Musea Reader – this week we look at how NPR is becoming THE leader of new music in this country.
You’re surprised aren’t you? This story is about how they have become a major player in many aspects of contemporary music, AND the possible conflicts of interest connected with how they choose the music they review and promote.
“The (NPR) Web site, officially in business only since late 2007, has become something of a tastemaking force in the fractured and fragmented music business. Through its blogs, news articles, lists, podcasts, videos and album and concert streams …, the site has attracted a steadily growing following, averaging about 1.6 million visitors a month. The site’s nine-member staff also feeds some of its audio features to NPR’s news shows… ” – Washington Post, Paul Farhi.
NPR, National Public Radio; PBS, Public Broadcasting System; NPR Music Stations across the country, The NPR Shop, and related music and news programs, have gotten into music big time. The interconnected web of all these is changing the music industry. They are becoming THE major player in music promotion. They have taken the place of record chains that have gone out of business. The music business is not in record stores anymore. It’s on the net. And NPR is becoming the major center for promoting and selling new music on the net.
But is NPR plagued with any shady payola like practices similar to those that government regulators found in the music business before? There is no clear cut evidence to support that. But the signs pointing to problems in that area, are strong.
The mainstream media and NPR won’t talk about all of these music industry changes and conflicts of interest , but I will. These changes are either too new for NPR to be aware of, or they refuse to be questioned about them for fear it would hurt their income from sponsors, or advertisers. Do I think there is some grand conspiracy strategy here? Hardly, this network of stations, websites, and programs is too vast. But I do think their basic business policies in these hard financial times, are putting revenue ahead of all else. And they are allowing revenue schemes to trump fairness, openness, and transparency in their music promotion and coverage.
The question is this, does this NPR network of music outlets, have similar types of shady special promotion deals with the BIG FOUR, the 4 major record companies, that some of the record chains had. Transparency is vital to keep NPR clean, and right now transparency is slim to nonexistent. Note footnotes at the bottom. These links will fill in many of these points. OR contact me for more info.
Note the following:
NPR has major coverage of major live music festivals such as SXSW Music Festival and Bonnaroo Music Festival. Note that they cover only musicians that fit their website and radio station formats.
NPR gets a ‘legal’ (?) kickback from any sales that its website produces through ‘revenue sharing’. This involves most of the major online music selling companies. The details of how this works are not clear, and hard to find. NPR is reluctant to talk about this. They are also reluctant to tell how their music is chosen for review, and why some artists are promoted, while others are not. NPR also has an in house NPR SHOP that sells some records and other gifts.
Also note PBS TV pledge drive programs are often music concerts. They often have music and videos of the performances for sale. This has become a solid source of revenue.
Also note that some of the largest NPR and PBS corporate donors and sponsors are major players in the music business too.
Also note NPR’s own Ombudsman, the listener representative for problems with NPR, has done two recent posts on her blog about conflicts of interest at NPR with both coverage of music and books.
NPR has individual stations in major markets that play and promote the same music they spotlight and talk about. KXT in Dallas is a prime example. They too have revenue sharing deals. These stations also carry a number of the same syndicated music radio shows. They too, often feature the same music acts.
Yes they are becoming a major player on all fronts. while traditional music promotion sources, like music magazines and newspapers, are fading.
But as they become more instrumental in music; they seem to be less transparent. This suggests illegal or at least shady smoke if not fire.
Note the following:
They won’t talk to or about, advocacy groups that advocate for fairness in the music industry.
They won’t cover music industry news. Their coverage if any is always lite and never presents any problems of the music industry. Ex. CD discs are manufactured for about a quarter, but cost you $10 or more .
They won’t give fair reviews to the music they cover. It’s always puffed up praise. Note they give MOVIES hard reviews but never music. They do sell music, they don’t sell movies. NPR is supposed to be about fair journalism, not music promotion.
They won’t cover musicians that are opposed to revenue sharing, or opposed to the abuses and phoniness rock has sunk too, or those who advocate new music ideas or trends, like the Post-Bands new music. For a music network that prides itself on new trends, it seems bent on blocking out all music that really is progressive and innovative. They are left with music choices that are retro, mainstream, and stagnant, no matter how cutting edge they profess to be.
