Years of petitions validated.
Recording artist groups and unions are unanimously grateful that New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has acted on "pay for play" practices after several years of petitions to Congress and the FCC to no avail. Spokespersons told Billboard.biz that they now wonder if Spitzer will go after the big radio companies that set up the practices.
Michael Bracy, director of government relations for the indie artist-oriented Future of Music Coalition (FMC), is relieved that the FMC's stance over the last four years has been validated. As he tells Billboard.biz:
"We provided a white paper and comments about this and other problems with consolidation to the FCC, and we provided testimony to Congress. We testified at public hearings; we talked and talked and talked," he says. "Finally the problem [is brought] to somebody like Spitzer, who has subpoena power, and who has documented that there is clearly something to it."
Bracy adds that he wonders if Spitzer will also see big radio companies as culpable by setting up the "pay for play" as a "'you've got to ante up to be able to play the game' deal." He adds, "So the question is now, is there another shoe that's gonna drop? And is this a game the record companies have been forced to play?"
Ann Chaitovitz, director of sound recording for the American Federation of Radio & Television Artists, puts it even more bluntly: "It's about time. It's a good first step. Now [Spitzer] has got to look closely at radio station owners who have enabled by consolidation to exert new types of payola pressures. He's looked at the bribery part [by the labels]. Now he needs to examine the extortion part by radio stations."
Recording Artists Coalition (RAC) co-founder Don Henley, who also was on the issue early on, praised Spitzer: "RAC is grateful to him and his staff for exposing the magnitude of the payola problem and for getting a major label to agree to change the way it does business. We look forward to other labels agreeing to similar reforms."
Henley testified before the Senate Commerce Committee in January 2003 on the downside of consolidation, including "pay for play" practices and artist intimidation by radio companies that also own concert venues.
In addition to artist community input at two Senate hearings in April 2003, more than 30 major artists connected with RAC, FMC and NARAS sent a letter warning about anti-competitive practices of big radio stations to then-FCC chairman Michael Powell.
The Recording Industry Assoc. of America (RIAA) joined the artist groups and unions in 2002, asking the commission "to revise its payola rules to cover independent promotion to radio," among other issues. RIAA had no comment on the Spitzer announcement.
Powell's FCC listened but did little. Eventually, the commission began a broad proceeding to look into localism issues, including sponsorship identification and "pay for play." That proceeding is still open.
Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., offered legislation in two Congresses to look closely at "pay for play" and other downsides of consolidated radio, but the measures never made it out of committee.
> For full coverage on the Sony BMG / Spitzer settlement visit Billboard.Biz/spitzer.