Internet Pay To Play: Payola’s Revenge – Guest Post by Robert Rial of Bakelite78

Guest Post by Robert Rial of the band (Posted by permission, copyright in the author.)

I just read David Lowery’s Letter to Emily White, got righteously indignant and wanted to rant, so…

My Seattle band Bakelite 78 is not mainstream.  Our genre, which I’ll just call Gothic-Cabaret-Infused-Jazz/Americana, is a bit esoteric, perhaps. We are unsigned, we have no agent or manager, are trying the D.I.Y. thing, have paid for three albums ourselves out of pocket, pooling band income, and I have put in my personal money on occasions.

Our recent album “What The Moon Has Done” had received some good reviews locally, airplay on KCBS, and we were keen on trying to get some exposure with new markets.  So we decided to pay an inordinately large sum (almost enough to record the next album) for an online [REDACTED COMPANY] publicity campaign for the 12 weeks surrounding the release and CD Release Party, to attempt to get the attention of the Inter-Web-Blogosphere.

It was a huge expense and we were hoping for massive exposure and to reap a bunch of downloads/CD Baby sales.  We did get play on some internet radio stations, and interviewed on a couple podcasts.  But the more I understood what was going on, the more pissed off I was getting.  On a lot of the sites, I had to forego my rights as a songwriter, composer, and musician, and allow the internet radio station or podcast in question to play my music and not compensate my BMI blanket publishing entity for each song played.  Apparently the rules have changed and it is supposedly in my best interest to bend over and give my shit away if I ever want anyone to like it enough to buy it.  But the problem is they don’t buy it.  So we were on these blogs/webcasts/internet radio stations.  How many people actually listened?  How effective was an online publicity approach?

After our well attended CD Release Party at Columbia City Theater, and the [REDACTED COMPANY] campaign concluded, we sat back and waited for the online sales.  And after all the time and money we spent on studio time, mixing/mastering, design/layout, replication, and [REDACTED COMPANY] publicity, sales did not allow even a small recoupment of our investment.  I know we don’t suck that bad.

The model is designed to take all the money from musicians while giving them almost nothing back.

For instance, in addition to the [REDACTED COMPANY] campaign, we had been paying online elsewhere on sites like Sonicbids and Reverb Nation, to submit our electronic press kit to potential venues and festivals (to no avail), and to place Facebook advertisements to get more “Likes”.  None of this crap had enough effect.  And I found myself more broke, not on tour, sitting in front of this macbook more and more, instead of playing my tenor banjo, or listening to some old Emmett Miller 78 r.p.m. record, or going out to a show, or being a member of the real community, the real world, the real scene.  My creativity and focus wasted, burning my retinas, to try to do what?

Blow up the internet.  Let’s go back to the old form of PAYOLA.

[EDITORS NOTE: You can listen 90 seconds of all of the songs, and buy the album here at iTunes.]


8 thoughts on “Internet Pay To Play: Payola’s Revenge – Guest Post by Robert Rial of Bakelite78

  1. OK, so what are you wanting here?

    You whine that your efforts to buy your way into being heard/noticed/appreciated/compensated didn’t work. Guess what? You were scammed.

    That way doesn’t work for anybody. Not really.

    My wife & I run a pretty well respected Internet radio station ( We learned to tune out the noise from artist-promotion companies — and the myriad forms of self-promotion that artists are being told to waste their time on — years ago.

    It’s meaningless to us, to other competent radio programmers, to festival bookers, and to any other gatekeepers that matter. Less than meaningless, really. We see a fancy EPK or a fake “grassroots campaign” and we assume that the artist isn’t good enough to stand on their own.

    Ultimately all that matters is whether your music is any good, and no amount of promotion will make it even a tiny bit better. People like us will listen to a genuinely enthusiastic fan, but anything other than that is just static to our ears.

    Step away from your Facebook page and pick up that sweet-looking banjo. Make some people dance & smile. Write songs that mean something to you & to those few who are listening. Let them be heard freely & easily. The few will grow. Slowly. Naturally. If you’re good enough.

    There are no shortcuts any more, but the road to making a living doing what you love has never been wider than it is right now.

      1. You probably know more about that than I do — so I’ll assume I overstepped my sphere of knowledge on that bit.

        My main point, however — that “promotion” in the traditional sense is largely wasted effort these days — stands. Such efforts WILL be ignored, or even held against you.

        And I suspect that my secondary point — that an artist’s tight focus on their creative output is a more likely route to success than chasing Facebook likes & radio adds — is true as well.

  2. Oh, and just FYI:

    I decided to check your band out. “Gothic Jazz-Americana” sounds like something that just might fit into our music mix.

    You’re not on Spotify.

    I can’t hear anything on your website.

    Time’s up.

      1. Abbreviated samples don’t work. If I’m considering something for radio play I need to hear the whole song several times.

        That’s also how someone would become enough of a fan of your work to seek out a show, buy a physical CD or vinyl, etc. Expecting people to pay first & listen later just doesn’t fly these days.

      2. Bill – radio has never programmed songs from snippets or samples. You’re conflating two different issues. We assume the service the artist paid for provided the full album to internet radio programmers. Also, consumers can certainly determine if they like a song or not from 90 second samples on iTunes. The staff here does it all the time.

  3. Well, certainly a lot to add here. First the far scope and what every musician in any era needs to hear. There is NO one path for everyone. Paying for publicity can be the smartest or dumbest thing you can do, and often that has nothing to do with the quality of your music or even the effort in your hustle so to speak. In most cases co-signs from other established musicians within your scene are worth far more then the machinations of some PR firm. I agree with most of what Robert has to say except for his last line about bringing back Payola. No idea where that’s going? Morally speaking to say you’d rather “blow up the internet” by directly paying people to just play your music instead of going through a bunch of supposed middle men in defunct. This kind of shows me that you ARE in fact looking for easy pathways. There are none, and in reality there never have been, even pre-internet and pre-piracy. The difference being that the obstacles today are just different. I’m not happy about that and I have always been an ardent anti-piracy advocate, but nothing was easy before this current climate for an indie musician either. Let’s let that myth go.

    As for the reply from Bill, it sounds like you run an above board business that judges music by merit, I would hope you know how rare you are. In many ways PR companies are the new Payola because they are the ones profiting by their relationships with sites that aren’t looking for the next “great” thing, but the next “hot” thing. I would also add to the chorus in saying that this is NOT a time of increased opportunity for musicians.

    The dominating point in this piece is that the new music economy is unfortunately not indie musicians selling to consumers, it’s indie musicians becoming the consumer base that drives the industry. Paying for services like SonicBids and ReverbNation has always seemed sketchy to me. What you really need is to be heard. You need a Bandcamp account, a Soundcloud, a website you own (most important) and good email service (not the clunky RN IMO). That’s the foundation.

    Bill points out that this bands music isn’t on many services, that’s where your time online should be spent. That and actually playing music and recording more of it. Plunking something on Itunes and waiting for sales while playing shows and paying for PR is not a winning formula.

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