Opinion: Can We Successfully Stop Payola on Radio?

A lot of Nigerian music artistes complain about Payola. They complain that it is really affecting the growth of the artistes and the mileage their songs could travel. This is because radio and television are important part of the entertainment industry. The contribution of both platforms to the progression of the industry and its players cannot be laid on with a trowel.

The music industry particularly owes Radio and OAPs a lot of accolades as they help to snowball the rate of public acceptance of a song. This albeit is expected to be done while they fairly fulfill their fundamental responsibility of entertaining their listeners.


What is Payola?

Now, the internet says Payola in the music industry is the illegal practice of payment or other inducements by record companies for the broadcast of records on commercial Radio in which the song is presented as part of the normal day’s broadcast. Basically, Payola implies that you ‘pay to get your records played on Radio’.

Despite the fact that Payola is termed illegal in the Nigerian broadcasting scene, it has grown so much to become an integral part of the Nigerian media; Radio, TV, Online Media and Influencing inclusive.

Going back the memory lane, Payola started in the US in the 50s and it has trickled down in complexity from then till now. It originally started as a case of Managers, Record Label’s A & R and Executives meeting with Radio DJs and OAPs to lie about the number of times they play a particular record on Radio. It then moved from there to people actually overplaying these records simply because they were paid to do so. At the time Payola started, these Radio DJs and OAPs weren’t even paid with money. They were paid with hard drugs and prostitutes and it transcended from that to cash payment. To know more, just Google Alan Fred and Dick Clark.

WABC's Alan Freed being questioned in court over a case of Payola. (Image - Performing Songwriter)
WABC’s Alan Freed being questioned in court over a case of Payola. (Image – Performing Songwriter)

In Nigerian, Payola has been around for a while. It has been debated a lot on social media with many people being on different sides of the divide. But just like so many other issues affecting the Nigerian populace, no effective step has been taken to practically stop or as the case may be encourage it.

Speaking about Payola, Nigerian OAP Tito Da Fire once tweeted that ‘Anything worth playing is worth paying for’. (Image – GistUs)

Veteran broadcaster, Emma Ugolee has once said that D’Banj and Don Jazzy pioneered the wave of Payola in Nigeria. The ‘Sekem’ crooner, Mc Galaxy has also once pointed accusing fingers at Soundcity TV over issues allegedly bothering on Payola. These are among several cases of silent grouse and gripe about Payola between several OAPs, DJs and Artistes and Record Labels.

Unfortunately, nobody gets really prosecuted in the court of law here for doing this. Nevertheless, Payola is harming the music industry as much as it is affecting the Radio listeners. This is why and how.

Musicians call for an end to payola practices in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Image - Music in Africa)
Musicians call for an end to payola practices in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Image – Music in Africa)
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How Payola Thrives!

Now, people produce songs and submit these songs to several platforms including Radio to showcase. In any case, everyone deserves the privilege to have their songs played on Radio. So if anyone is blocking the chance of the next person to have an equal right of being heard then it becomes a problem. This especially when the consideration is not about how brilliant the music is or how well the listeners on the other side of the Radio enjoy it but more because a particular person who is in charge of playing these songs has been illegally gratified to do so.

As an OAP, if you have a show and you have the slot to play 10 songs on the show. So you now start prioritizing based on the fact that you’ve been paid, then you are harming a set of people who ideally should have the chance to get their songs played on your show as well but could not afford to pay.

Since the Radio industry opened to private ownership in 1992, commercialization has been at the fore of the debate. More often than not, it wins the argument against corporate and social responsibilities of Radio stations. Fine, nobody sets up a Radio station as a charity centre. I mean if FRCN stations can run Ads, then we can’t blame private stations for commercializing everything when the true essence of their establishment is profiteering.

But the case is different for Payola. For a fact, no Radio station in Nigeria has ever openly stated that you have to pay to get your music played on Radio because it is illegal to do so. So more often than not, this payment does not go to the Radio station. It ends up in the pocket of the Radio DJs and the OAPs.


The Ideal Way to Get Your Songs Played on Radio

The ideal process of getting your records played on Radio is this. When an artiste releases a song, a representative of the label he is signed to, the artiste manager or the artistes themselves submit a Press Kit which includes a copy of the Promo CD and a well written bio addressed to the Music department or library of the Radio station.

The Music Librarian of the Radio station auditions the song and if it is worth playing by virtue of the station’s standard and regular broadcast guideline, then they accept it into the Music library and on the station’s music schedule.

