If you don’t think that most pop-radio stinks….. I don’t know what to tell you. But if you wonder why the same 10 sound-alike canned pop songs are rotated over and over ad nauseum, read on. In 1994 an Orlando dj played a single called “Shine” by an unknown band from Georgia. People liked it and began requesting it. Soon other stations and other markets caught on, and Collective Soul had the Billboard song of the year, and rode the wave to several more big records. It doesn’t work like that anymore. When was the last time you heard a song from an independent (indie) label on your local pop station?
There is now proof that the industry is racked by payola – the practice of a label paying to have a particular song played on the radio. The practice became much easier when the federal government allowed large corporations (like Clear Channel) to own multiple stations in multiple markets. Big Corporate Radio bought out most of the stations. Then Sony’s label can pay large sums of money to get some vapid JLo song a bunch of play on a company’s station. Listeners then have the song drilled into their head, where it gets stuck, and some of them come to believe that they like it. After all, if its played so much, it must be a big hit.
New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer has reached a large settlement with Sony BMG Music after investigating their payola practices. There’s a report here that includes copies of some of the memos. And here. In the settlement, many in-house memos have been made public that show the company paying companies and individual dj’s with cash or gifts (computers, tickets, cameras, etc.) in exchange for playing a particular song. “Our investigation shows that, contrary to listener expectations that songs are selected for air play based on artistic merit and popularity, air time is often determined by undisclosed payoffs to radio stations and their employees,” Spitzer said.
So essentially, a Jessica Simpson song is foisted on the unwitting public who are told it is a huge hit. While bands that are making interesting and truly good music can’t get on the radio without being annointed by a big label. With the advent of the iPod, podcasting, and satellite radio, listeners can shun Big Radio if they desire. Maybe these investigations (Spitzer is now aiming his guns at other music labels) will help clean up the practice. Is Spizter a publicity-hound trying to set himself up to run for governor? Maybe. Right now I don’t care – I’m just glad there’s finally real proof of what most people have known for a while. Maybe things will change on the airwaves.