Progressive politics, ideas & culture


Caught in the Act

This Magazine Staff

Allow me to draw your attention to a report on New York Attorney-General Eliot Spitzer nailing Sony for payola, the practice of bribing radio types to get airplay for artists. The immediate result was a $10M settlement and a promise from Sony to stop the practice, which is a more sophisticated version of direct “pay-for-play” to radio DJs, which was outlawed in the U.S. in the Sixties. Spitzer believes this is an industry-wide problem, and has asked for documents from other Big Music companies.

The long-term result could be more sweeping, as the Federal Communications Commission says if this is proven to be a violation of federal law, it could be a “potentially massive scandal.”

Spitzer certainly obtained some damning evidence, releasing to reporters several emails, including one from an employee of Epic to a radio station with the quote: “WHAT DO I HAVE TO DO TO GET AUDIOSLAVE ON WKSS THIS WEEK?!!? Whatever you can dream up, I can make it happen.” (Ironic given that Audioslave is mostly old members of Rage Against the Machine whose left-wing politics are well-known. So far the Audioslave website is silent on the matter.)

The folks over at indie music hub Pitchfork and pro-music sharing site Downhill Battle are ecstatic about the news, showering Spitzer with praise and celebrating what is hopefully the end of a powerful tool Big Music used to overwhelm the independents and screw artists and consumers.

To me it’s another example of how irrelevant commercial radio has become. With music-sharing, podcasts, satellite radio, and quality live music at festivals and small shows, why does any fan need radio to hear about great new music? By the same token, what artist needs commercial radio to promote their tunes?

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