Payola, part 4 of 5
Comparison to Ads, PR, Merch, and Promotion
I need to point out some areas
where indie bands get confused with regards to giving things to stations. It's remarkable
how many bands think that giving advertising or CDs to a station is illegal. What actually
is illegal is when you are playing at a club, and you pay the sound guy to get you set up
first. That's more illegal that anything a label does for a station.
ADS: Advertising a CD is legal because (1) the result of it (the commercial) is broadcast,
not kept secret, and (2) the money is paid to the station (not an individual), meaning
that the sales documents are available for public inspection. Even if you buy a
non-broadcast remote (where the station makes an appearance at a retail store, but does
not broadcast it), the result is still shown to the public. When you advertise on a
station, you "own" the 30 or 60 second commercial, and you can "push"
like within it, including your CD. As long as the commercial is not mistaken for regular
programming, you are fine, and it is not payola (even though it promotes your music, and
you are paying money to the station.)
MERCH: When you give a box of CDs (or shirts, caps, or posters) to a station, just because
the CDs have value to you, does not mean it is like giving cash to the station. If the
station gives them away on-air, then the CDs become part of the programming (like a
refrigerator given away on a game show) and thus it is legal for you to do this... even if
it does benefit you. If the station does not give the CDs away on-air, but gives them away
at a live-remote instead, then that is fine too. Non-commercial stations can even sell
them to the public, if it uses the money for station operations. About the only bad thing
that can happen is when a person at a station sells your stuff on the street, and pockets
the money. Other than that, you can even give cash to a commercial station, if they use it
for on-air giveaway (it becomes part of their programming.)
PR: Buying a ad for your release in a newspaper/magazine is legal; paying a writer to
write about your release, and not making this fact known to the paper, may or may not be
legal (newspapers and magazines are not governed by the FCC), but it's close enough to
"illegal" that we'll just say... it might be. Giving the writer a box of 30 CDs
might be questionable, unless he/she is going to do a giveaway in the paper.
RETAIL: Buying shelf space for your release if perfectly legal; it's standard
contracted-activity with major retail chains, and it's what every major label does with
their priority releases. Interestingly, this fact is NOT made known to the public... the
public thinks certain releases are "out front" because they are
"better". If radio worked this way, you really would have a right to scream. But
it's not just music retail that does this... every Ralph's and Delchamps and HMV and
Publix grocery store works this way...
everything that is "out front" is paid for. And they have NO requirement to tell
you this. So don't get mad at radio.
INDIE PROMOTION: Lately, because of info available on the web, most people have been
hearing about "indie deals" for the first time, and they hate the thought of it.
Indie deals have been around for over 20 years, and were behind probably most of the
material you grew up with on the radio. Indie deals are perfectly legal, and are a
separate thing from the real meaning of "payola". While a few folks (indie
promoters, bankers, doctors, mailmen) do pay people off illegally to get what they want,
most do not. But paying people off illegally is separate from a legally-structured indie
deal (just like illegally paying a retail person to put your CD upfront is separate from a
legally-structured retail POP deal.)
That said, I'll leave details of indie-deals for a more advanced newsletter, and for now
just say (like I said in my Clear Channel article) that you are putting energy in the
wrong place by thinking that it's the "bad" people at the labels and radio
companies that are holding your indie release back with their "deals."
Conclusion: Paying stations is not a tool for a small indie to get airplay.
Bryan Farrish Radio Promotion is an
independent radio airplay
promotion company. 818-905-8038 www.radio-media.com.
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