3Straight Up Paying to Get Their Song on the Radio
Hey, do you remember when, for a brief period of time, Limp Bizkit was the biggest band in the world? Ever wonder how that whole thing happened?
You may have heard of payola before -- it's the shady practice of paying radio station programmers and disc jockeys cash under the table to include a specific song or group of songs in their rotation. It was outlawed at one point, but that doesn't mean it went away. They call it pay-for-play now, and record labels get around the illegal part by being totally up front when a cash exchange takes place. That's how we wound up with Limp Bizkit, and we're not being sarcastic -- it was literally a pay-for-play scheme that helped propel Limp Bizkit from terrible rap-rock band to terrible rap-rock band that we heard all the time for a few years there in the early 2000s.
"Sing along, y'all! Doesn't matter what, just make some shit up."
In a perfectly legal deal between Flip/Interscope Records and Portland, Oregon's KUFO-FM, Limp Bizkit's early single "Counterfeit" (which is presumably about Fred Durst's degree from rap college) was played 50 times on the station over the span of five weeks in exchange for $5,000 from the label. They were able to get away with this skirting of payola laws by simply adding a blurb that said "Brought to you by Flip/Interscope" at the beginning of the song.
And now, get ready for the douchiest quote you'll read for at least a few more sentences:
"Pay-for-play is the idea that all of the subtle quid pro quo that was going on in the past bubbles to the surface and becomes a line item in people's budgets."
"Wait, why am I doing this, again? I don't even own a CD player."
Translation: Fuck you, it's legal now because we said it's legal. That's a quote from Tom Barnes, the man who helped broker the shady radio arrangement. His efforts cleared the way for Limp Bizkit to play a well-attended show in one of the biggest hipster strongholds in all the land. Radio station interest in the band took off from there. Fast forward to right now and Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water is something you wish you hadn't just been reminded of.
2Manipulating the Charts to Make a Song Look Like a Hit
Believe it or not, the Hot 100 part of Billboard charts used to be compiled by calling up record stores and asking them how many of each album they sold. Needless to say, fuckery abounded, and 1991 saw tracks in the Hot 100 (Paula Abdul's "The Promise of a New Day" and Roxette's "Fading Like a Flower") that held much higher places than their Nielsen-monitored sales and airplay figures would justify. To try to clean up such blatant bullshit, a point-of-sale tracking system called SoundScan was implemented. But time and time again, even SoundScan has been thwarted using sometimes shockingly low-tech techniques like having clerks scan sales more than once.
"Can you please tell him to stop? I've been here for 35 minutes."
See, there are actually sleazy consultants that work with labels to figure out ways to alter sales figures and get the free publicity that comes with placing high on the charts -- giving out free and discount copies, focusing on independent stores that weigh more heavily in the system, and even switching bar codes on products. It's been claimed that such techniques can nudge a single as many as 10 spots on the Billboard chart, which could be just the boost a track needs to hit the top 10.
One classic technique that's used to make album sales seem more impressive than they are is to put out a double or sometimes even a triple album and price it like a single disc. Why? Well, for RIAA certification and record sales purposes, double albums count as two sales, no matter the price. This exact ploy was used on country sensation Shania Twain's fourth studio album, Up! It was released as a two-CD set featuring the exact same album presented in a "pop" version and a "country" version -- and every time somebody buys it, it counts as two copies sold. Now it's twice as easy to get the free publicity and accolades that come with going "platinum."
"And I'd also like to thank my criminally dirty record label. Without their moral corruption, none of this would be possible."
No artist has mastered the art of inflating sales numbers quite like Prince, though. For his 2004 Musicology album, the diminutive singer announced that he was going on tour to "play the hits" one last time and then, brilliantly, included a copy of his new album with the ticket price. Fans came out in droves at the promise of hearing Prince play the songs he's famous for (something he's been reluctant to do on several occasions), and every one of them was handed a copy of his album when they arrived at the show. Every one of those albums counted toward his Billboard and SoundScan totals. Of course, new rules were immediately put in place to prevent other artists from exploiting this tactic in the future.
Undeterred, Prince kept the experimental distribution tactics around for his next album, Planet Earth, which he gave away for free in a London newspaper.
Shit, he's wearing his "go fuck yourself" outfit.
Though maybe it's hard to blame the guy for trying, considering the labels' reputation for ...