December 20, 2005
../ Spitzer Continues To Air Out Radio Stink
Fumigation Hits Warner Music Group
After settling with Sony BMG four months ago for $10 million, Elliot
Spitzer, Attorney General for New York, aimed his legal guns at Warner Music Group. Warner has agreed to a $5 million dollar
settlement for providing radio stations and their employees with financial incentives in exchange for airplay, a practice commonly known
as "pay-for-play" or payola.
Spitzer's investigation turned up rampant and flagrant payola violations
including direct bribes to radio programmers, as well as gifts of stereo equipment, tickets to sporting events and concerts, airline tickets,
and other promotional "items." Spitzer stated that the payola schemes were
"corrupting the airwaves for new talent trying to break through on their own merits." Or maybe he was listening to the radio last summer
while driving down to the Jersey Shore and kept wondering why the horrible lead single from J. Lo's last album was getting constant airplay.
One of the more unctuous schemes that Spitzer targeted was "spin programs"
which artificially increased the number of times a song was played on the station. The number of spins determines weekly chart positioning
on Billboard, so the more spins a song receives the higher the rank. Inflated rankings can easily translate to sales and these programs
were all the rage. Here's how it worked: a record label would buy advertising
air time during which they would play the song they wanted promoted. Since the song was played in its entirety, it would register as a spin
and thus count for charting. Pretty slick, and everyone benefited, so you can see why this guise was so attractive.
Spitzer's notion this will liberate the airwaves so that getting a song
played will be a true democratic process, is just plain naïve. In reality, a DJ who wants the latest iPod, will have no problem playing
a little J. Lo, even if it invokes the gag reflex in their listening audience. Warner
will suck up to the attorney general's office and publicly put their tail between their legs, but then immediately concoct more sophisticated
ways to get play-for-pay.
The Warner payola settlement includes paying $5 million into the Rockefeller
Philanthropy Advisors fund which will distribute to money to non-profit music educational endeavors, and covering $50,000 for Spitzer's legal
The Future: EMI and Universal Music are next. Expect the same
faux fawning demeanor from both companies and similar settlements.
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