Is Pay-for-Play Legal?

If you’re in the music industry, then you’ve probably heard of pay-for-play and its controversial history. This 100% legal agreement to have one’s music played on public radio stations can seriously benefit those who are hoping to get airplay on their favorite stations. Why, then, do people think pay-for-play deserves its bad rap? We’ll tell you a secret: it doesn’t. Let’s take a look at what pay-for-play is, its history, why it still receives so much controversy, and how it can benefit the music industry by making it a level playing field for independent artists who want to make it big.

What Is Radio Pay-for-Play?

Pay-for-play is exactly as it sounds. A band or record company pays the radio station to air its music. While not illegal, many companies have been in major trouble for not following the procedures required for it to be legal. One of those procedures involves the radio station explicitly disclosing to listeners that it was paid to play that song at the time that it airs. This is called payola, which derives from the words “pay” and “Victrola,” also known as one of those ancient, old-school record players.

History of Radio Pay-for-Play

One of the main reasons pay-for-play has been frowned upon is due to an outdated situation from the 1950s. To put it simply, far more people listened to the radio back in the mid-1900s, due to lack of competition, so bribery of the public radio channels had a major impact on listeners. And listeners didn’t exactly have social media at their fingertips to identify controversial topics of secretly-paid-for music on the radio. Instead, people were far more ignorant to the fact that the music they listened to was being paid for on the sly, therefore making it important for radio stations to disclose this information to listeners. It’s no surprise that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) declared that broadcasting stations must disclose of any cash or gifts received in exchange for playing that music or content to its listeners.

Get with the Program

We don’t know about you, but most of us have moved onto the next century by now, and it’s time that public radio systems do the same. Over the years, the music industry has changed in ways that require new policies to keep up with changing times. From platforms like iHeartRadio and Spotify to iTunes, YouTube, and SiriusXM radio, music listeners no longer are limited to the same, few radio stations, and are therefore no longer at their mercy if they wish to listen to someone else’s playlist. This makes it a far more level playing field for listeners to listen to whatever they want. At this point, most people are wondering what the big deal is. Afterall, a song that sounds bad wouldn’t be doing radio stations any favors. No one wants to listen to garbage. A radio station has to play songs that sound good, or else their listeners will stop listening and go to one of the above platforms. So, what’s the problem with pay-to-play? If it’s simply the fact that it’s through public radio, we’re not buying it. More importantly, record labels are still using pay-to-play on the sly, in ways that aren’t legal. In fact, it’s not uncommon for those in the public music industry to receive monetary offers from labels hoping to gain access to that ever-important airplay.

Benefits of Pay-for-Play

With these things in mind, it’s probably painstakingly clear that pay-for-play is a no-brainer in the music industry. But how can it benefit you? We’re glad you asked. Let’s take a look at the benefits of using pay-for-play services.

a group of people that are playing guitars

It Encourages Diversity

With all the diversity of talent out there, the lack of diversity going around on radio stations is almost shocking. This is because of both the legal and the opaque and illegal use of payola by a select few companies and record dealers to get certain musicians on air while fresh musicians wonder why they’re not receiving publicity. If you’ve ever wondered why you hear the same bands and artists play continuously on public radio stations across the world, this is the undercover secret. There’s a reason why the big guys like Sony and Univision Music Group have taken the heat for their allegations of illegal use of payola to get their musicians on the top charts. It’s because other talented musicians haven’t been given the same opportunities. What we’ve seen instead is the continued monopolization of big record companies and those with clout, while smaller record companies and talented individuals continue to be largely ignored by radio stations. By making pay-for-play commonplace, the entire music industry benefits from the chance to get airtime, rather than a select few, big-name companies.

It Helps Discover New Talent

Once the playing field is leveled out for artists of all walks of life, radio stations can help listeners discover new talent. This means no more of the same artists playing nonstop on all radio stations across the country. Listeners won’t be switching from channel to channel groaning at the same, annoying pop song that radio stations can’t seem to shake. Instead, new talent will have a chance of being discovered, even if those smaller musicians only pay-to-play for a single month. All it takes for listeners to connect is that one taste of newness. That’s what pay-to-play has to offer for those in the music industry. Needless to say, this can be a quite profound moment on the music industry, as more and more musicians get their chance to be heard on the oldest form of public listening.

It Provides Musicians with a New Outlet

Instead of spending time trying to make it big on highly competitive platforms like YouTube, which boasts an active 1.8 million active users, many of whom are also trying to get the publicity they need to make it in the music industry, musicians can pay for a guaranteed spot on the radio. This can encourage a new audience of radio listeners to discover countless new musicians they’d never have found otherwise.If you’re ready to get on air in a legal way that helps level the playing field, click here to learn more.

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