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Free the Music March 9, 2006

This is totally off the topic of snowboarding, but WTF, we’re going to have to start writing about something else sooner or later. Today we’re writing to you about Eliot “Free the Music” Spitzer, the New York state attorney general who has filed yet another payola law suit, this time against a major radio conglomerate, Entercom.

First, a caveat: normally, we hate attorney generals of just about any kind because we believe in Freedom, and usually, attorney generals despise it. Spitzer, however, has used his time as an attorney general to tackle bloated, iron-fisted corporate tyrant and seven headed Hydra that is the music business, which has enslaved music fans and artists alike.

If you were brave enough to follow the link above, we’ll be the first to agree with you that this whole topic is boring as shit, especially as reported by the MSM. Anything dealing with corporate doings and big business is generally really lame, but this particular topic is important, because it deals with what you are hearing on the radio, in the ski lodge, on the TV, every day of the week. So, here’s a condensed version of what happens with the payola scam, and why it is important.

The Mars Volta, not playing on your local rock radioLet’s say, you go out one day and buy the new Mars Volta album, because you really sweat their unique brand of progressive rock psychedelia. In an ideal economy, your $17 vote for Mars Volta would encourage the market to produce more albums by the Mars Volta or artists like them. However, in the real world, payola pops up and totally fucks you in the ass.

Likely less than a one of your 17 dollars of it is going in to the pockets of the Mars Volta. After the retailer gets his cut, the majority of the profit gets handed over to one of the big four record labels (and no matter how “indie” the record label is, you’re just about guaranteed that it is owned by one of these evil giants.) Not that any of this is that much of a problem — yet. The record label could take that money, and invest it back into producing a new Mars Volta album, or perhaps in a new, up and coming band that might be even sweeter.

But, remember, the big four record labels (EMI, Sony-BMG, Universal Music and Warner), are evil bitches. They hate freedom, are ambivalent about music, and are determined to make as much money as possible even if it means crushing the very soul of rock music. So, they’ll take much of the profit they’ve earned off your Mars Volta purchase, and hand it over to radio conglomerates who control the playlists for most of the radio stations around the country, in exchange for spins on a pop record of their choosing. This is called payola, and it blows because instead of hearing more Mars Volta, you hear more Jessica Simpson, or Celine fucking Dion.

Why is that such a problem?

First, because Celine Dion and Jessica Simpson suck. (If you disagree, go read another blog. And yeah, we agree that Simpson is pretty easy on the eyes, but we’re talking about her music here.)

Second, because DJs, historically, provide a valuable service in that they are wading through tons of garbage music, finding spicy new cuts, and sharing them with you, so that you get to discover new artists without having to listen to shitty bands for several days on end.

This is how you remind me how shitty rock radio is becomingNowadays, though, radio conglomeration and payola have re-worked this whole process. DJs these days are spineless corporate toadies. When your local K106 DJ says “Check out this hot new track from Nickelback,” really the DJ knows the song sucks badly, but some fat, cigar smoking executive in a pin stripe suit with pointy hair is leering over him, threatening to shut the DJ out of the radio biz forever if he does play crappy music and like it. This fat executive can do this because due to radio conglomeration, his company (either Entercom, Clear Channel, or Infinity Broadcasting) owns about half the radio stations in the DJ’s city, and hundreds and hundreds more across the country. The fat executive gets paid by the record labels, the record labels sell more Nickelback and Jessica Simpson albums, and fatass executives everywhere are happy.

Meanwhile, your local rock radio has totally gone down the shitter, you haven’t heard a great new band since you bought Mack Dawg’s “From Russia With Love”, and Ashley Simpson, the no talent ass clown and biggest poser in all of rock music, inexplicably becomes a platinum selling artist. Somewhere out there, the next Radiohead or Pink Floyd is about to call it quits, because in spite of producing some incredible revolutionary and groundbreaking music, the industry just isn’t into finding new artists when it can turn a quick profit paying for spins to sell crusty, cookie cutter records.

Enter Eliot Spitzer, who like David slinging away at Goliath, is determined to break up the shady (not to mention illegal) payola cycle. In the past he’s settled with Warner and Sony which got them off the hook a little easy, but we’re hoping this new attack on radio conglomerates has legs and will hopefully ensnare the other conglomerates. We’ll be following it religiously, anyway.

In the meantime, don’t pay for your studio music anymore, because you are just feeding the Borg. Pirate your shit online, and support your favorite artist by seeing them live.

Wow, that was a long one. Hopefully we didn’t lose you — drop us comments or mail, unless you work in the music biz, in which case you should go fuck yourself.


1. Anonymous - March 15, 2006

Word - Corporate America is killing the good music and fostering lame crap. I hate terrestrial radio!

2. TGIMcPete - March 27, 2006

i won’t address the radio/payola sitaution, b/c it’s kinda fuckt up no matter how you cut it. however, i will address ignorant statements that demonstrate a severe lack of understanding for the business process that developed such artists as Mars Volta and most other great artists of our time. now i’m not saying it’s perfect, but neither is a hand job… that doesn’t make it shitty though.

the record label artist development system isn’t great, but until recently, there wasn’t really another viable alternative to major label promotion. (and even now, it’s unclear what will work.) in any hit driven business, it’s necessar for the hits (1 of 10 artists/albums make money) to subsidize the losses (the 9 of 10 that lose money). and most talented musicians simply don’t have the resources or expertise to produce and promote their music with any hope of success.

do i think it’s a perfect system? no. but i definitely appreciate it’s role as driven by the 95% of the public is happy listening to music that makes me have to defecate.

fucking myself….

3. drew kalinski - August 23, 2006

the mars volta are by far one of the bests new bands to it the music bussiness i agree with not buying there album and get it from the net for free i am not trying to be cheap but i just dont like feeding the wallets of “fat cigar smoking idiots”
i support the mars volta a wish they would come to ireland to play they havcent been here for years since the were tour on de-louse and anyone reading this listem to there new album its is far better then there two previous ones its great and far more out there them delouse and frances the mute