Want to be played on the Radio next to Maroon 5, Taylor swift or Katty Perry? Sounds awesome doesn’t it? Well if you have made a great song and many people consider it’s a hit how come you can’t just go to radio station and say, “Here is my great song please play it….” And boom, you are famous one week later? Its because you are probably not paying to play, payola.

There are thousands if not millions of artists out there that I can bet have better songs musically and commercially speaking than the songs you hear on the radio, but when you turn on the station the artist that’s playing will probably be a a Major label artist, the next song played will probably be, and I would bet my morning orange juice on it,  another major label artist, followed by – yes – another major label artist. Why is this, you ask? it’s simple, the term is called Payola.

It has always seemed funny how many times DJ’s introduce a song as a hit song when they are just playing it for the first time. How do they know it’s a Hit already? In most cases it’s because it has the right budget behind it and they already know they are going to grind that song into your brain. The ear is an organ that gets used to sound, that is why at first we may hear something as annoying and after repetition we will become used to it, then we will like it, and after we will want to hear it again over and over.



The term Payola comes from the saying “Pay for Victrola, Pianola, etc.” in other words it’s what is commonly known as Pay to play. So yes, in order to be on the radio in most cases you must pay for it. The practice of Payola is an Illegal practice because it is considered a bribe, but hey, a DJ and station programming director has to put food on the table and that is very understandable. So most Major record label’s have a division called PROMOTION, these promoters know every trick in the book on how to use the record label promotion budget in order to get a song played at a good slot in the stations programing.

Promoters will invite DJ’s or program directors out to dinner, they will basically keep them happy with whatever they want in order to get their songs played, a very risky job in my opinion, but it’s as old as the music business itself. It takes a very social person to play the part of being a music promoter and that is why they are known for being “everybody’s friend”.

The cost of plugging in a song for a new act can be as high as 25K dollars a month in only one city and only one radio station, if you have a 4 month budget that means 100K to promote your song,, you will be facing the time slot competition with Major labels whether you like it or not, where the biggest hurdle is faced when Independent artists want to plug in a song at the same time as a Major label.

To enlighten the matter lets say you are an indedent artist and you have 25K to plug in your hit song produced by none other than the son of Zeus (referring to a Multi Grammy award winning producer) so you find a promoter called Hercules who is also known for his good job in ranking number one hits, and he says he will promote your song, even though you have the budget and the right team backing you up, you are facing a huge risk with your money and I will explain, lets dive into the Mind of a Radio Station program director or a DJ:

The radio station programmer and or DJ has an finite number of time slots to fill in with the music that is being plugged in, because, you can’t play two songs at the same time on a radio station and the day only has 24 hours right? So The pressure is on him to make the best choice possible for his time slots, in his left hand he has the 25K worth of promotion from the independent artist to plug in his song and on the right hand he has the 25K of the Major labels to plug into the same time slot. Which Would You choose?

Major Labels have been putting food on the table for him and his family for the past ten years, and not to mention they have invited him to great parties amongst many other perks. And this new artist may have a budget now, but what’s going to happen in a month if the song is not a hit? The Majors might not be happy with him not placing their songs and the independent will probably be struggling to find new sponsors to plug in his songs,

So which one would you choose? Exactly, and that is why independent artists, If played on a big station, they are most often played at late nights or not played at all.

I have personally known many cases of independent artist paying to be played and loosing their money (and big amounts of it) and the problem is that since the transaction is not legal, the promoters, DJ’s and program directors cannot be held accountable for the money received.

There are cases where a song has gone viral on the internet and made it’s way into a radio station without paying Payola, but these cases are SOOOO special that they become famous precisely because they where one of the few who didn’t pay to play.

My advice to new independent artists is to be very mindful of how and where you spend your money, if I where you and I where starting my music journey all over again I would do things differently, but hey, you live you learn, I would not look to go to a radio station if I have 25K in promotion budget or even 100K, I would put all that money into one of the most powerful tools today available to all. The Internet.

Your marketing budget placed in the right hands of an e-guru can skyrocket your Music career, and once you have enough followers, YouTube views, album sales, and you are filling up music venues, you need not worry, record labels will knock on your door to do business.

Sometimes we want to jump straight to the major leagues but it is best to be smart with your music career and budget, because if you really love music, it’s going to be a rough ride so making wise decisions on how you invest your time, money and energy can go a long way.

I have nothing against record labels nor Payola nor program directors and promoters, on the contrary, I believe thanks to them we have enjoyed many years of great music, what I do vouch for is the Independent artist, Let the big Industry people have the monopoly, there are enough resources to stand out nowadays with good marketing The ultimate goal may be to be part of one of those big record labels, but that point of your career will come when you build enough of your own momentum, and when you become part of the Family of a Major label, you will tell them to deal with the radio issue because that’s what they are good at and have been doing for many years.

I can’t say if I am right or wrong, all I can say is that timing is a big part of a Music career and many times we look to make it big without making it small first. So if you have a ready product and some dollars to promote, focus on making your smallest circle powerful, and like the ripples in a pond they will grow to where you want your career to be.

Thank you and please do not hesitate to leave me your comments, If you would like to listen to some of my songs just fill in the form and send me your e-mail.

Light and Blessings !

Daniel Zapata

In My Dreams Album by Daniel Zapata

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