Monday, July 25, 2005


The suggestions from earlier today that Sony-BMG were going to 'fess up to bribing radio station employees in the US turn out to have been confirmed. The holier-than-thou member of the RIAA have been caught offering inducements to stations:

For instance, the program director for Buffalo, New York's WKSE-FM received several flights (to New York, Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, with guests) in exchange for adding Jennifer Lopez's "I'm Real" (in July 2001), Good Charlotte's "Hold On" (in November 2003) and Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out" (in August 2004) to his station's play list.

A label employee complained about the deal in an intercepted e-mail to a higher-up: "Two weeks ago, it cost us over $4,000 to get Franz on WKSE. That is what the four trips to Miami and hotel cost. ... At the end of the day, [the program director] added [Good Charlotte] and Gretchen Wilson ... for $750. So almost $5,000 in two weeks for overnight airplay."

Typical record label - bad enough they're cheating the listeners, cheating the public, cheating the artists (who eventually pick up the tab for all this activity, of course) - but moaning about how much it's costing them.

Also, the label group orchestrated fake call-in campaigns, hiring people to request songs so that the station might add a track because it thought listener demand warranted it. In one e-mail exchange about the practice, a label employee instructed the call-in campaign leader to make the callers sound more excited: "My guys on the inside say that it's the same couple of girls calling in every week and they're not inspired enough to be put on the air. They've got to be excited. They need to be going out or getting drunk or getting in the hot tub or going clubbing ... you get the idea."

It's going to cost Sony-BMG ten million dollars to buy their way out of this mess - which comes hot on the tail of other outrages, such as having been threatened with ASBOs after illegally flyposting all around Camden, and overcharging consumers for their CDs - but, of course, once again Sony want us to show them more pity than they show twelve year old girls who download the odd illegal MP3:

Sony BMG acknowledged that fraudulent practices and payola took place and called it "wrong and improper."

"Despite federal and state laws prohibiting unacknowledged payment by record labels to radio stations for airing of music, such direct and indirect forms of what has been described generically as 'payola' for spins has continued to be an unfortunately prevalent aspect of radio promotion," the label group said in a statement. "Sony BMG acknowledges that various employees pursed some radio promotion practices on behalf of the company that were wrong and improper and apologizes for such conduct. Sony BMG looks forward to defining a new, higher standard in radio promotion."

It's a little bit like Catherine The Great announcing she wants to be leading attempts to define a new respect for horses, isn't it? Apart from anything, Sony shareholders might want to take a close look at how their pension schemes and insurance companies are coming to take such a massive hit.

It's no wonder Sony BMG are so worried about losing every penny from downloads - if they're spending five grand on getting a single record played on a single radio station in a single city, they must need all the cash they can get.

Oddly, the RIAA has nothing to say about one of its key members confessing to breaking federal and state law. And yet usually they've got so much to say about illegal activity.


ian said...

I must admit, I can't see too much wrong with that. Are you suggesting that left to their own devices, radio stations would come up with playlists comprising only the finest examples of modern music? I demand an immediate investigation into every single radio station in this country.

Anonymous said...

dude catherine the great died of a stroke you take that back

simon h b said...

Ian - if there wasn't anything wrong with it, why would Sony BMG have been so desperate to cover up their behaviour? There is a certain irony that the radio stations would have probably played the same records, but there's two things here:

First, what they did was illegal - so regardless of if anyone got hurt or not, they were committing a crime; and since they're really keen to ensure that people downloading are pursured to the full extent of the law even when nobody much is getting hurt, we should apply their same standards to their own behaviour.

Secondly, and much more importantly, it's not especially fair on labels who can't afford to buy this influence; and it's wrong that people should be listening to programming beleiving they're hearing an independent editorial endorsement, only for them to actually be listening to a paid commerical.

Nobody would have a problem with Sony paying to get its records played - providing you know that the record you're hearing is on the air because it's been subsidised, not because it's any good.

There's another problem, too, in that the US charts counts airplay alongside sales - so, in effect, pay to play is the same as buying a higher chart position.

Anonymous said...

Very well put, Simon.

On an unrelated, bitchy tip, Let's see how your next album fares Stateside now, Kapranos...

achong hok lian said...

Thank you, your article is very good

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