When a song gains widespread popularity, there is typically little inquiry regarding why the song successfully hit the mainstream charts. The general public normally assumes that the song possesses general qualities that somehow merit noticeable recognition. Some listeners might point out that the song became a hit because of its good rhythm, while others will claim that it was due to its melody. In reality, however, this might not necessarily be the case. For every song that becomes a mainstream hit, chances are that there are a countless number of similar songs that go completely unrecognized. This raises a question, who is controlling the music market?
The truth of the matter is that, for the past decades, major record labels have blatantly managed the music industry in a manner that has suited their own advantage. By employing discreet, illegal tactics – corporate labels have been able to manipulate mainstream radio stations, artists, and even enthusiastic music devotees. After all, record labels are businesses aiming to foster their own growth; therefore, at the end of the day, it always comes down to stock options and the maximization of profit, not the music itself. It is for this reason that corporate crime in the music industry might be more prevalent than the general public could possibly imagine. The Recording Industry Association of America, which represents the largest five music companies in the United States, has come under significant scrutiny for using criminal tactics that aim to reduce the benefits of artists; this has caused multiple contemporary musicians to turn their back on major record labels by working independently.
Corporate crime within the music industry is quite old, dating back to the time when record labels commenced to emerge within the music business itself. During the nineteen hundreds, licensed commercial public radio stations commenced to develop. By the nineteen twenties, music was being broadcasted through various radio stations nationwide, opening new opportunities for musicians to promote their work and gain recognition (1). It didn’t take long before record labels came to the realization that it was possible to take advantage of the radio in order to raise their sales. If the songs of the artists they represented reached a large-scale audience, the growth of the artist’s career would become secure, thus ensuring stable profit for the labels. During the mid-nineteen fifties, record labels commenced bribing disk jockeys by paying cash and handing out gifts in exchange for airplay. This form of illegal commercial bribery came to be known as the payola scandal, which generated a large amount of agitation within the music industry. During the crackdown of the practice, numerous disk jockeys such as Dick Clark, Alan Freed, and Arnie Ginsburg were prosecuted for accepting bribes from various record companies. At the time, however, many of the record companies offering payolas were simply independent labels that were aiming to flourish within the industry, not corporate conglomerates (2).
Although it has been made fairly clear that payola is illegal under the law of the United States, the practice continues to be used in different forms throughout the present. By finding means to evade the law, new methods of payola have evolved with the sole aim of obfuscating the fact that illegal bribes are being given to radio stations. For example, rather than paying disk jockeys directly, which is prohibited by the anti-payola regulations, many major record labels have commenced paying music promoters large sums of money. The promoters, who serve as a third-party, then pay the radio stations to play a particular artist. This is known as the third-party loophole (3). Another example of an alternative form of payola involves the actions of global record label, Sony BMG Music Entertainment. Sony BMG was discovered to have organized faux promotional competitions in which all the prizes were...
Bibliography: 1) Mitchell, J. Listener Supported: The Culture and History of Public Radio. CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2005.
2) Miller, P. Rock & Roll: A Social History. NY: Basic Books, 2006.
3) Manly, L. “How Payola Went Corporate.” New York Times. 31 July, 2005.
4) Leeds, J. “Radio Payoffs Are Described as Sony Settles.” New York Times. 26 July, 2005.
5) King, B. “Rule Reversal: Blame It on RIAA.” Wired Magazine. 10 August, 2000. Pg. 26.
6) BMG Canada Inc. v. Doe, 2005 FCA 193,  4 R.C.F. 81
7) Geist, M. “Exploit Now, Pay Later If At All.” L.A. Record Magazine. December 2009. Pg. 32.
8) Lindgren, H. “The Way We Live Now.” New York Times. 2 November, 2003.
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