This is and should be the ideal situation but times are changing so much that the ideal has become absurd. To get your songs played on Radio now involves a rather byzantine process that brings a lot of parties including independent promoters and ‘connect guys’ into the picture. These people’s work is to negotiate between the OAPs and the Record Label on how much is feasible to get a song added to their station’s playlist and get a certain number of plays per week.

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This has become a very deplorable thing as some OAPs and DJs charge incredible amount for playing these songs. In fact, they’ve seen this as an alternative source of income.

And I remember discussing this with a colleague who posited that the problem of Payola will continue to exist. Why? Because Radio stations are infamously known to owe Radio DJs and OAPS several months of salary or at most pay a trifling amount. So it becomes tough for Radio DJs and OAPs to say no to Payola when the station owes them a backlog of salary. It becomes even tougher when by personal conviction, a Radio DJ or OAP do not subscribe to the idea of Payola but the Station Manager or Programs Director has collected money already and hands over a certain percentage to them.

Osi Suave, DJ Spinall, Olisa Adibua, DJ Kentalky are among a host of others who have been accused of Payola. (Image - The Net NG)
Osi Suave, DJ Spinall, Olisa Adibua, DJ Kentalky are among a host of others who have been accused of Payola. (Image – The Net NG)

So this is how serious the problem of Payola is but nobody wants to talk about it. Why? Because no OAP or Radio DJ wants to admit that they do collect money to play songs and air interviews. And at the end of the day, Radio DJs and OAPs need to ask themselves. Are we really entertaining people in the true sense of the word? Are we giving people the perfect opportunity to showcase their talent, especially when you have these as basic responsibilities to fulfill? Are you still going to play that song as much as you do if you are not paid to do so?

The truth is a lot of lyrically brilliant nightingales are out there who still haven’t ‘blown’ because they don’t have the money you are demanding for before playing their songs on Radio.

We’ve seen Wizkid, Olamide, Patoranking, Tekno and a host of other amazing artistes grow from a point where they couldn’t afford a dime. However, with Radio playing their songs, they steadily rose from being strugglers to masters of their games; breaking records and setting the standard for how far Nigerian music can travel.


Where Do We Go From Here?

It’s high time the Radio stations realized that the problem of Payola can pose a big threat to the relevance of Radio platforms in the progression of the artistes. This is imminent because with the appropriate use of the internet, people are becoming less dependent on Radio stations to push their music simply because of Payola.

Mr. Eazi is a clear example. He tried getting his music on Radio but when the whole Payola menace blocked him, he turned to the internet. He pushed on all platforms possible while gathering a cult fan base of people who were keen on rocking to his sounds. And from there he became a force to reckon with.

As a matter of fact, Psquare never really cared about Radio for a long time. What they did was to make deals with the Alaba marketers; release their songs, videos and albums and create a lot of buzz around it. Then Radio started playing them. Don’t forget they had a row with SoundCity which tarried for a while. The TV station decided not to play their music videos for a long time but they were still comfortable.

Meanwhile, the effect of Payola isn’t telling on just the music artistes but also on the listeners who rely on Radio to enjoy and also discover new waves of thrilling songs. The form, genre and sequence of songs being played on Radio are sounding monotonous these days. The scenario isn’t different even in the clubs because almost everybody is on a payroll to push a particular sound.


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So, How Do We Stop Payola?

Sincerely, no solution seems to be in sight because it is always a very precarious situation to fight a menace when almost everyone is benefitting from it albeit illegally. The only glittering ray of panacea is for the artistes themselves to find alternative medium of showcasing their music. The internet is very viable and will with the look of things continue to become better. Artistes need to discover where their potential fans are on the internet and appeal to them there.

Is it on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, SoundCloud? Serve them your content right there and make them rock with your sound. It’s possible. Mr. Eazi, Odunsi The Engine, Bez, these guys have done it. Instead of paying a whooping #50k or more to an OAP to play your song on Radio for a month or so, why not push it on the internet; run Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube Ads; reach out to a couple of influencers and make it trend. In any case Radio is transient but the internet never forgets.

So maybe, just maybe this can place a certain degree of pressure on the Radio DJs and OAPs who subscribe to the idea of Payola to reconsider their stance especially when it becomes evident that they have little or no role to play in the growth of a song or an artiste. Only then would Radio smell the coffee and go out of their way to discover amazing records to play much to the listening pleasure of their audience.


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