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Monday, August 15, 2005

Fifties tunes

Would you be shocked to learn that the Western Standard actually pays magazine retailers to carry our product more prominently in their stores? In fact, manufacturers of everything from magazines to margarine pay retailers top dollar to ensure that their products get favoured placement on the shelves.

So, apparently, do music companies. Only, according to New York attorney general/sheriff, Eliot Spitzer, they're not allowed to. And he recently managed to extract a US$10 million settlement from Sony BMG after it was caught bribing programming directors at US radio stations to play selected tracks. The whole thing smacked of that payola scandal that was all the rage way back in the 50s, so I guess that's why everyone's feigning such wholesomeness, acting like this is somehow supposed to be scandalous behaviour. Wolfman Jack is gone, babies. No one looks up to their DJs anymore. Who cares if Wildman Dan gets a plasma screen TV to play the latest J-Lo single? He's gotta play something, and if it isn't J-Lo, it'll be Britney or Pink or that girl from No Doubt. In any case, it all sounds roughly the same, delivers the same messages, has a good beat and is all easy to dance to.  Is there some kind of pop music morality being presumed here—like Britney deserves the airplay more than J-Lo, because she's more talented? Get real. If everyone on the Top 10 list is a fabrication of the music industry anyway, then what
difference does it make the order we put them in?

Is Spitzer going to go after Entertainment Tonight next, because it only gives positive coverage to movies put out by its parent company, Paramount? (Actually, ET only gives positive coverage to all movies, it just gives a greater quantity of it to Paramount flicks.)

As Thomas Hazlett notes in the FT, pay-for-play is actually the healthiest model for the radio industry. After all, who says a 40-year old DJ in Syracuse even has the capability of being the arbiter of today's youth culture? The record companies, Hazlett argues, are in a better position to sense what will be the hits of tomorrow, and expend their limited resources in promoting those promising acts. Given that record companies employ focus groups and test marketing ad nauseum these days, it seems almost certain that they're more qualified to decide what the kids are picking up on their headphones than the morning man who got hired away from the soft rock station.

Besides, this ain't the 50s. Kids get their music a lot of different ways now, and the importance of commercial radio is waning, fast. The Internet has a major effect on how music-listeners discover new acts and podcasting may be even bigger yet. In 10 years, everyone will be listening to satellite radio providers like XM or Sirius anyway. Seems to me the radio stations are just trying to adapt their business model to a rapidly changing marketplace—something the music industry hasn't always been very good at doing.

Eliot Spitzer may wish it were still the '50s, but as Hazlett notes, radio stations and record companies are smarter and more savvy than that. They live in the present: They'll just figure out other ways to exchange favours.

Besides, if the tastes of radio listeners can really be influenced by some third party controlling what gets played on the air, then how come Glass Tiger never made it big—despite our government's policies that forced us all to listen to their songs thousands and thousands of times?

Posted by Kevin Libin on August 15, 2005 | Permalink


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When Sirius comes to Canada, I will only get it if I can listen to Howard Stern.

Stern rules!!!

Posted by: Scott | 2005-08-15 10:17:29 PM

Is this satire?

A better analogy for the news business would be if companies and policians were paying you to write positive articles and this fact were never disclosed or hinted at. And yes, I would consider that a scandal.

Posted by: Pete E | 2005-08-16 1:19:47 AM

Kevin has hit it right on. We do live in a country that seems to want to control almost all we see and hear. Fortunately they are slowly loosing the fight and people are starting to wake up.

Wether it is the CBC, CRTC, the small ownership of our nations daily papers who are Liberal bedpartners, or local or national radio stations who are afraid to say or report anything in depth that might be anti Liberal and therefore anti CRTC. Take a look at the guy in the east who said a few words about our GG in waiting.

For those of you who are interested in seeing the light of day I suggest you go and put a Sirius or XM radio into your car and or home today.

I purchased one 6 months ago, I can't beleive that I can listen to groups and performers other than Shania Twain, Avril, Celine, Barenaked Ladies, Nickelback and a couple of others. On Sirius a person can relive and remember the music that is actually good and that doesn't get airplay in Canada due to our foolish Canadian Content rules.

I myself originally put a Sirius unit into my car for the simple reason that it is supposedly illegal. After having it for about three weeks I was raving about the great music, clarity etc. and have had three of my friends install the same system into their vehicles, and now they are spreading the word. At last count my word of mouth has resulted in at least 9 units being purchased in the Saskatoon area. Owners then do just like I do and never really ever listen to local radio ever again.

Its so easy. Search out a local retailer that has Sirius , or easier yet go to ebay and purchase a receiver, get it installed and then activate it online at sirius.com, all you need to do is give them a credit card and tell them what state (wink, wink) you live in. Take that CRTC.

Now all we have to work on is the newspapers, and the CBC.

Posted by: BDT | 2005-08-16 8:48:12 AM

Pete E wrote:
"A better analogy for the news business would be if companies and policians were paying you to write positive articles and this fact were never disclosed or hinted at."

Really? You genuinely think that's a fair analogy? So you would rank the societal importance of a free and uncorrupted Top 40 radio industry on the same level as the importance of free and uncorrupted news media? You don't think that's maybe like comparing apples and, say, cement mixers?
Some perspective, please.

I hope no one ever breaks it to you that the bestseller book lists in this country are also fixed.

Oh, what the heck:

Posted by: Kevin Libin | 2005-08-16 12:19:25 PM

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