Major Labels

Texts Appear To Show Banned Radio Payola Continues

A treasure trove of 2500 texts between major label executives and an independent radio promoter allegedly show that illegal pay-to-play continues despite decades of effort to stop it.

From Rolling Stone: “In June 2019, Mitch Mills, a senior vice president of radio promotion at Elektra Records, sent an urgent text to Steve Zap, an independent radio promoter who works with a number of stations in the adult contemporary format. The pair are both longtime players in the music industry, and have texted each other periodically about Warner Music Group acts, including Panic! at the Disco, Twenty One Pilots, and Fitz and the Tantrums. The June 2019 text shows that Mills was worried because Panic! at the Disco were receiving fewer plays than they had the previous week on a station Zap oversaw. “Stevie … [down] 11 in panic,” Mills wrote. “I just did a 2k deal with you … I need Panic back up.”

In a statement to Rolling Stone, Zap denied wrongdoing and said the texts were provided by a former employee “motivated by the recent loss of his job.”

UMG, Sony and WMG all say they will investigate.

More Tricks

“I just got you a 1k promo through Columbia. Tell me what you need for stations. They will cover.”

Overnight Tricks – As Rua’s “Gasoline” began climbing the AC chart Zap allegedly sent a text: “Please put Rua into 50 spin rotation… Just for 6 weeks. I can use the billing … Mostly nights and overnights of course … This is how I will get the bills paid until we make money.”

What happens when labels don’t pay? – “Please don’t let Interscope dictate anything to you,” Zap wrote. “They don’t pay me shit.”

When Billie Joe Armstrong’s cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now” was climbing the AC chart this spring Zap told a radio station because playing the song was “not paying bills… Billie Joe needs to go down.”

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