Friday, April 17, 2009

Jango and "payola" - lost revenue will break my bones, but names will never hurt me

Follow-up to this March 9 post in my Empoprise-BI business blog, which included the following:

When we choose the words that we use to describe something, we know very well that the words we choose often affect how we look at the item being described.

Let's take the word "payola," used to describe a 1950s practice in which radio stations would be paid to play particular songs.

My March 9 post didn't discuss music per se (it concentrated on "pay per post" blogging), but this Guardian item did:

Payola – the illegal practice of paying or in any other way bribing a radio station to play your song – has existed since the advent of pop music. In the 1960s, Alan Freed was the first person convicted of payola and the book Hit Men described in detail how the practice was rife in the 70s and 80s....[A]s recently as 2005-06, three of the major labels were indicted and settled out of court for pay-for-play practices....

Now webcaster Jango has come up with an ingenious way of legitimising these bribes, by declaring publicly that they've been paid to play songs. For as little as $30, a band can buy 1,000 plays on the music-streaming service, slotted in between established artists (who don't pay for their slots, I assume). The artists themselves choose what other music they'd like to be played next to.

More here. As far as I'm concerned, disclosure is disclosure, and for those purists who condemn Jango's process, I submit that it's just another avenue for unsigned bands to flex their own power as opposed to the power of the major labels.

If Jango artists are to be criticized for buying airplay, should the major labels be criticized for buying commercials on radio stations? Yes, I know that radio stations publicly maintain that their programming decisions are separate from their advertising decisions, but those ads obviously help the major labels to obtain mindshare at the stations. And even if the radio stations don't change their programming, they can't necessarily control the sounds that are heard during the 15, 30, or 60 second sports. With sufficient money, you can buy up enough airtime for your artist to be heard more than any other artist on the station - granted it won't be counted in the station's official charts, but it will register in the listener's heads.

So how is that different from Jango?
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