They won’t talk about the NPR 200 Song Quality Challenge, that challenges the quality of the mostly corporate music they play.
Time for you to stand up for fairness in the music business and the music press. Tell them you want fairness for all musicians, not just the corporate mainstream. Tell them you want fair coverage and fair reviews, of all the music industry. Let them know how you feel about this issue. Tell them Musea sent you. – Tom Hendricks (editor).
NPR Main Music Player – Article by Washington Post
Ombudsman writes of conflict of interest April 19, April 26
NPR Music website
Music on PBS TV from Barnes and Noble
KXT radio in Dallas
NPR Sponsors, and donors are often Music corporations. These same companies buy ads on their website, and are part of revenue sharing, where money comes back to NPR on every music purchase that comes from their website.
First Music World List
Combine this with ALL puff music reviews on NPR, TV concert shows that use the show for donations, and the recordings of that show for premiums.
*Note all these arguments hold for NPR’s coverage of Books too.
(editor of the 17 year old zine Musea)
NPR Responds to My Conflict of Interest charges in Page Article by Ombudsman
April 21, 2010 at 11:13am
Dear Musea Reader, and Facebook friend,
For many months I’ve asked NPR Ombudsman, Alicia C. Shepard, to investigate the conflicts of interest of NPR when it comes to coverage of music, books, and more. My most recent letter to her is stirring up quite a controversy. She has investigated my claims and posted a response on 4/19/10 in her weekly column .
The column shows a page from NPR’s music website. Right next to a video of a Dylan “concert” at NPR, is a paid spot promoting Dylan’s new album, Women + Country, a clear cut conflict of interest.
First I’ll reprint my letter that started all this, then the url to her report on how NPR replied to those concerns, then my response to her report.
My letter to NPR Ombudsman
MS Shephard,http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125475688This page has a tiny desk concert by Jakob Dylan. This page also has an ad for Jakob Dylan’s new album.Revenue sharing, means NPR will promote his album and get money back from sales through their promotion.No tough reviews on Jakob to upset sales.No coverage of any musician against revenue sharing. No response to any of this from NPR. Your job is to represent listeners concerns. Time to deal with this. This is a clear cut straightforward major problem of conflict of interest.
Here’s NPR Ombudsman article from this letter.
The article is soft and the Ombudsman does more to excuse NPR’s behavior than to correct it.
Here are some follow up comments and questions from me.
The people quoted on this story are doing a great disservice to NPR. Instead of resolving the problem they are trying to excuse it. This makes all NPR look like they too excuse corporate influence in their departments as company policy.
The spokesmen in the article are suggesting that this was an odd occurrence. I’ve documented it happening before.
They suggest that they are too big to know this is going on. I’ve been telling them for about a year.
They suggest that there is no coordination between sponsorship placement and reviews – yet no musician that openly opposes ads or revenue sharing has ever appeared on NPR, in it’s reviews, or on its website.
They suggest that with some artists they’ll check to see if there is a conflict of interest, with others they won’t bother.
They say that when they have a concern about this with a major star like Springsteen, they will try to stop it. Note, no matter their policy they did NOT stop it in this case, and no one at NPR seemed to mind when this occured. That suggests they can’t or won’t stop it. One quote in the piece, suggested a remedy, but another shot that down because of it’s high cost. So they can’t afford to stop conflicts of interest? They can’t afford NOT to. NPR’s integrity in all departments is on the line. And this makes it look bad.
They sum up with this quote “But Grundmann also seems correct that preventing any conflicts on NPR Music would be all but impossible…” Does that mean you are too big to not fail? No one is asking for an end to every conceivable conflict. But we are asking for an end to this practice; then we are asking for fair reviews for all musicians not just corporate ones, and finally more transparency than this. This article makes NPR look really bad, and it doesn’t help the Ombudsman much either.
BTW why is NPR running ads in the first place?
Finally I ask this: is the same problem happening in coverage of books and movies? How about news?
Note that Sony Pictures is a major contributor to NPR, according to NPR’s donor list. Last year they gave somewhere between $50 thousand to 99 thousand dollars.