The New Payola...

In THIS BUSINESS OF MUSIC, by Shemel and Krasilovksy, [c. 1990] payola is:

"Since 1960, ...a federal criminal offense for which the sentence may be a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment for up to one year, or both...[it] is a term describing secret payment to and acceptance by broadcasting station personnel [usually. disc jockeys, record librarians, or program directors] of money...[etc.] return for broadcast ...of a particular song. It is not an offense if the payment is disclosed...[the station] must inform the public by means of an announcement...[caps are mine]THE OBVIOUS INCENTIVE FOR ENGAGING IN PAYOLA IS TO CREATE A PUBLIC ILLUSION OF SPONTANEOUS AND GENUINE POPULARITY OF A RECORD OR SONG AND THEREBY TO PROMOTE THE SALE OF RECORDS AND THE PERFORMANCE...PAYOLA IS A CRUTCH...[although] contacts and promotion are recognized as becomes a matter or degree as to when [it] leaves the realm of normal business...and enter[s] the area of payola...In 1986 Senator. Al Gore launched a Senate investigation of the record business...he stated that the practice of giving gifts for air time 'has again reared it ugly head'. "[op.cit., pp.121-2]

There is a different but related situation in the jazz world today resulting from the monopolistic practices of major corporations. Many of the record companies that put out jazz are owned by an increasingly fewer and fewer number of corporations, headed by an increasingly fewer number of people.

Add to that the fact that, in clubs, concerts conventions and tours, it is almost impossible to get hired unless one is underwritten by a large record co.

In NYC, for example, to play at every major club [except Small's], one needs money from the corporation. To play on a Monday night at the Bluenote, one must buy 50 tickets in advance; forget about playing there during the week without major record company influence. Both the Vanguard and Sweet Basil are going this way. Sure, exorbitant rents contribute to this, but at every club, concert, etc.? At a convention of the International Association of Jazz Educators, a "non-profit" organization, most of the people performing there are presented by record companies.

Sure, you might say that the record companies assure that the most popular artists play at the biggest venues. I am saying that their control has become excessive.

At the upcoming JazzTimes convention, there is a panel discussion on record co. support of artists that is chaired by a record co. executive. Every member of the panel is either a rec. co. executive or from a major club. When I called the magazine I spoke with some of the people there. A person working there [who shall remain nameless] admitted that this was payola. Jeff Sabin, the general manager, said that he'd never heard of it [!], and Lee Mergner yelled at me when I asked him what he thought of the situation. "Who Cares what the [expletive deleted] I think?", he bellowed. When I asked if anyone on the panel might have an opposing viewpoint, he called that a "set up" [I'd call it a debate] and said that opposing viewpoints would come from the audience. I stated then that mine wouldn't: I can't afford to go, mainly because I can't work enough!

The point is when fewer and fewer business executive decided more and more who plays the gigs, rather than the people, this is bad for us all. This is certainly undue influence, with music being determined by business more than ever. How are artists who are not "connected" going to get heard?

The next time you can't get a gig somewhere, or the music at some scene sounds rather homogeneous, remember this.

The floor is open for contributing points of view and suggestions.

Best wishes for a happy life in a peaceful world.


Richard Tabnik, Jazz Alto Saxophonist

copyright 1995 Richard C. Tabnik


'someone' wrote: >In article <4cqc3b$>, Richard Tabnik writes:

> >>..I challenge everyone in this news group to address this topic and consider the ramifications that it has for them as players and as fans. Then imagine what you might do about it with even one letter!

>>Look, I'm really sorry about saying it this way, but what purpose does sending messages to yourself serve? You already posted an invitation, with what apparently was an unsatisfactory (at least to you) response. Why post the same content again?

The real questions are:

  1. why can't more people see the importance of this issue and
  2. what can we do about it?
The recent issue of the Village Voice had an excellent article re: the monopolistic practices of the major corps. in communications. For example, did you know that the 2 all-news radio stations in NYC are owned by the same co.!?!?!? [see Merge Overkill, by James Ledbetter, VILLAGE VOICE, 1/16/1996, p.30]

This issue affects artists and fans alike. This Congress and Senate are notorious for not doing anything about monopolies this term, but this really impacts upon the jazz scene!

