Not exactly Radio Free Europe, but (perhaps) progress…

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It appears that the FCC is attempting to force radio stations to air music that is independently produced; ie not from major labels.

While it remains to be seen just how much of this idnependent music will have to be aired should the FCC have their way, the impetus for this are the recent payola settlements. Basically, if the stations start airing some indie music, then the stations will not have to admit they did anything wrong.

While, on the surface this seems like a great thing, there are some problems. For instance, what about rock radio. The vast majority of rock radio listeners don’t want to hear indies. If, for instance, you’re tuning in to hear Aerosmith, you likely don’t want to hear Death Cab.

Perhaps more to the point, many of these stations already do air some amount of indie music, via local shows, and so-called “specialty” programing (basically, Sunday night shows that feature up-and-comers; occasionally from indie labels).

Another issue is how they plan on enforcing when these independents are played. Just as the labels have attempted to find ways around payola, they will certainly attempt to find ways around potentially losing their audience (and thus advertisers) by playing songs that people don’t know during times when people are listening.

So, I fear that if you want to hear some Joanna Newsom on your local Hot AC station, you’re either going to have be working the night shift, or an insomniac. Of course, I’d like to believe that those at the FCC might anticipate this strategy as well, and mandate that these practices not take place.

However, once we start mandating what and when things get played on the radio, I really start getting nervous. Many countries do mandate (typically by insisting that a significant portion of all of the music played on the radio comes from artists native to the country), and I believe that it tends to have a negative effect over the long term.

The goal, imho, needs to be to move towards the free markets working efficiently. The problem is that payola (in theory) distorts the free market, and thus must be banned. I have issues with this, frankly. Basically, I believe that if payola practices were allowed to play themselves out, we’d see an acceleration of the inexorable trend that we’re already seeing; ie, people turning to (in economic terms) substitutes; be they satelite radio, internet radio, or the iPod. This would, naturally, force the broadcasters to change their business model/practices or risk going out of business.

So…while on the surface this idea of the FCC’s seems like a good one for indpendent music, between the ostensible ease of getting around it, and the unintended consequences which arise when the free markets are messed with, I think it is flawed.

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