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Payola: The Dirty Side Of Popular Music

5135 words - 21 pages

We like to think about popular music as an art form that represents the true spirit of the generation that produces it. We think that we choose the music we like, the music that speaks to us, from a wide range of choices. The truth is that popular music is a business where the winner is not necessarily the most talented, but may be the best manipulator or the one with the deepest pockets. Since the 1950s and the beginning of Rock and Roll radio stations and DJs have been willing accomplices to the manipulation of the popular music market. The record industry has depended on various forms of "pay for play" called "payola" to promote their records on the radio and thereby increase sales and gain exposure for their artists. Over the last fifty years, despite government attempts to do away with payola, the practice keeps returning in different forms. The history of Rock and Roll is intrinsically tied to the history of payola."For many America kids, the portable radio signified independence, an escape from the standard entertainment: the huge console radio or television set in the living room, whose programming was controlled by their parents. The music coming out of that miraculously small radio - especially the rock and roll and the jumpy country and the fluid memories of doowop - differed enough from pop crooners that adults listened to teenagers could embrace as their own. And the disc jockey with his energy, his jive lingo, his knowledge of the latest goings-on, was an entertainer in his own right, a star reachable by a phone call, or a visit to a sock hop" (Fong-Torres 4). This was the feeling that Top 40 radio inspired; a feeling of independence, a feeling of having a source of entertainment that was all their own and a feeling that the DJs and the music were all there for their generation. It took awhile for listeners to become aware of the business behind the music.Payola is a combination of the words pay and the name of an old record player, Victrola (Peneny). It is now a fairly common word that is used to describe bribery or corruption in all sorts of industries but beginning in the 1950s it was a new word describing practices in the music industry and it was the kind of word that needed to be defined every time it was written (Segrave vii). Although the practice of payola has never been completely illegal it "has been condemned as an unacceptable practice, as evil and immoral. Perhaps this is so because it flies in the face of traditional American ideas that talent, hard work, merit and perseverance lead to success. Under payola, success could come merely if enough money was expended; no other inputs were required."(Segrave vii).The history of payola, which can be taken to include all forms of money or favors given to promote the singing or playing of music, has been happening since the 1880's. People who take payola have always been the gatekeepers, the people who are between the companies that produce the music and the public. They are...

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