If a person brought it to your attention that an 800-lb. gorilla was standing on your foot, would you attack THAT messenger?


It is too bad that those who are most affected by this, seem to understand it the least. In the "big world", you have WABC owned by Capitol Cities, which has ties to the CIA [read David Mazzocco's book NETWORKS OF POWER], now merging with Disney, also notoriously right-wing. Is that where you want to get much of your news and programming from? It is a REAL problem.

More closer to "home", others have expressed understanding for this issue. A DJ for a NYC independent radio station with jazz programming expressed to me that not only is the article "on the money", but I should include the fact that, without a major record contract, you won't get one word written about you or near the front cover of a major jazz magazine. The same is now true with the jazz clubs in NYC, as well as the concert scene!

Whether of not you have any jazz aspirations yourself, do you really feel o.k. with the reality of fewer and fewer people deciding more and more who plays at the clubs, concerts, etc.; who get the record contracts, who gets covered in the magazines? Do you like a few CEO's basically deciding the future of jazz?

The bright spots are:

  1. the net [which is threatened by government control] and
  2. independent record companies.
If there was a manufacturer that sold you a bad horn, you'd want to do something about it. These corporations are giving us a bad scene, and we must do something about it.

I feel that the first concrete step we must take ['discussing it' perhaps being a bit too amorphous] is that:

  1. anyone who who has not read the article, "The New Payola", e-mail me and I'll send it out.
  2. anyone who agrees with it, e-mail your name and city of residence to me and you will be included in a letter that will be sent to jazz magazines, etc. I will post the letter for your approval soon...

Don't think that this is for me; don't even think that this is just for you. This is a real problem that affects all of us and we have an opportunity to do something about it!


To "someone else"- As you may have read in the article, it is not only the 'big clubs' that are affected. when you have basically a few CEO's deciding who plays at the clubs, concerts, festivals, who is on the magazines, who gets the record basically have a few people deciding the future of jazz.

In a recent article in the Village Voice, the monopolies in the communications industry were highlighted. Basically, the congress and Senate are ignoring this issue but it is real and it affects all of us, fan and artists alike.

It is also interesting to me that it is the people MOST affected by this, the artists, who seem to have the hardest time seeing the problem and thinking about rallying for change. A New York City jazz DJ who works at an independent radio station not only saw my point but went on to say that no one without a major rec. co. behind them will ever get on the cover of downbeat or JazzTimes, etc. Shouldn't it be more about a free market, about music? Monopolies are supposed to be illegal, and for good reason.

If the few control the many, it will make less and less difference what small clubs one plays; they will exist less and less. There was a time when jazz could be more open. This is, ultimately, a legal as well as an artistic and moral issue. A year ago I called more than a dozen record companies to see if they'd pick up my cd's; imagine my shock when I realized that most of them had one of the same 3 phone numbers...Sony, Time-Warner, Bertlesmann. With them controlling the clubs, concerts, press, and records, 'non-commercial' artists are forced to expend so much energy just to survive. And we are all the losers for it.

And all we get is rehashed art for the most part. If you look, you'll see this problem in many areas. This is where it most affects us.

I think we could make a difference; I just don't see why so few care or even attack me. That energy could change things for us!

Won't you reconsider? > BTW, what was your feeling on the 'new payola' thing?

>As I posted before, I feel it is pointless to worry about what the big fancy >expensive clubs choose to book or how they choose to book it; we should concentrate instead on supporting the independent clubs. ---------

>> As you may have read in the article, it is not only the 'big clubs' that are affected. when you have basically a few CEO's deciding who plays at the clubs, concerts, festivals, who is on the magazines, who gets the record basically have a few people deciding the future of jazz.

>Obviously, record company CEO's will determine who gets record contracts, so that's not really even worth discussing.

...but the point is that when fewer and fewer CEO's own more and more of the rec. co.'s, there is less and less fair opportunity...

