Payola Shocker: J-Lo Hits, Others Were ‘Bought’ by Sony

I always say when people ask me that the so-called vipers of the movie
business would not last a day in the record business. Now Eliot
Spitzer’s office has decided to prove the point.

“Please be advised that in this week’s Jennifer Lopez Top 40 Spin Increase of 236 we bought 63 spins at a cost of $3,600.”

“Please be advised that in this week’s Good Charlotte Top 40 Spin
Increase of 61 we bought approximately 250 spins at a cost of $17K …”

Ironically, it didn’t help, as the memo notes that the company actually
lost spins — or plays of the record — even though they laid out money
for them.

See above: The internal memos from Sony Music , revealed today in the
New York state attorney general’s investigation of payola at the
company, will be mind blowing to those who are not so jaded to think
records are played on the radio because they’re good. We’ve all known
for a long time that contemporary pop music stinks. We hear “hits” on
the radio and wonder, “How can this be?”

Now we know. And memos from both Sony’s Columbia and Epic Records
senior vice presidents of promotions circa 2002-2003 — whose names are
redacted in the reports but are well known in the industry — spell out
who to pay and what to pay them in order to get the company’s records
on the air.

From Epic, home of J-Lo, a memo from Nov. 12, 2002, a “rate” card that
shows radio stations in the Top 23 markets will receive $1000, Markets
23-100 get $800, lower markets $500. “If a record receives less than 75
spins at any given radio station, we will not pay the full rate,” the
memo to DJs states. “We look forward to breaking many records together
in the future.”

Take Jennifer Lopez’s awful record, “Get Right,” with its shrill horn
and lifted rap. It’s now clear that was a “bought” sensation when it
was released last winter. So, too, were her previous “hits” “I’m Glad”
and “I’m Real,” according to the memos. All were obtained by Sony
laying out dough and incentives. It’s no surprise. There isn’t a person
alive who could hum any of those “songs” now. Not even J-Lo herself.

Announced today: Sony Music — now known as Sony/BMG — has to pony up a
$10 million settlement with New York’s Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.
It should be $100 million. And this won’t be the end of the
investigation. Spitzer’s office is looking into all the record
companies. This is just the beginning.

But what a start: Black-and-white evidence of plasma TVs, laptop
computers and PlayStation 2 players being sent to DJs and radio
programmers in exchange for getting records on the air. And not just
electronic gifts went to these people either. According to the papers
released today, the same people also received expensive trips,
limousines and lots of other incentives to clutter the airwaves with
the disposable junk that now passes for pop music.

More memos: “We ordered a laptop for Donnie Michaels at WFLY in Albany.
He has since moved to WHYI in Miami. We need to change the shipping
address.” One Sony memo from 2002: “Can you work with Donnie to see
what kind of digital camera he wants us to order?”

Another, from someone in Sony’s Urban Promotion department: “I am
trying to buy a walkman for Toya Beasley at WRKS/NY.… Can PRS get it to
me tomorrow by 3 p.m. … I really need to get the cd by then or I have
to wait a week or two before she does her music again …”

Nice, huh? How many times have I written in this column about talented
and deserving artists who get no airplay, and no attention from their
record companies? Yet dozens of records with little or no artistic
merit are all over the radio, and racked in displays at the remaining
record stores with great prominence. Thanks to Spitzer’s investigation,
we now get a taste of what’s been happening.

More memos. This one from Feb. 13, 2004: “Gave a jessica trip to wkse
to secure Jessica spins and switchfoot.” That would be Jessica Simpson
, for whom Sony laid on big bucks in the last couple of years to turn
her into something she’s clearly not: a star.

And then there’s the story of a guy named Dave Universal, who was fired
from Buffalo’s WKSE in January when there was word that Spitzer was
investigating him. Universal (likely a stage name) claimed he did
nothing his station didn’t know about. That was probably true, but the
DJ got trips to Miami and Yankee tickets, among other gifts, in
exchange for playing Sony records. From a Sony internal memo on Sept.
8, 2004: “Two weeks ago it cost us over 4000.00 to get Franz
[Ferdinand] on WKSE.”

Franz Ferdinand , Jessica Simpson, J-Lo, Good Charlotte, etc. Not
exactly The Who, Carly Simon , Aretha Franklin or The Kinks. The
“classic” is certainly gone from rock.

The question now is: Who will take the fall at Sony for all this? It’s
not like payola is new. The government investigated record companies
and radio stations in the late 1950s and again in the mid 1970s. (When
we were in high school, we used to laugh about how often The Three
Degrees’ “When Will I See You Again?” was played on WABC. We were young
and naïve!)

Spitzer is said to be close friends with Sony’s new CEO, Andrew Lack ,
who publicly welcomed the new investigations earlier this year when
they were announced. Did Lack anticipate using Spitzer’s results to
clean house? Stay tuned …

Monday, July 25, 2005 By Roger Friedman  (

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