View Full Version : Payola Shocker: J-Lo Hits, Others Were 'Bought' by Sony

07-26-2005, 02:09 PM
This explains so much.


I always say when people ask me that the so-called vipers of the movie business would not last a day in the record business. Now Eliot Spitzer's office has decided to prove the point.

"Please be advised that in this week's Jennifer Lopez Top 40 Spin Increase of 236 we bought 63 spins at a cost of $3,600."

"Please be advised that in this week's Good Charlotte Top 40 Spin Increase of 61 we bought approximately 250 spins at a cost of $17K …"

Ironically, it didn't help, as the memo notes that the company actually lost spins — or plays of the record — even though they laid out money for them.

See above: The internal memos from Sony Music, revealed today in the New York state attorney general's investigation of payola at the company, will be mind blowing to those who are not so jaded to think records are played on the radio because they're good. We've all known for a long time that contemporary pop music stinks. We hear "hits" on the radio and wonder, "How can this be?"

Now we know. And memos from both Sony's Columbia and Epic Records senior vice presidents of promotions circa 2002-2003 — whose names are redacted in the reports but are well known in the industry — spell out who to pay and what to pay them in order to get the company's records on the air.

From Epic, home of J-Lo, a memo from Nov. 12, 2002, a "rate" card that shows radio stations in the Top 23 markets will receive $1000, Markets 23-100 get $800, lower markets $500. "If a record receives less than 75 spins at any given radio station, we will not pay the full rate," the memo to DJs states. "We look forward to breaking many records together in the future."

Take Jennifer Lopez's awful record, "Get Right," with its shrill horn and lifted rap. It's now clear that was a "bought" sensation when it was released last winter. So, too, were her previous "hits" "I'm Glad" and "I'm Real," according to the memos. All were obtained by Sony laying out dough and incentives. It's no surprise. There isn't a person alive who could hum any of those "songs" now. Not even J-Lo herself.

Announced today: Sony Music — now known as Sony/BMG — has to pony up a $10 million settlement with New York's Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. It should be $100 million. And this won't be the end of the investigation. Spitzer's office is looking into all the record companies. This is just the beginning.

But what a start: Black-and-white evidence of plasma TVs, laptop computers and PlayStation 2 players being sent to DJs and radio programmers in exchange for getting records on the air. And not just electronic gifts went to these people either. According to the papers released today, the same people also received expensive trips, limousines and lots of other incentives to clutter the airwaves with the disposable junk that now passes for pop music.

More memos: "We ordered a laptop for Donnie Michaels at WFLY in Albany. He has since moved to WHYI in Miami. We need to change the shipping address." One Sony memo from 2002: "Can you work with Donnie to see what kind of digital camera he wants us to order?"

Another, from someone in Sony's Urban Promotion department: "I am trying to buy a walkman for Toya Beasley at WRKS/NY.… Can PRS get it to me tomorrow by 3 p.m. … I really need to get the cd by then or I have to wait a week or two before she does her music again …"

Nice, huh? How many times have I written in this column about talented and deserving artists who get no airplay, and no attention from their record companies? Yet dozens of records with little or no artistic merit are all over the radio, and racked in displays at the remaining record stores with great prominence. Thanks to Spitzer's investigation, we now get a taste of what's been happening.

More memos. This one from Feb. 13, 2004: "Gave a jessica trip to wkse to secure Jessica spins and switchfoot." That would be Jessica Simpson, for whom Sony laid on big bucks in the last couple of years to turn her into something she's clearly not: a star.

And then there's the story of a guy named Dave Universal, who was fired from Buffalo's WKSE in January when there was word that Spitzer was investigating him. Universal (likely a stage name) claimed he did nothing his station didn't know about. That was probably true, but the DJ got trips to Miami and Yankee tickets, among other gifts, in exchange for playing Sony records. From a Sony internal memo on Sept. 8, 2004: "Two weeks ago it cost us over 4000.00 to get Franz [Ferdinand] on WKSE."

Franz Ferdinand, Jessica Simpson, J-Lo, Good Charlotte, etc. Not exactly The Who, Carly Simon, Aretha Franklin or The Kinks. The "classic" is certainly gone from rock.

The question now is: Who will take the fall at Sony for all this? It's not like payola is new. The government investigated record companies and radio stations in the late 1950s and again in the mid 1970s. (When we were in high school, we used to laugh about how often The Three Degrees' "When Will I See You Again?" was played on WABC. We were young and naοve!)

Spitzer is said to be close friends with Sony's new CEO, Andrew Lack, who publicly welcomed the new investigations earlier this year when they were announced. Did Lack anticipate using Spitzer's results to clean house? Stay tuned …

07-26-2005, 02:41 PM
My question is what is illegal about this?? I am not familar with record industry regualations. Also what does Spitzer do with all of this money he has recouped from him many lawsuits?

