Where the hell is my plasma TV?

So we have a payola scandal. I wonder if anyone really cares at all. I don't think that anyone was under the impression that talent was guiding radio selection. In this article from the Los Angeles Times, Robert Hilburn points out that marketing and focus groups drive radio selection and there is no reason to believe that Ted Leo, or the New Pornographers will be on DC101 anytime soon. I tend to agree with Mr. Hilburn. The only thing that I found surprising about this scandal is that major record labels still engaged in payola

Let us take this quote from an article in the Economist:

“Yet a band called Audioslave, which makes more “challenging” music, also benefited. 'I've paid payola,' admits one music executive. 'I couldn't get through to the key radio stations, my band made difficult music and now they're a household name.'”

This is a world where Audioslave is considered “difficult music.” Where does that leave bands like TV on the Radio or The Unicorns? And behold the power of payola, it can take a Superunknown like Chris Cornell and make him a household name, wow. By the way, let me apologize for that last sentence, but it was too easy.

Record labels are companies and not people. I am sure that if their research showed that they could make a lot of money selling the new Architecture in Helsinki album, then they would. While I am sure there are bands that would refuse to sign to a major label as a matter of principle, but not as many as one would think. Also, if the audience was out there demanding to hear the new Sigur Ros single, then Clear Channel would play it. It seems obvious to say, but companies like money and not music. When they release an album by Jason Mraz they are not saying that it is good, they are saying that it will sell.

I am not saying that everything on a major label is bad, just that aesthetic quality doesn't factor into the equation. I don't know if Clear Channel or Sony could just decide to make Clap Your Hands Say Yeah a platinum seller. It is possible that they create taste as much as react to it. I similarly don't know why a the market for indie rock is smaller than the market for Jessica Simpson, but it seems clear that it is. I also appreciate how arrogant this post is.

The other way to read this post is: Charles is angry that this blog's influence isn't large enough that people want to pay him off. And I am for sale by the way. Sony? Capitol? Come on guys, I have no shame or a job.

1 comment:

  1. Well, I see your point, although I still believe in the inherent catchiness of acts like the New Pornographers and Ted Leo (isn't Fountains of Wayne's success proof enough that good pop can triumph over evil?).

    But I think you ignore that labels don't just want a high-selling record, they want a high-selling band. Someone whose style is not going to differ wildly, turning off the audience. People who won't OD or break up. Ideally, someone who relies on the label for songwriting. Someone reliable, so that you don't have to invest the money to break an act every time you want to sell a million records. Someone interested in playing ball.

    And that, I think, does make payola a very bad thing, because it allows labels to inflate the popularity of acts that are better business partners than they are bands.