Sony Perp-Walkman

So it finally happened: somebody with legal authority finally figured out that record labels were paying programming directors and other radio station employees for airtime. Who woulda thunk it? NY Attorney General Eliot Spitzer just got a $10M USD settlement out of SonyMusic Group for “payola”. The big bopper had nothing on the resources that a multinational empire like SONY can throw at a radio market.

This might be the worst kept dirty little secret in the history of the music bidnezz. Big record labels can’t take the chance that the crap they are tying to market will sell on its own merits. People might want to hear other, better, music. Or program directors might say “this song sucks, play ti at 2am-5am”. That is what they get paid by their employer to do.

The thing that really gets me is that while the record industry is blind to the effects of their market manipulation while they are constantly crying about piracy and sharing killing their bottom line. Maybe the fact that they are force-feeding subpar music to radio audiences has somethign to do with it. The bottom line may well be that their product sucks, is overly formulaic, devoid of real emotional content, and not something that the average consumer wants to lay out their hard earned money to own. BTW, you don’t own it. You are actually entering into a tangled legal web when you purchase music.

While this is a “good” thing in the short term, and some money will get channeled to music education programs as a result, I wouldn’t start expecting to see too much in the way of a sea-change in commercial radio.

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