Music Critics Must Die: The New Payola
COLUMN: Payola is a fun-sounding word that may make you remember coloring with a Crayola 64-pack when you were three, but the word essentially refers to bribery. To be precise, bribery in exchange for promotion of a product, as in payoffs for the airing of recordings. Which brings us to the use of music in broadcast, cable and satellite television. Much is made these days about helping spread the word about a new musical artist by placing a song in a television show or commercial. It worked for Feist (“1234” for Apple iPod Nano). It worked for Goldfrapp (“Fly Me Away” for Target and “Strict Machine” for Verizon). It worked for Sara Bareilles (“Love Song” for Rhapsody). It worked for Cansei De Ser Sexy (“Music is My Hot Hot Sex” for Apple iPod Touch). And so on.
This type of thing occurs with regular programming as well. I receive press releases every week about some alt-rock or urban band having a song placed in a scene for a teen angst television drama. Sometimes the band goes on to become well known. Most times not.
This sales technique is not new. The most notable use of it probably was for Moby’s “Play” album, where every track was licensed for something or other.
But here’s the thing. Are programs about to begin charging artists to place songs on their soundtracks? It is, after all, a form of product placement. You know, that deal-e-o where someone on screen JUST HAPPENS to use a product whose logo is seen. . . and whose marketing department laid out some cash to the makers of the show (or to the network that is airing the show). As when the American Idol judges are sipping branded product on camera in exchange for money. Seems as if song placement could be considered the same thing as product placement, yes?
At the moment, the official story is that money is being paid from the show to the artists. But for some time now a little scam has been under way. The artists often must give up from fifty to one hundred percent of their publishing rights in order to get a song in a show. This ripoff is paid to so-called middlemen but who’s to say they are not in bed with the shows they serve. And with that as the first step, it’s not too far-fetched to think they might just break down the ethics door completely and welcome in the new payola.
I think we’ll be reading about this soon. It’ll start with an under-the-table deal so the TV producers can still make a big deal about paying fees for songs, but the story will leak out that it was really a case of “we pay you three grand after you pay us eight grand.”
Come to think of it, perhaps it’s already happening on scripted programming. While advertisers are paying for excellent songs in their commercials, there is often a distinct drop off in quality for the music in the shows themselves. Perhaps the reason for it is the new payola.
[tags]music, payola, commercials, television[/tags]