As for magazines, yes, big glossy magazines will feature high-profile artists. Again, I can't see why they should be forced to feature artists that no one has heard of.'s not about forced; it's about the fact that when a co. has so much weight that they can dictate what is written; when they own so much that they can have undue influence, that is wrong

As with clubs, there are always magazines like Cadence that focus on lesser-known artists. It is not a coincidence that these magazines do not sell nearly as Down Beat. This is the free market in action. Concerts and festivals are like major clubs in that they deal in large numbers of people and dollars, and it is completely understandable to me that they would focus on well-known artists.

...but larger co's take less chances, homogenize the scene and make it harder for the unheard to get heard. This is illegal monopoly, and Cadence is suffering too. If and when it goes under, and there is nothing left but the slicks, and they're owned by Time-Warner and the record co's are too and they dictate who plays where, what will you say then?

>Again, I agree the situation is unfortunate, but I don't see how it could possibly be expected to be otherwise. These people have a business to run, and they would be fools to focus on people like you or I.

...First, I resent that. My music is really great. Another example might be Connie Crothers and Lenny Popkin. They sold out the Blue Note, and they've been great for 30 years! Wynton can't touch their shoes. It ain't just about money. Actually, the Blue Note could take a chance on a Monday night, but as it is, you have to buy 50 tickets and take out an ad. Their greed is unbridled. You defend these robber barons the way people used to defend Rockefeller until they woke up...

>I would much prefer we concentrate on providing and promoting an alternative than try to change the status quo. A "Blue Note"-caliber club that was forced to hire people like me on a regular basis would be bankrupt within weeks.

...I challenge that statement. Also I do not see your examples as being mutually exclusive: promote alternatives AND challenge the status quo. It is illegal and will do everything to choke out the independents. You may think that you can ignore it, but absolute power corrupts absolutely. You may not see it now, but you will see it eventually... A DJ at a New York City independent radio station that plays jazz not only saw my point but went on to say that no one without a major rec. co. behind them will ever get on the cover of downbeat or JazzTimes, etc.

>Agreed. And if I were editor of Down Beat, I'd make exactly the same decision. It's simple business sense. If you want to sell magazines, you put someone on your cover that lots of people will want to read about.

....Maybe. But DownBeat wasn't always this way; and I think it sells the public short. I really feel even one issue a year of "Great Unknowns" or something like that would not sink DownBeat; anyway, usually it's the same old same old on the cover and the same crap inside. It might actually raise sales. But greed is dumb and blind and ultimately destroys its scene, like a weed can choke a plant... Also, it's too bad to hear that you're an independent now, but if you had the chance, you'd become like all those that now oppress you...

>> Shouldn't it be more about a free market, about music? These are two different things. "Free market" is about making money. And the best way for Down Beat to make money is to feature the big names. You want a magazine about music, check out Cadence. It exists.

...Again, for how long? IT's not just DownBeat; it's the whole scene, Time Warner owning a magazine + and deciding who plays at what clubs. Wake up! "Free Market" also means free from "undue influence"!

Monopolies are supposed to be illegal, and for good reason.

This is not a monopoly. There is competition among the major labels, clubs, and magazines, and they are not behaving in a monopolistic fashion - they are doing nothing to prevent or discourage other people from starting other labels, clubs, or magazines. The problem is, those other labels, clubs, and magazines don't sell as well. This is the free market at work, and I don't see why people should be prevented from taking advantage of that.

It IS a monopoly:

  1. there is less and less competition among the record co if they're owned by 3-4 co.s!!!
  2. then they control the clubs and the where is the competition?
  3. They also control the media so no one hears about anything but them. Don't think Cadence can survive forever....
  4. Taking advantage is different than taking over...

I think we could make a difference; I just don't see why so few care or even attack me. That energy could change things for us!

I *believe* we can make a difference. I believe we can do this by offering an alternative, not trying to change the existing companies, which are behaving in ordinary capitalistic fashion. But so far, you do not seem to have proposed >anything of the sort; you have complained about how unfair things are, and I simply do not agree.