07-27-2005, 10:47 AM
My question is what is illegal about this?? I am not familar with record industry regualations. Also what does Spitzer do with all of this money he has recouped from him many lawsuits?

I'm no expert, but basically the biggest radio stations in the country decide (exactly how they decide, I don't know) which songs get played and how often. The thousands of other (smaller) radio stations in the U.S. then follow that lead and play those same songs. So in other words, the biggest stations make the hits, and the rest play the hits.

A record company with plenty of money could afford to pay those big radio stations to play the music of its artists. That would basically squeeze out the little guys, the independent labels and the smaller labels, and their artists, giving the major record companies a monopoly. Therefore, it's illegal for them to pay for the favor of spinning their tracks.

There was a big scandal in the 50s with a DJ named Alan Freed going down for it. (I remember that from my Mass Communications class in college. I hope you're reading this Mr. Martin. :D )

07-27-2005, 10:53 AM
There was a big scandal in the 50s with a DJ named Alan Freed going down for it. (I remember that from my Mass Communications class in college. I hope you're reading this Mr. Martin. :D )There is still money changing hands that determines airplay, but it now comes from a middleman. So the 50s payola regulations are still in effect, but mostly meaningless.

07-27-2005, 10:57 AM
There was a big scandal in the 50s with a DJ named Alan Freed going down for it. (I remember that from my Mass Communications class in college. I hope you're reading this Mr. Martin. )

We had a family friend who lost his job because of that scandle (in Detroit) the fact is that money paid to play crap records is usually funded by the artists of fringe bands. The industry is almost broken with bands having to mortgage the "lable stars" through weird contracts that they must repay with the monies recooped from their sales.

Example Everclear singer Art Alexis has an office down the street from Pedro's house, we see him walking about sometimes. Apparently he is 5 million bucks in debt because of the sales of his last record (or lack of) because he had to pay for it on time and planned to pay for it back with his profits.

When your product stinks or is lost in the saturation of crap that the record company is paying the stations to play then payback is a a long road.

Who is easier to market?

J-Lo or impish angry boy Art Alexis? Who is more likely to get stuck with the bill at the end of the day?

J-Lo can pay off her bill with other promises to the label or a check from another of their carreer paths. Chances are though the record company won't have to get her to pay, her lifestyle is a coinstant advertisement for her name and the tabloids take care of letting fans know she's out there.

Then they buy the crap record that they heard on the radio, two years later it's at the bottom of the CD Rack and Art Alexis and his ilk are looking for a new record contract and a way to pay back the record company... the same one that didn't pay for advertising or Payola.

07-27-2005, 12:47 PM
I'd be shocked to hear that payola wasn't the industry standard. There's no other way to explain what gets played.

BTW, TRL Live pays no attention to actual fan votes for its top hits of the day. Through a friend I know the guy who makes up the playlist. MTV execs spend much of the day lobbying for slots.

07-27-2005, 12:52 PM
BTW, Everclear is great. Especially some of the older tracks like 'Fire Maple Song'. Art's in Portland (as woy said) and the bass player (forget his name now) is from Spokane. Good stuff.

08-16-2005, 10:14 PM
The scandal marches on:

Payola, radio's not-so-golden oldie, hits the little guys, too

By Joe Gross


Monday, August 1, 2005

The cost of getting Austin singer Bob Schneider's "Big Blue Sea" into rotation at New York radio station WDST: two pair of tickets to an Elton John concert.

The cost of a Lucinda Williams song at the same station: $500, which was billed right back to Williams' record label, Lost Highway Records.

The cost of getting Switchfoot on the air at Austin station KROX, also known as "101-X": $1,000 for a "flyaway," meaning the sort of "trip for two" that one wins in radio station contests.

Austin radio stations and local artists might find themselves caught up in New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's ongoing investigation into music industry pay-for-play schemes, commonly known as "payola."

Simply put, payola involves taking money or nonmonetary compensation for playing a record and not saying on-air that it was paid for. This has been illegal since 1960.

On July 25, Spitzer said he had reached a $10 million settlement with Sony BMG after an investigation uncovered dozens of cases in which the record giant bribed disc jockeys or otherwise paid radio stations to ensure they would play songs by artists including Jennifer Lopez, John Mayer, Celine Dion and Switchfoot.

FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein told the American-Statesman last week that he plans to call for a federal investigation into the scandal.

Sony might have been the first on the block, but documents released by Spitzer's office appear to implicate other labels as well as independent promotion companies. Indie promoters are the firms paid by record labels to push songs onto radio.

One document from Michelle Clark Promotions, an indie promoter focusing on "triple-A" or "Adult Album Alternative" itemized money and gifts paid to WDST to play songs by Schneider and Williams, among many others. The payments came in two types.

