Digital Audio World

Musings and information on podcasting, digital audio, online streaming audio and home studio recording from Tim 'Gonzo' Gordon of

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Pay for Play: Good, Bad, Ugly...indifferent?

You may have seen the story that shows how EMI - one of the largest music distribituion entities in the world - settled a pay-for-play complaint and investigation (EMI settles with Spitzer over payola for $3.75 million�|�

I'm gonna play the devil's advocate and ask: what's wrong with payola? It's the way our world operates. You influence someone in a position that can influence others and voila' - you have a conduit to selling more product!

The complaint, as I understand it, is that when you do that you present an unfair and biased position on what's really popular on the charts.

Here's where NY State Attorney General Elliot Spitzer steps in...

"When a record label engages in an elaborate scheme to purchase air time for its artists, it violates state and federal law and presents consumers with a skewed picture of the country's proclaimed 'best' and 'most popular' music," Spitzer said. "We're pleased that our investigation of payola in the music industry has resulted in significant business practice reforms that will help generate more diverse airplay."

Who benefits from the practice? Of course, the artists!

Who is hurt by the practice? If you are to take the opinion of Spitzer (and the law), the consumers are hurt by it - apparently because they've been suckered into buying something that's not nearly as good or popular as they think it is!

Well, there's something that's damn wrong with that argument, federal and state laws aside. The market (consumers) will not buy stuff that they don't want to buy. They won't spend money on least not for long. If the market is manipulated to the point of seeing inferior stuff fly off the shelf, it is self-correcting. Word of mouth - especially in the music and entertainment industry - is quick and deadly.

I'll give you an example: When the movie 'Gigli' came out, it had a lot going for it. Ben Affleck was coming off a string of decent-to-large hits: Pearl Harbor (2001), The Sum of All Fears (2002) and Daredevil (2003). Jennifer Lopez' track record was also pretty good: Out of Sight (1998), The Cell (2000), The Wedding Planner (2001), Maid in Manhatten (2002).

Not to mention, Affleck and Lopez were on the pages of all the tabloids and checkout counter magazines such as People and US - they were a hot property, having met and engaged in a relationship during the filming of the movie.

Two hot actors, hot press, etc.

When Gigli opened on a weekday on the east coast, by the next day on the west coast ticket sales were down, simply due to word of mouth. And that all happened within 24 hours of its opening on the opposite coast. By that weekend, it was deader than a doornail and was pulled from theatres shortly thereafter. Since then it's become a punchline to pretty much any Ben Affleck joke.

Why did it bomb when it seemed to have so much going for it?

It bombed because it sucked! The audience figured it out quickly enough. They will do that with music as well.

In a sense, pay for play, or 'payola' may be a sneakier and more insidious way to manipulate the marketplace for a short term, to create buzz. But if there's no substance behind the buzz, it won't last, no matter how many steak dinners a music director gets or how many prizes a radio station receives from a record company to give away to promote a tune.

Besides, we're talking entertainment here...this is not a science experiment, and it is not government policy (that's another story altogether on manipulation!), nor is it anything critical to do with the functioning of our society. It's all fluff, and meaningless fluff in the 'big picture.'

Who the hell cares if charts are manipulated? It doesn't really matter!


Post a Comment

<< Home