This is the second op-ed piece I wrote for The Express Tribune. Here it is in it's original, un-edited form.
Paid Airtime Killed the Radio Star
Let's see if this sounds familiar
You're driving in your car and listening to the radio. Doesn't matter what radio channel it is, pick any one. You hear a song that starts off with the trademark notes of a jingle, a jingle that is fairly well known because some company has made it their trademark. You listen to the song for awhile. It isn't a bad song. In fact it's quite catchy. It seems a little long but that's alright because it's pleasant and easy on the ears. The “song” is actually an advertisement for a company. Even though you know it's an advertisement, you bear with it because it's sung by your favorite artist and you're happy that he's finally getting paid.
A week passes. The same song repeats on the hour every hour. On every radio station. What was previously a mildly pleasant tune has now become monotonous and irritating. Despite your growing annoyance with the song you find yourself humming it in the car, at work and at home.
Another week passes. You dread the clock hitting the hour. Every time you're stuck in traffic the song interrupts your musical bliss and drives you into a murderous rage. You frantically try to switch channels but to your horror you discover the song is playing on all the channels.
You come home, rip your stereo out of the car and bash it against the pavement. Still, the song plays somewhere in the distance and you realize that it's coming on television as an advertisement.
On all the channels.
You go find an axe and/or a noose...
Companies have always been able to buy airtime for advertising, that's what drives our entire media industry. However, It's one thing to utilize airtime for advertising and another to hijack our entertainment. Corporations can now hire people to write entire songs, not just jingles that run anywhere between three to seven minutes long which is an eternity for an advertisement. Make no mistake, while they may be songs and they might sound catchy, they are still advertisements.
Sure you could argue that if you don't like something, turn it off or listen to something else. This is where the real diabolical stuff happens. The companies buy up airtime on all the popular channels and coordinate it so that the song plays on all your favorite channels at the same time so that you're forced to hear it or hear nothing.
There are several things occurring here that are severely damaging. For one, no matter how good a song is, if you play it on the hour, every hour, on every radio and TV station, people are going to hate it. Any artistic merit that the composition, or the vocal performance of the artist will be completely drowned out by the screams of the people who are forced to listen to this song everyday.
However, the greater damage is done to the music industry as a whole. Let me make it clear that I have no problem with musicians signing endorsement deals to promote companies or products. I do have a problem if that artist is promoted to the detriment of other artists. How does one artist compete for airtime when the other one can simply buy it? When a company pays a radio station to run the song of the artist it is sponsoring, we are forced to listen to whatever they want us to. We can't choose the content of our entertainment anymore. Other artists simply cannot compete on the basis of taste and merit. It become a simple, ruthless equation. If you can pay more, more people will hear you. Once that becomes the standard for our industry, rest assured a song will no longer be played because you or me want to hear it. It'll get played because a group of people in suits decided that is what you are going to hear.
I see no winners in this practice except the companies. They get their brand name out there and they achieve their goal. The artist who they promoted might be a little richer, but they will have suffered a major dent in their appeal simply because of overexposure. The biggest losers are of course the general public. We no longer have a say in the content of our entertainment. Our opinion will not decide who gets airplay and who doesn't. That's an industry I simply don't want to be a part of.