerts and industry events).
Today, Sony BMG settled with NY’s attorney general’s office to stop the practice. Crusading Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said of the deal:
“This agreement is a model for breaking the pervasive influence of bribes in the industry… Contrary to listener expectations that songs are selected for airplay based on artistic merit and popularity, air time is often determined by undisclosed payoffs to radio stations and their employees.”
As part of the deal Sony has to pay $10 million into a music education fund.
I’m glad to hear that the investigation is only getting started with Sony BMG. What I really want to see is for Clear Channel to go under the microscope, since the rise of new-school payola is the direct result of radio ownership consolidation.
Spitzer also rightly took aim at the FCC for not investigating or dealing with this incredible pervasive practice. Of course, to any seasoned FCC watcher, this isn’t suprising, since under Powell the Commission was completely allergic to taking any hard look at how the media industry does business. Chairman Martin’s spokesman said the FCC would look at anything Spitzer forwards to them, but we’ll see.
Like a lot of the securities fraud Spitzer has investigated, this only shows how captured is the agency which is supposed to police these affairs. Why does it take a state attorney general to hold the recording and broadcast industry to the law? It’s only because New York is such a major seat of business, and because all the major recording and radio companies do business there that Spitzer can pull this off.
The attorney general’s press release has some juicy details about Sony’s payola practices, after the jump.