Eric Boehlert’s Latest on Payola

From Salon: Payola is dead! Now what will we listen to?

Under pressure from New York’s nosy attorney general, who has already posted an impressive track record weeding out corporate fraud in other major industries, the system is finally collapsing — or at least contracting — from its own weight. In recent months, chain after chain of radio stations has announced it’s cutting official ties with the middlemen or indies, who are now struggling to come to grips with the radically changed landscape around them. “We’re not becoming millionaires anymore,” says one longtime indie promoter for top 40 radio. “We’re just paying our bills. I’m hoping I’ll still be in business next year.” They shouldn’t bother looking to the record company counterparts for any sympathy, though. “Let’s face it,” says a label source, “the system was a scam.”

The bad news for musicians and radio fans, though, is that even in the wake of the indies’ demise — a remarkable industry milestone considering how far back the look-the-other-way practice dates, and how many times labels and artists vowed, unsuccessfully, to do away with the system — tight radio playlists are unlikely to improve anytime soon. While indie promoters are often seen as dubious, they did have a knack for getting new acts their break on FM radio. That’s why some industry insiders worry that station programmers may soon become even less adventurous in choosing which songs get tapped for rotation on FM stations’ heavily guarded playlists.

[…] “It seems counterintuitive, but the weakening of indie promotion is not a good thing,” says the owner of a small, successful label. “It further cements the hegemony of the major labels and will definitely narrow what’s heard on the radio. The short-term effect is not good for independent music.”