PAYOLA in Kenya: Is it Really Entirely Wrong to Pay Djs and Media Stations for Promotion and Airplay?

By Phillip Nyalenda

There has been a recent advocacy for promotion of local content being played on our Radios and TVs and this is amid controvercies involving Djs who allegedly solicit payments from artists to have their music played on local radio playlists  or internet mixxes. For an insight, let me take you back to the 1960’s in America when the PAYOLA law was enacted.(PAYOLA, simply put, is the act of major record labels  paying top radio stations to have their music played as this boosts sales) At that time the famous musician, Elvis Presley, had popularized “Rock and Roll” music and the white folks were not happy with the way white kids hopped to this type of music that was gaining popularity quite fast while it was black-associated music. They said it was eroding society morals and it happens that at that time it was a common practice to pay radio dj’s to play your music. So a law was enacted to illegalise this practice and thus PAYOLA law came into force with the hidden intention of unpopularising rock n’ roll music. It, however, was a failure as the genre thrived even more but resulted to this law that prohibits such payments. In the current music society, PAYOLA is still practiced in many forms. But the question is, is entirely wrong?
There are some questions that we need to ask ourselves! Why would a musician through their label and/or management spend huge amount of cash to promote their Facebook page and YouTube videos? However unfair it seems, it is legal advertisement, right? And when advertising, what is your obejective? Is is not to reach a wider audience? When a company advertises a product constantly on TV or radio, psychologists say that the consumer tend to buy what they identify? So when a shopper with no brand loyalty walks into the mall, he/she will most probably buy the product that they see and hear about over media commercials. And that is what is practiced in the music industry. With over 300,000 Facebook followers and an employed social media manager, plus relationships with hit radio and TV stations, such an artist’s song is very likely to cross the one million mark in terms of Youtube views. The number of YouTube views have been accepted as an informal way of assessing an artists popularity and it translates into high paying shows, physical, digital and merchandise sales and more corporate attention. So we can agree that its a good business choice to pay for promotion, right? Artists, therefore, work hard to pay Facebook to promote their content through sponsored social media posts and accounts. Others pay influential Twitter users as this has replaced the traditional ‘Street Team’. So most artists-if not all-are, in some extent paying to get noticed, right? So then, it means that, about 60 percent of local music we listen to have been “mechanically popularised” by some direct or indirect payments to radio stations. And that is PAYOLA in effect! Kiss 100, for example, has been constantly criticized for their “hits music” model of content programing but have they they changed much? But still that’s the norm in the entire global music industry. Countries like, Nigeria, have come up with ways of companies investing in artists as its generally rewarding to sponsor an artist’s carrer. Millions have been invested into the likes of Wizkid and P- Square and that’s why they globally represent success in African music. But is this system sustenable? Since it is possible to pay to make a whack song into a hit by paying dj’s and radio station, is the listener’s preference taken care of? It is possible to provide the audience with the best music while also receiving PAYOLA-like payments from the labels! How?

Radio stations have the infrastructure to get feedback from listeners. As music plays, audience responds by requesting certain songs more while also commenting on the radio/Tv staions media platforms with their views on the song quality and that way the media can collect data that they can then give back to the artists. A free-market model thus is in effect! So when artists pay for music to be played, they expect data in form of listeners’ feedback on whether or not the song was good for the audience. Since most radios/TVs have specic audience, if the song is not good eneough, the paying artist gets to lose-partly-on sales but get one important thing: the knowledge of the type of songs that is prefered by the audience they are targeting. If it becomes popular, its okay for the artist and his label/management. This way, what will be in sale is the promotion plus data which can only be collected by media stations or music blogs- and this is in exchange for money to the station, of course!

As we discuss the future of the music industry we should then consider PAYOLA system but with an intricate balance between data collection and such payments. I know you are asking the fate of those musicians who cannot afford to pay for such promotion, but I think the answer lies in whether or not music is considered as a business and if investors are ready to swim into the industry.


Writer is a Music Business writer and CEO at Grosspool Music

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