Change That Tune looks at the history of payola, the development of the “indie promoter” system, the investigations by the New York State Attorney General and the FCC from 2003-2007, and the contents of the “Rules of Engagement” signed by the four largest radio companies to provide context of what it means for musicians and independent labels, and how artists are interacting with radio in the 21st century.
Change That Tune (PDF) is a musician-focused guide that examines the history of payola and details the New York Attorney General’s investigations and FCC-endorsed “Rules of Engagement,” which were signed by the four radio companies implicated in the 2003-2007 payola investigations. The guide also examines what payola — and efforts to curb it — means for musicians and independent labels.
Payola — a contraction of the words “pay” and “Victrola” (LP record player) — is a term used to describe the process of labels or artists paying money to radio station DJs or employees in exchange for radio airplay.
Payola began to attract public attention in the late 1950s and 1960s when rock and roll disc jockeys became powerful gatekeepers and kingmakers who determined what music the public heard. Though it has drifted in and out of popular consciousness, it’s never really gone away.
Consolidation in radio station ownership following the 1996 Telecommunications Act allowed an “independent promoter” system — in which cash and goods were exchanged through a paid middleman — to flourish. That is, until 2003, when first Senator Feingold and then-New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer began following up on rumors that payola was alive and well in the music and radio industries.
The New York State investigations and FCC scrutiny from 2003 to 2007 uncovered alarming evidence of wrongdoing, and resulted in large fines and many promises about better behavior. But what have the payola investigations meant for musicians, independent labels and music fans? Has there been any noticeable impact on the conduct of labels or radio station owners?
In addition to describing the problem of payola and the ways in which it might be addressed, the Payola Education Guide also outlines how artists can more productively interact with radio in the 21st century.
To learn more about the outcomes of the payola investigations — specifically whether they’ve had any impact on the amount of independent and local music on the commercial airwaves – please see our Same Old Song and More Static reports.
Download Complete Report [PDF]
About the Report
The Payola Education Guide was written by Adam Marcus for the Future of Music Coalition and the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM).
The research and analysis contained in this report was made possible through support from the New York State Music Fund, established by the New York State Attorney General at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. The views expressed are the sole responsibility of its author and the Future of Music Coalition.
FMC Reply Comments in FCC Localism Proceeding
On June 11, 2008, FMC filed reply comments in the FCC’s ongoing localism docket (04-233). FMC’s comments offered highly targeted proposals designed to aid stations’ service to their local communities. FMC also urged the FCC to take definite steps to track and analyze playlists in order to fulfill their public interest obligations. The Payola Education Guide was attached to these reply comments.