How Much Is That Hit In The Top 40?

By Joe Corey IIIJul 14, 2002
While you may think calling radio stations and begging the DJ to play "A Little Less Conversation" will help get the single into rotation, I'm here to tell you that such an activity is fruitless. This might have worked while Elvis was alive. But today, the request line at the local major radio station is merely for the kids to ask for the songs that have already been approved by the programming director. The only way "Conversation" will crack into the top 10 singles chart is if BMG pays out $500,000 to a million bucks. Before anyone gets riled, I'm not talking illegal payola. This is cash that goes on the books and not inside the record jacket. Right now, American radio is dominated by the Clear Channel Corporation. In barely five years, they have bought over 1,200 radio stations across the country (that's nearly 10 percent of the stations in America). And they just don't buy one in each community. They control at least 5 in every major market. Clear Channel has made exclusive arrangements with a handful of independent music promoters. The promoters get paid by the record companies to use their exclusive access to push songs on the program directors. They get paid a fee if the station puts the single into rotation. This can vary from $10,000 for a major market to $2,000 for a small market that reports to Billboard. It is alleged that the promoter kicks back a percentage of his fee to Clear Channel in the form of money to help with station promotions. Clear Channel swears that hiring their approved independent promoters will not matter as to whether they will play a song, but they refuse to give out a list as to what "freebie" songs are in their rotation. Now understand this, if a programming director puts a single into rotation without receiving it from the independent music promoter, the label will still get billed by the promoter for his services if they have a deal for other acts with the promoter. The Squirrel Nut Zippers had a surprise hit a couple years ago. They were even more surprised when promoters' bills showed up at their record labels. Many people have asked how "A Little Less Conversation" can be on top of the singles sales charts and not even crack the Top 40 on the singles chart. Over the years the labels forced Billboard magazine to reduce the emphasis of single sales and rely on radio airplay when determining what's the hot song. The labels have given up on singles as profitable. Over half of the songs in the Top 40 are album cuts. They thought this would work to their advantage, but with the rise of the independent promoter, the labels are now spending more money to get a song into the charts since they surrendered the hit machine to Clear Channel and not fans who buy the music. Since the singles don't generate that much revenue, the labels rely on selling the more higher priced albums when the singles "catch on" with radio. Since BMG is months away yet to put out "ElV1S" which will feature the single, the label is in no position to the lavish cash on the song. It can cost nearly a million dollars in payouts to insure a number one song in America. I would bet that they are paying someone to make sure that Clear Channel stations shy away from putting Elvis vs. JXL onto their heavy rotation list. I'm betting BMG is more pleased when unconventional sources like talk shows play the song as background music instead of a radio station. The Nike ads alone did more for the song getting attention in America. The sneaker company picked up the tab and paid the estate. If you really care about Elvis, don't call the radio stations - call your Congressman and demand that they stop this evil system that allows only bands on labels with deep pockets to have "hits." But that's just my opinion at the end.
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