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Payola: 7 things you need to know about this dark music industry secret
PublishedBy: in Entertainment/MusicApril 11, 2018

7 things to know about payola

Payola hurts almost everyone associated with the industry and yet it continues to grow. Here are 7 things you need to know about the act

Payola, is the illegal practice of music labels influencing airplay in favour of their acts by paying radio and TV stations.

In a recent online interview, media personality Emma Ugolee made some startling revelations on payola in the Nigerian music industry.


How come Payola keeps resurfacing every time we discuss the music industry? Can there ever be a level playing ground in the music industry with payola?

Well, these are 7 things you should know about payola and how it affects the industry.

1. How it all began


In the 1920s, Payola used to be a legal act (still is to an extent), as long as it is paid directly to the media house and disclosed openly. But sometime in 1959, it became illegal due to a high profile case involving Alan Freed, a top DJ at the time with WABC radio in New York.

Alan Freed was fired after he refused to sign a statement that he had never received money to play a record on air. This led to its first court case in 1960, which made the news and subsequently served as references in court judgements.

2. How did the word 'Payola' come about?


Payola is actually coined from the words, 'Pay' and 'Victrola', which is a crank- driven turntable with an inbuilt speaker used by deejays back in the days. So a hybrid of the two words gave birth to 'Payola'.

3. Payola is not just in form of cash


Payola comes in various forms not down to cash alone. In the 50s, American artists gave deejays fur coats in exchange for airplay. While as Emma Ugolee also revealed in the interview, the likes of Five Star music have allegedly handed out cars to deejays and OAPs for sustained promotion.

4. Even with social media, payola still lives


Despite the new windows created by social media, Payola is still a thing as commercial radio reaches a larger audience across the world in a short period of time and that remains the fastest route to scoring a hit.

The act has also spread to online media as bloggers have also joined in making the music homogenous on their pages.

5. How does Payola influence the charts?


The music industry is a game of numbers and saturation. Record companies or big artists pay for their songs to flood the airwaves so they can be acceptable to corporations and make a profit from their sales.

At some point in Nigeria, two or three labels ruled the land, controlled the radio stations ensuring that only their acts get played and this influenced charts nationwide and killed music diversity.

6. Payola kills competition


With Payola, it is never about what you want to listen to, but what they feed you with.

The only person who wins in payola is the payer who gets increased exposure and a career boost. But it leaves an imbalance as it is damaging to independent artists and small labels who cannot compete.

7. People have been punished for payola


In 2005, one of the world's biggest record labels, Sony BMG was made to pay $10 million in fines after it was charged guilty of engaging in payola.

Several companies under the Sony company umbrella had at several times rewarded DJs in order to push play for mainly Sony acts.

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