A couple of weeks ago Funk Master Flex of NY's Hot 97 came under fire when he was accused of taking payola to play records. Among his accuser were rap stars Nas and KRS-One. It's a charge Flex has vehemently denied and while the accusations caused a buzz coast to coast, NYPD declined to not investigate the charges. Flex is an employee of Emmis Broadcasting which also backed Flex in his defense.
3000 miles away in Los Angeles another Emmis Broadcasting station, Power 106 and music programmer Damion Young have come under fire. In an article written by controversial writer Chuck Phillips of the LA Times, it was pointed out that LA artist Shade Sheist has been getting an awful lot of spins on LA's top rated station. In fact over the past few weeks, Sheist's latest single 'Money Owners' has gotten more 380 spins which is more than any other station in the country. On the surface that isn't a bad thing if you happen to like Shade Sheist. After all why shouldn't he get that much love considering he's from LA? Support the locals right?
The problem according to the article is that Damion Young in addition to being APD for Power 106 also happens to be the producer for Sheist's CD. Not only that, but Sheist's record label Baby Ree Entertainment is financed by Emmis Broadcasting. The article also points out that Young has done a number of remixes and production work for other projects ranging from Def Jam to Sony. So basically what we have is a situation where it appears that Emmis has their own record label and just happen to be giving lots of love to one of their stellar artists. In short, they're running a 3-4 commercial. In the LA Times article, Chuck Phillips points out that this is a major conflict of interest.
[article is located here: http://www.latimes.com/
Critics like Peter Hart of the media watchdog group FAIR [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting] are not only saying it's a conflict of interest but are also calling for Power 106 to publicly disclose to the public its financial stake in the Shade Sheist project.
Executives at Power 106 and Emmis disagree. They state that they had cleared everything with the FCC and their lawyers. They were told as a precaution it would be best to remove Damion Young from any decision making process when it comes to Shade Sheist. In other words at music programming meetings Young is not allowed to talk about the record. Of course the public is not allowed or invited to those programming meetings so one never knows for sure if Emmis and Power 106 are sticking to these self imposed rules.
Also anyone who has ever worked at a radio station, knows darn well that music decisions are made 24/7. That's all you talk about- the music, how the station is sounding and what works and doesn't work. These discussions are held at the official programming meetings. They're held during concerts, basketball games, dinners other social gatherings. In an industry that's based upon relationships and daily chatter how could one NOT talk about an artist as visible as Shade Sheist especially when some of Sheist's songs have featured popular artists like WC? Emmis officials steadfastly maintain that the decision to play Shade Sheist was based upon the fact that his record tested well when the station conducted its research and focus groups. The irony to this claim which was pointed out in the LA Times article, is that Shade Sheist's project has been a commercial flop in spite of all the airplay. So why so many spins? And do other labels with faltering projects get the same type of love?
As for the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] setting the rules, bear in mind this is the same FCC headed by Michael Powell, Secretary of State, Colin Powell's son who is pushing real hard to do away with any sort of regulations binding radio stations and other media corporations. He thinks a lot of the rules currently on the books are totally out dated. Hence one should not be surprised that they are not up in arms about any possible 'conflict of interest'.
While I definitely don't agree with Powell's outlook on broadcast and ownership rules, he does have a point when he says some of the rules are out dated. At this day and time damn near every mix show DJ and young radio programmer at a major radio station has some sort of financial connection or ties to a record label. It's hard to find cats who aren't connected. These connections range from deejays and programmers owning promotional street teams which are contracted out by the record labels to cats being hired to do remixes for various music projects. Still others are hired by record labels to wrap their vehicles [vans and trucks] with advertisements for the label's up and coming artists. We also have popular recording artists taking on jobs as deejays and deejays putting out records for record labels. Roc-A-Fella CEO Damon Dash being hired by Power 105 in NY to do a show and a Hot 97 on air personality Angie Martinez recording for Elektra Records are just two of the many examples one could point to that fit this trend which has been in building for the past 5 years.
