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Or YouTube could just pay the payola directly

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, December 23, 2008 0:10 EDT
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Above: Indie label band Vivian Girls.

The great fallacy of free market ideology is believing that people will choose to make money over screwing the little guy. There is no reason to think this. Sometimes the need to make money outweighs the need to wage class warfare on working people, such as when companies reluctantly realize that they won’t attract talent without paying decent wages, and reluctantly pay their employees. A handful of corporations pay decent wages out of the goodness of their hearts, but on the whole I get the strong impression that the masters of the economy think the win-win solution equals a loss, because if you’re not screwing someone over or begrudging them, you’re losing out somehow.

This screw-or-be-screwed mentality is all over Warner’s baffling decision to yank its music videos from YouTube until YouTube pays them for the pleasure of advertising their products. (Hat tip.) I’ve already faced the problem of not being able to embed videos (known in saner times as advertisements for the record) from some major labels, who are so willing to begrudge you the opportunity to embed the video that they will force you not to advertise their product for them. For free. Now they’re going to be yanking videos. What next? Car companies demanding that you pay them to watch their ads?

Okay, it’s true that watching a music video is an enjoyable experience, unlike watching most ads, but that only reinforces my suspicion that nothing bothers a rich asshole like the fear that less economically worthy people are having fun right now without your permission. Or at least paying for the privilege. That’s why we have a relentless drumbeat of sexual hysteria coming from the same people that make a living being apologists for even our worst capitalist excesses—it’s that haunting fear that the “wrong” people are just doing what they want and you can’t control it. Not that it hurts someone—that you can’t control it.

I can’t shake the feeling that this YouTube crap is the same issue, this relentless desire to control the public, even if it’s at the expense of your own pocketbook. Because only last year, four major radio broadcast corporations had to pay $12.5 million in fines to the FCC for accepting payola. Which means, if you’re following closely, that labels like Warner are paying money to radio stations to play their songs, and then refusing to allow those same songs to be consumed in a different medium because they aren’t getting paid for it. If they were saner, they’re realize that YouTube is doing for free—playing their stuff to a potentially buying audience—what they have to pay radio stations to do. (And don’t think payola has stopped at all. The radio broadcasters claimed they’d play indie label stuff as part of their “punishment”, and they’ve reneged on the deal.)

The main difference between the radio and YouTube is user control. On the radio, they can play a song over and over and over until you want to gouge out your eardrums to make it stop, but on YouTube, the very same singles are cued up by users. Again, I can’t help but think this is a win-win situation, because YouTube allows the song to get advertised to people who actually care to hear it and would be interested in buying the album, and you don’t get the backlash from people who are sick of the goddamn radio. Now, I understand that they may not want to replace the payola structure. God knows a lot of CD sales are driven by people who need an inexpensive way to avoid the shithole that is corporate radio, and YouTube is a way to reach that audience. I realize that the fear is that people will quit buying music when they can just hear the songs they want on YouTube over and over, but that presupposes that most people listen to music while not really doing anything else, when in fact most people do like to have the option to put on a record or hit “shuffle” on iTunes, instead of just dinking around YouTube all day. Which isn’t a slam on dinking around YouTube watching music videos, which is a fun way to kill time you didn’t need anyway. But it’s not a replacement for owning the music. Anyway, I’m inclined to think that the emotional distress of knowing that the fans out there are exerting control over their environments, making decisions for themselves, and just generally being scary individuals instead of easily packaged and controlled demographics is the problem here, and it’s a good indicator that the supposed rationality of the market isn’t that rational at all.

Part of me hopes that the major labels throw a temper tantrum and yank all their stuff off YouTube. It would suck for me, because I love posting music videos, and some are major label artists. But it would mean that people surfing for music on YouTube would be confronted with only indie label stuff, the stuff that’s blackballed from the radio. So maybe those bands would get a fair shake.

And hell, here’s some more indie bands because I can:

Deerhoof

White Denim

Cansei de ser Sexy

And because Matt included them, and they really are good, Metric:

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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