A recent exposé claims that record labels were engaged in illegal pay-for-play dealings.
Paying radio stations to play certain artists’ music or to have them in heavy rotation is a practice that has been banned in the industry, but that doesn’t mean that there still aren’t deals happening under the table. “Payola” or pay-for-play deals are not only illegal but frowned upon, however on Monday (October 5), Rolling Stone published an exposé where they aired out the teams of a number of top-selling artists. According to the publication, these artists’ labels have been making shady deals with certain radio stations behind closed doors.
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Rolling Stone claims that they obtained over 2,500 text message correspondences between various industry professionals and Steve Zap, an independent radio promoter. Zap used to work for labels like MCA Records, Virgin Records, and Warner Records, and the relationships he formed along the way reportedly continued into his radio career. Texts allegedly show Zap telling radio stations not to take orders from a label directly because “they don’t pay me sh*t,” while billing others for rotation in certain time slots.
“Can we do Flora cash and Khalid,” one text reportedly read about the duo and singer. “Promise them 35 spins each. Will cover that cash giveaway.” In another Zap wrote, “Michael Franti to 35 spins,” followed by “Getting free show.” Another text stated, “Can we move Ellie c Goulding to a steady 40 a week? And x-ambassadors to start 5 a day. We need beach swag.”
In a statement, Zap denied that he’d done anything wrong, adding that these texts were sent out by one of his former employees who recently lost their job. Zap added that he provides a place for artists to receive airplay. “I try to sell radio station program directors on the merits of my clients’ music, and to make friends with program directors at various stations — always within legal bounds.”
“You say that I requested airplay and awarded [a station] with ‘consideration,’ and that such linkage is established by text messages,” Zap added. “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.”
The artists themselves reportedly didn’t have anything to do with Zap or his alleged dealings with record labels, but Zap is said to have helped increase visibility for artists like Ed Sheeran, Marshmello, Halsey, Backstreet Boys, Ellie Goulding, Shawn Mendes, Panic! At the Disco, and Dua Lipa. It’s expected that there are dozens of other artists who could have benefitted from such behaviors, as well.