The theory is, if a record company hires a popular mixshow DJ at radio station to be involved with a project, the DJ who was paid handsomely will 'remix' or promote the record and play it during his mixshow. If for some reason he is not allowed because of the 'conflict of interest' rules which are hardly ever forced, then his fellow mixshow deejays can spin the record during their respective shifts. It's not like cats are not gonna support one another. At the very least the record labels benefits from using a popular deejay to give their national artist regional or local appeal and affiliation.
All this should not come as a surprise to folks. About 5 or 6 years ago there was a real push for commercial radio stations to hire young, up and coming street savvy mixers and music directors. A street savvy deejay was often defined as one who was doing remixes for popular artists, putting out there own projects and mixtapes, connected to popular night clubs or producing their own parties and events. Many of these radio stations hoped to capitalize off the street buzz these deejays had created for themselves while at the same time establishing a certain degree of credibility amongst an increasingly young street savvy audience. It simply made good business sense to snatch up the most popular cats making noise on the streets. I.e. Hot 97 hiring a cat like Kay Slay is a perfect example of this happening.
The bottom line is as I said before, there are very few mixers and music directors who do not have those connections where one can draw a line and claim conflict of interest. Most are not as deep as Damion Young and Shade Sheist. But the lines have clearly been blurred. So when a guy like FCC chair Michael Powell says the rules are out dated he's correct...The question is do you redraw new lines or just do away with them completely?
Before answering that question one has to consider a couple of other perspectives. In the age on media consolidation and economic downturn, anyone getting into the music biz would be wise to have a side hustle. The money given by these labels to deejays to work street teams and do remixes oftentimes is the only source of income these deejays have. You'd be surprised at how many cats are on air spinning records put not picking up a paycheck... Even in major markets like SF, NY and LA. If they are getting paid then the checks are measly. There's no way that could live off their mixshow income alone. You're also talking about a situation where cats aren't being kicked down with health insurance and other employee benefits. Hence you might have a cat who will roll to a radio station, spend countless hours politicking and perfecting his craft then walk away with a 25 or 50 dollar check for their shift.
A lot of stations take the position that 1-these deejays already got side hustles [mixtapes, clubs etc] and they should be happy from all the exposure the station is giving them. In other words the station is doing them the favor and not the other way around. 2-Deejays are a dime a dozen. If you don't wanna come on board and do it for free there's a million and half up and coming deejays including some hungry interns already at the station who will jump in a do the job for free with no questions asked. The problem is as the radio station grows, the deejay and his buzz factor and street credibility gets absorbed by the station. Soon fans start to associate the deejays street assets and connections as being that of the radio station. So in long run the corporation benefits and not the jock. There have been more then a few mixshow jocks who came into radio stations bringing a fan base and lots of resources only to be dumped a couple of years later while the station still benefitted from their resources and affiliations.
The other thing to keep in mind is many stations, as do most corporations, like to have an edge up, so they deliberately keep bringing attention to the threat of the hungry up and coming deejay or intern who is willing to do the job for free. More often then not this threat prevents a cat who paid dues from ever really being able to get broken off financially because he can always be undercut. Very few cats ever really get to break through the ranks. A cat like Damion Young may be one of the few success stories that one can point to in comparison with all the cats that have come and gone. Hence its only smart for most to have a side hustle which oftentimes means being financially connected to one of these major record companies which in turn often leads to this conflict of interest.
So at the end of the day, we should either change the rules and adjust to the new economic and social landscape which is what I described so that conflict of interest and payola are once and for all eliminated, or we should just come out in the open and let everyone knows what really going down behind the scenes so folks aren't constantly being fooled. Let's put an ad in the paper and a sign on the front door of the local popular commercial radio station and say x amount of dollars will net you this amount of air play and move on...Let everyone play by the same rules. To continuously do this hocus pocus, smoking mirrors industry act where we act like there is no conflict of interest and cats don't have a financial stake in the records that get played on air when everything points to the contrary only serves to undermine people's trust and confidence of listeners and music fans.
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