Broadcast radio has been rocked by at least two payola scandals in the 1960s and again in 2004. But payola- the illegal practice of paying to be played on the radio- is still rampant in the US, according to multiple reports.
“Everyone knows it’s there,” Allen Kovac, CEO of the rock-focused Eleven Seven Label Group told RollingStone. “It’s a game that should’ve gone away a long time ago. [But] it’s prevalent enough that you’re not gonna get into the Top 15 without playing that game.”
Some examples cited in the article:
- $10,000. One manager, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, recently spent approximately $10,000 through a third party directly paying radio DJs in the “urban” and rhythmic formats to play a single. The payments were strategically employed to boost the singer’s spins. When a label signed the artist, the manager was able to earn his money back."
- $50,000 for 800 spins on Mix Shows. Another music-industry veteran who requested anonymity claims that he spent five times as much to try to break a record in the rhythmic format. “I bought all my spins at the right places,” he says. “We spent about $50,000.” He got around 800 plays, mostly in mix shows."
- 1 Record / 10 Indie Promoters. “Say a song is Number 20 on the Top 40 chart [ranked by spins], but it’s Number 40 in audience [reached],” said one label promotion person. “You’ll probably see stations pop up with a high concentration of the spins overnight [when barely anyone is listening]. They’re getting something in return. They’re not doing it every single time just to help somebody out.” To promote a single in the Top 40 format, “you’re probably gonna hire 10 different indies on every record,” he adds. “There could be one guy who has one station you want, another guy who has 12 stations that you want. I don’t think there’s any way somebody could have a hit at radio without having to do that.”
- Paying A Toll & Promotional $'s. Unlike the old days, when a programmer might take home $1,250 for spinning Jessica Simpson, “the toll” doesn’t always go into the programmer’s pocket today. Instead, 'what [the stations] need the money for is to go toward marketing, quote-unquote.' That might include buying advertising time on the airwaves or billboards in the market, or putting money toward products like T-shirts and bumper stickers that publicize both the radio station and the record label.
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