Big radio and the FCC are still giving independent music artists the shaft.

The announced payola settlement between the Federal Communications Commission and four of the nation’s largest media groups won’t help the cause of indies and it won’t undo any of the damage caused by payola in radio. Just like the dog and pony show agreements signed by major record labels in recent years, this deal is a pile of manure.

In the proposed settlement Clear Channel, CBS Radio, Entercom Communications and Citadel Broadcasting agree to pay $12.5 million to the FCC and to provide 8400 half-hour segments for the play of independent music on their stations. The music will be chosen by the American Association of Independent Music. No details about how formats will be split up have been mentioned.

First of all, $12.5 million doesn’t even begin to approach the amount of money radio stations have received in payola over the years. And the nature of the game is no longer just a few disc jockeys receiving bags of coke in record jackets or hookers in the broadcast booth. The new payola is corporate policy.

Radio stations make a mint in payola by charging major labels to play their music or to provide gifts and promotion dollars. Major labels use these payments to shut indie labels out of the game by upping the ante at radio. If indies are willing/able to pay the same price, they can get major radio play as well… sometimes.

Paul Porter of music industry watchdog group Industry Ears says, “Payola is no longer just the little guy getting a few bucks for a few spins on the radio– the “new” payola is corporately overseen and driven– a multi-million dollar business. The reported payola consent decree does nothing to slow radio and records commitment for the pay for play system.”

Secondly, the allocation of 4200 hours of broadcast time is completely insignificant, especially if those hours are relegated to half hour segments. Scott Borchetta of Big Machine Records, a Nashville indie that is distributed by Universal told The Tennessean newspaper, “That may sound like a big number, but when you put that up against all the radio stations that you’re talking about and the amount of time that represents, 8,400 half-hour segments is not that much.”

Why shouldn’t independent music be spun in rotation with major label fare? And why not spin those tracks all the time?

Advances in recording technology have eliminated many of the barriers of expense and quality that once faced indie artists. Now the last hurdle is marketing dollars. Indies already have less capital to work with than their corporate counterparts. Payola is an illegal system that creates an additional hardship.

Collusion between big radio, big labels and big government closes markets, stifles creativity and ultimately limits the variety of music that consumers can hear. This proposed deal by radio conglomerates just like the settlements signed between corporate music and New York are public relations stunts.

Don’t be fooled. Turn off the radio.

Blues Talkin'