Payola, part 1 of 5
Nothing in the music business
sparks more inquisitiveness from grassroots artists than payola. Although established
label people (and radio people) realize that it's a red herring for a new indie, the
response to our previous article about Clear Channel was the greatest of all the previous
fifty Airplay 101 articles. That's funny, since the purpose of that article was to explain
how focusing on things like payola or Clear Channel is a waste of time for the indie
artist... because it's not what's holding the artist back. Most indie artist readers did
not even see the purpose of the article, and instead thought we were either defending or
condemning Clear Channel (we were doing neither). But I wont' give up... I'm going to
clarify and expand my argument, and take the next five full articles to do so, starting
with this one.
For a grassroots indie artist or label to think that a radio group owner (CC or otherwise)
is "holding them back" by only offering airplay to "big" labels who
can "pay" them, is putting energy into the wrong area. By grassroots-artist or
indie-artist, I mean an artist with no distribution, no touring, no press, and a marketing
budget of $30,000 or less, which will have to pay for all upcoming manufacturing,
promotion, PR, retail, booking, and everything else. This category applies to 99 out of
100 readers of Airplay 101 (about 44,000 people). The remaining 1000 non-grassroots
readers, who are working on projects at the medium and major level, might indeed have
payola or CC as concerns. But by "indie", I do not mean labels the size of Curb
or Roadrunner... those are majors in the grassroots world. Again: These Airplay 101
articles on payola apply only to absolute beginners, and not to the more experienced
marketers (for them, we'll have Airplay 201 in the future.)
Here are some perspectives: For a grassroots artist to think that payola or CC is holding
them back, is like a 16 year old hostess at a restaurant wanting to open her own 1000-seat
restaurant in Manhattan, and then, when she is turned down by the banks (or the banks'
secretaries) for the ten million dollar loan, she blames the problem on corporate
corruption, thinking that you can only open a restaurant by paying people off. Forget the
fact that she only has worked as a hostess (the only job she ever had) for three months...
this could never be the problem. This situation might seem funny, but this is how
experienced label (and all radio) people view indie artists who are complaining that
payola is what is stopping them from getting exposure.
Now, if the person seeking the ten million dollar bank loan had been a 20 year food
service veteran, having worked as hostess, waitress, cook, bartender, head chef, assistant
and general manager, well then, if you heard her complain about corporate payoffs being
the reason she were being turned down for her loan, you might actually listen. But the
real answer for the 16 year old hostess is the answer for the grassroots indie artist: Why
are you wasting your time focusing on things that are so high level that they don't apply
to you? They may apply to other people in larger marketing situations, but not to you at
The real reason that the 16 year old hostess can't get the restaurant loan (and thus can't
"move forward") is that she knows almost nothing about the restaurant business.
She knows so little, as a matter of fact, that she does not even know what she doesn't
know. But the bank knows, for a fact, that she has no chance of success... so they don't
even talk to her. So she complains about what she DOES know about... corporate corruption,
which she sees on TV. That is the ONE and ONLY reason that she can't get the ten million
dollar restaurant loan, and also the ONE reason she is not being promoted to waitress.
What else could it be? If there were any other possible reasons, SHE would know about it
(right?), because after all, SHE is working in the restaurant business, and SHE knows how
it works. (well, she sort of works in it, because she also baby-sits on the side.)
Point: 99 out of 100 of the people reading this do not know enough about the radio
business (or music marketing) to understand the very basics of what is needed to get
airplay. So, they pin the lack-of-airplay on what they have read about: Payola. What else
could it be? What other music marketing can one possibly do besides make some CDR's with
stick-on labels, and mail them out to Clear Channel stations in markets 1 through 20?
Conclusion: Paying stations is not a tool for a small indie to get airplay.
© Bryan Farrish Dec. 2002
Bryan Farrish Radio Promotion is an
independent radio airplay
promotion company. 818-905-8038 www.radio-media.com.
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