In late 2019, the FCC launched an official probe of the music industry to investigate alleged practices of rampant “payola,” the act of a music platform (streaming or radio outlets mainly) accepting pay or bribes from record labels to boost an artist’s chart or certification stats (as we reported here).
Under the leadership of FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, the official examination targeted the Recording Industry Association of America, record labels, and streaming services (many of whom were not very cooperative) in the months that followed its launch before being deprioritized by the governmental organization due to the global health crisis.
The music industry may have thought it was off the hook thanks to O’Rielly’s cooled jets, but now a spotlight’s been reignited on the topic thanks to a scathing exposé recently published by our friends at ‘Rolling Stone.’
On Monday (October 5), the legendary music magazine published an article claiming they obtained over 2,500 text message correspondences between various industry professionals and Steve Zap, an independent radio promoter best known for his work at labels like MCA Records, Virgin Records, and Warner Records.
According to the explosive report, those texts allegedly showed Zap instructing some radio stations not to take orders from some labels directly because “they don’t pay” while billing and prioritizing others for rotation in prime airtime slots.
As the article gained traction, Zap denied wrongdoing and said his actions were within ‘legal bounds.’
“You say that I requested airplay and awarded [a station] with ‘consideration,’ and that such linkage is established by text messages,” he stated. “The actual texts, though, do not support your characterizations. In the texts, no specific consideration is linked with any specific instance of airplay. Therefore, allegations that I purchased airplay through quid pro quo agreements would be reckless and extremely damaging.”
His denial did little to quiet the chatter from disapproving fans and industry analysts.
And, while the artists themselves allegedly did not have anything to do with his listed dealings, the text messages specifically revealed hitmaking Pop artists Dua Lipa, Ed Sheeran, Halsey, Backstreet Boys, Ellie Goulding, and Shawn Mendes are just a few of the big names who have benefitted from his reported actions.
Naturally, it’s suspected many others who were not named enjoyed increased visibility as a result of his alleged pay-for-play deals.