Album Promotion
Radio Promotion Articles

Radio Airplay 101 - Payola, part 1 of 5

Nothing in the music business sparks more inquisitiveness from grassroots artists than payola. Although established label people (and radio people) realize that it's a red herring for a new indie, the indie's condemnation of Clear Channel and payola is neverending. (Again, it's like saying you failed at your first restaurant because of McDonalds.) So we say again... concerning oneself with payola or Clear Channel is a waste of time for an indie artist... because it's not what's holding the artist back.

For a grassroots indie artist or label to think that a radio group owner (CC or otherwise) is "holding them back" by only offering airplay to "big" labels who can "pay" them, is putting energy into the wrong area. By grassroots-artist or indie-artist, I mean an artist with no distribution, no touring, no press, and a marketing budget of $30,000 or less, which will have to pay for all upcoming manufacturing, promotion, PR, retail, booking, and everything else. This category applies to 99 out of 100 readers of Airplay 101. (The remaining non-grassroots readers who are working on projects at the medium and major level might indeed have payola or CC as concerns.) And by "indie", I do not mean labels the size of Curb or Roadrunner... those are majors in the grassroots world. Airplay 101 articles about payola apply only to absolute beginners, and not to the more experienced marketers.

Here are some perspectives: For a grassroots artist to think that payola or CC is holding them back, is like a 16 year old hostess at a restaurant wanting to open her own 1000-seat restaurant in Manhattan, and then, when she is turned down by the banks (or the banks' receptionists) for the ten million dollar loan, she blames the problem on corporate corruption, thinking that you can only open a restaurant by paying people off. Forget the fact that she only has worked as a hostess (the only job she ever had) for three months... this could never be the problem. This situation might seem funny, but this is how experienced label (and all radio) people view indie artists who are complaining that payola is what is stopping them from getting exposure.

Now, if the person seeking the ten million dollar bank loan had been a 20 year food service veteran, having worked as hostess, waitress, cook, bartender, head chef, assistant and general manager of a Manhattan restaurant with annual sales of $70 million, well then, if you heard her complain about corporate payoffs being the reason she were being turned down for her loan, you might actually listen. But the real answer for the 16 year old hostess is the answer for the grassroots indie artist: Why are you wasting your time focusing on things that are so high level that they don't apply to you? They may apply to other people in larger marketing situations, but NOT to you at your level.

The real reason that the 16 year old hostess can't get the restaurant loan (and thus can't "move forward") is that she knows almost nothing about the restaurant business. She knows so little, as a matter of fact, that she does not even know what she doesn't know. But the bank knows, for a fact, that she has no chance of success... so they don't even talk to her. So she complains about what she DOES know about... corporate corruption, which she sees on TV. That is the ONE and ONLY reason that she can't get the ten million dollar restaurant loan, and also the ONE reason she is not being promoted to waitress. What else could it be? If there were any other possible reasons, SHE would know about it (right?), because after all, SHE is working in the restaurant business, and SHE knows how it works. (well, she sort of works in it, because she also baby-sits on the side.)

Point: 99 out of 100 of the people reading this do not know enough about the radio business (or music marketing) to understand the very basics of what is needed to get airplay. So, they pin the lack-of-airplay on what they have read about: Payola. What else could it be? What other music marketing can one possibly do besides make some CDR's with stick-on labels, and mail them out to Clear Channel stations in markets 1 through 20?

Conclusion: Paying stations is not a tool for a small indie to get airplay.

Next topic: Payola (part 2 of 5), Legal Definitions

Click here for a list of all articles...

For a complete description of our airplay campaigns, including pricing, send an email to

Internship Opportunities