...I feel we must offer alternatives AND speak up about the situation. Or else it will become impossible to offer an alternative! This is not ordinary capitalism: antitrust laws exist for just this very reason! I propose that, for a start, we all 'sign' a letter with the article and an explanation and send it to every jazz magazine, as well as our elected representatives.

I also propose that we open the discussion up and get more ideas. I do feel that with enough pressure, this would start the debate and the government. would be forced to consider it... Also, if a bunch of people sign it, no one will take the heat...[i know that some fear that..]

from "A Fresh Cachet for Jazz in New York", by Peter Watrous, New York Times, Thursday, February 1, 1996 p. C16

"The willingness of major jazz labels to promote their musicians is also being felt in clubs. Labels will sometimes underwrite shows, and over the last year, corporate sponsorship has increased dramatically. [italics are mine]Half the shows at the Iridium have record-company support."

"...this can have a down side, leaving players without major label support even further out in the cold..."

from "Beverly Sills, at 66, Stars in Her Grandest Role", by Ralph Blumenthal, New York Times, Tuesday, February 13, 1996 p. C 13

"...since 1994, chairwoman of Lincoln Center...

" Her outside schedule remains full. She is a director of Time Warner..."

...from a Jazz DJ on an independent New York City radio station:


Your note was depressingly on the mark. You could also have mentioned that every feature in JazzTimes is geared to advertisements for record company product. No one without a major lable release will make it on the cover of Downbeat either."

from another posting by Richard Tabnik:

I guess this is part of a whole scene to me, but I have more to say. I mean, there used to be a musician's union. Being a jazz artist was a viable living for more than just a few. In a club, the dishwasher gets paid, why not the musicians, who tend to get less respect than a dishwasher. I know, I've been both. You might say, dishwasher is more important, but is it really? Now, fewer and fewer execs decide.

You talk about economic viability: I question the whole scene. In NYC, as well as the scene in general, the $ is really tied up by fewer and fewer people. Wynton's stranglehold on Lincoln Center is one example; now I've heard he's putting down Bix and Tram. Why?

If rec. co.'s got behind what they really dug instead of trying to hype the flavor of the month to the max...if people got a chance to hear more...

My purpose here is to enable people to connect with more art and for artists to be able to do their art more. I mean, you like a lot of others have to work day gigs! I'm not talking about bringing in something bad. Wouldn't you like to play more? I sure would.

I'm trying to find out how more artists can do their art and how more people can hear it. I think that the net is a big part of that. I called a NYC public library about a gig--a concert series they have. Guess what: the musicians don't get paid. The librarians get paid, the piano tuner, the janitor. No one decries this?Is it so pervasive that it's not noticed anymore?

Everyone digs music; what about the musician? Someone from Barnes and Nobles bookstore in Yonkers called me to see if I wanted to do a gig for "exposure". She was getting paid. Surely they have $, as big as they are. How about that posting about the gig in Phuket Thailand? I saw that there was no bread and said, "Phuket, how am I supposed to survive?"

Do others see a pattern here? [actually, others have expressed support and understanding of the Payola scene]

Another person wrote:

Richard You are absolutely right. Have you read the book Hitmen yet? Also you might want to check out a sociologist named DiMaggio who wrote about how culture is driven by the economic choices of just a few people (i.e. the big 6 record labels.) Di Maggio writes that in the 1960s there was a healthy amount of competing labels both indie and major. As time went on the smaller labels were eaten up by the larger ones and now indie labels are totally locked out of the process in distribution, airplay and club/concert work. The public doesn't realize that artifically created formats have destroyed innovation and creativity. All anyone will get is more of the same, anything else is marginalized.

In other words: the world doesn't owe us a living, but it does owe us a hearing!

Go to "The New Payola part 2".

[c] 1996 Richard C. Tabnik

Best wishes for a happy life in a peaceful world.


Richard Tabnik, Jazz Alto Saxophonist

"The Jazz Musician's function is to feel." -Lennie Tristano

[c] Richard C. Tabnik 1996 Please e-mail comments to:(

Return to "Writing about Jazz".
Return to Index.
Return to home page.