Musea Reader and WMZ - 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 'legall' (?) 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 $XX.xx . 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).