Nonmoney payment included a free show from artist Shannon McNally, an Xbox for the Starsailor song "Good Souls," and tickets to an unspecified show for adding an Alanis Morissette song to the station's playlist.

Money payments included $500 for adding a Robert Cray song, but only $250 for rapper-turned-roots rocker Everlast (Poor Everlast -- no respect!).

"This was just the first prosecution," Spitzer spokesman Brad Maione said Wednesday. "We are looking at other labels and promoters. This investigation is definitely ongoing."

This is not a topic many in the industry would like to discuss. Schneider is in the studio recording and was unavailable for comment. Lost Highway officials declined to comment. Calls to KROX and KKMJ -- the Austin station that Epic Records approached with a Celine Dion "flyaway" in 2002 -- were not returned.

Some popular local artists don't even try to get on commercial radio anymore. Eliza Gilkyson has been on the independent Red House records label for six years and releases "Paradise Hotel," her fourth album for the label, on Tuesday.

"The last five years, I haven't even bothered to ante up to get in that game," Gilkyson says from the road. "To be in that world, two things have to be true: You have to have money and be of a certain age, I don't have either of those things. I'm just glad to know there's a world outside that system," meaning public radio and college radio.

Of course, when you don't have radio support and you want to make a living as a musician, you have to tour. Constantly. Gilkyson is in her mid-50s and is touring from now until mid-December. "I'm probably touring more often than not," she says. "I don't think there's any short cuts. If somebody isn't paying to plug you in to the system, the only way to do it is to play to 10 people the first time, 20 the second and build a career that way."

For artists, the realities of payola are a double-edged sword. Jeff Pinkus is the bassist and songwriter in the local band Honky, which just released its new album, "Balls Out Inn" on the independent label Small Stone. He was also the bass player in the Butthole Surfers for seven years, including a portion of the time that band spent on the major label Capitol Records.

"Payola's just fine with me as long as I'm benefiting from it," Pinkus jokes from the road. "I mean, my biggest problem when we were on Capitol was that they didn't spend any money promoting us. We definitely got the short end of the stick."

Pinkus gives voice to an uncomfortable truth: The winner-take-all business model major labels seem wedded to forces artists to look the other way when indie promoters, radio and labels engage in the sort of behavior for which Sony is now paying the consequences.

Pinkus continues: "Of course the little guy can't compete with this sort of thing. I have my own small label and there's just no way."

Michael Bracy, policy director for the nonprofit think tank Future of Music Coalition, was pleased with the news of Sony's settlement.

"Clearly, it's progress," Bracy said. His organization has been talking for years about the dangers of indie promotion, payola and media consolidation. (Bracy is also part owner of the Austin-based Misra records, which he started in 1997 in New York with local resident Phil Waldorf.)

"What's different about Spitzer is that he's a true investigator with subpoena power," Bracy said. "It wasn't a matter of the law being unambiguous. This is clearly a comprehensive investigation and good first step. The question now is, 'Are we going to see the second step? Will commercial radio be held to account the way the labels have?' "

When asked if the onus was on the labels or the radio stations, Bracy was direct. "I don't think it's inconsistent to say both," he said. "We think the government has also been absolutely responsible (for this situation) with their lack of oversight with what's been going on with radio," referring to the epidemic of radio consolidation in the late 1990s after the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which raised the limit on the number of stations a corporation could own in one market and eliminated the national cap. This led to the rise of radio giants such as the San Antonio-based Clear Channel Communications.

"There's always an impulse on the part of the labels to do whatever they can do to sell the most possible records; that's the reality of the music business," Bracy says. "When you have so few gatekeepers, you have to play ball by their rules."

jgross@statesman.com; 912-5926

wally post
08-16-2005, 10:38 PM
I'm so shocked!!! (feigning surprise)
I say: Everybody... just listen to whatever you love and there's alot of great stuff out there. Itunes and the internet helps to find the music.
Clear Channel is the devil in radio. Do internet radio..

08-17-2005, 07:34 AM
BTW, TRL Live pays no attention to actual fan votes for its top hits of the day. Through a friend I know the guy who makes up the playlist. MTV execs spend much of the day lobbying for slots.

Color me SHOCKED!

Honestly, how could anyone be surprised that this occurs?

08-17-2005, 08:41 AM
Give me a toot,
I'll sell you my soul!
Pull my strings and I'll go far!

And drool, drool, drool, drool, drool, drool, MY PAYOLA!

08-17-2005, 08:51 AM
Give me a toot,
I'll sell you my soul!
Pull my strings and I'll go far!

And drool, drool, drool, drool, drool, drool, MY PAYOLA!

C'mon, post the rest of the chorus... :evil:

08-18-2005, 12:21 PM
Clear Channel is the devil in radio.

I despise Clear Channel. :angry: As soon as they take over a station, you lose the local morning DJs (replaced with nationally syndicated crap) and you get a playlist of about 50 overplayed songs that never changes.