A new report indicates that curators on Spotify and other streaming services are taking payments known as "playola" for placing certain songs on playlists. The term harkens back to the radio payola scandals of the 1950s and '60s, which resulted in making payment for commercial radio play illegal.
There was once a time when radio was the be-all and end-all of promoting a new song to a mass U.S. audience. If a new single didn't receive radio airplay, it was almost certainly dead in the water. Back in the 1950s it was the actual DJ's themselves who made the decisions on which songs to play, and as a result, record companies regularly made direct payments to the most influential radio DJs to play their company's latest releases.
When the reality of this practice came to light, it became a huge scandal which ruined or almost ruined the careers of some of the country's most famous DJs, including Dick Clark, and resulted in Congress making the practice illegal. DJ's were no longer able to choose which songs they played, and the decision was placed in the hands of separate station employees known as program directors.
Today, radio's importance has diminished as the Internet has opened up new ways of reaching listening audiences. Perhaps the most important of all has been the explosion of streaming, via services like Pandora, Spotify and the new Apple Music. Many listeners discover new music via streaming playlists which are curated by individuals on each service, so it's no surprise that now, labels are reportedly paying those curators to include their latest releases on popular playlists.
A new report cites allegations from industry insiders, however, claiming that DigMark actually pays curators directly for playlist placement and control. Company founder Jay Frank just landed an executive position at Universal Music, indicating that the practice is likely to become even more widespread as playlist placement continues to drive music sales.