And You Thought Payola Was Dead

Intrepid New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer is now offering further indicia of the sad state of the world of big commercial music through investigations under the classic anti-"payola" laws -- the laws that make it illegal for radio stations to accept anything of value in return for playing an artist's song, unless it is disclosed on the air.

The New York Post reports that Spitzer reached a settlement with Warner Music, just months after he settled with Sony, over payola allegations. The allegations include payments of straight cash bribes to trips with Madonna, made directly to radio station employees (apparently, in some cases, solicited by those employees).

Payola has always been a simple effort to get more airplay for an artist, thereby boosting sales. It is also a sign of the quality of the output, even if such schemes would exist regardless of the listenability of the product. However, with the rise of so many other ways for the labels to promote their artists -- from legitimate blogs to iTunes -- it is striking that the industry may be resorting to tactics that were employed when FM radio was a relatively new medium, and since been explicitly made illegal.

Old habits die hard. Moreover, it takes real effort to foster ingenuity in entrenched industries, even those whom have been given a map to success by creative thinkers (tip of the hat to Apple and bloggers, among many others). However, to me, this sad chapter is yet more evidence that such old habits and methods, at least in the big music industry, may never die.

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