I just returned from speaking at Nimbus School of Recording and Media in Vancouver (one of the best recording schools anywhere – thanks Mike, Rob and Brandon), and one of the questions that I received from the students was if the music business is more difficult now than it was in the past. Actually, getting into the business has always been difficult, and that’s the same as it ever was 10, 20, 30 or more years ago. It’s different, of course, as the industry has evolved, but one thing’s for sure, the seamy side of the music business of the 80’s has improved a great deal over time.
Here’s a video called “The Chart Busters 1980” that’s about the widespread payola of the era that was a requirement for radio airplay. For those of you don’t know, payola is where a record label or promotion company that’s been hired by a label pays a radio programmer in exchange for not only playing a record, but playing it at the best time of the day as well.
At first, payola was all about cash, which lead to the first scandal in the 50s that lead to a law that prohibited cash for airplay. Clever promotion men got around that by supplying gifts, vacations, drugs and women instead, which lead to a second crackdown. The labels tried to insulate themselves from further prosecution by hiring third party promotion companies, but a another crackdown in 2005 attempted to close that loophole.
Believe it or not, we’re experiencing another form of payola today called “playola” where money and favors are exchanged for placement on popular online playlists, so the practice continues in a new and insidious form.
Regardless, this video is a great look at the music business as it was back in the 80s, when vinyl albums were still king and the CD was just coming on the scene.