Volume 96, Issue 69
Friday, January 31, 2003

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Will the request lines remain open?

The shadiness of the music industry has never been a secret.

In the early days of Top 40 radio, DJs were frequently paid to play certain songs on-air. It would be nice to say that doesn't happen anymore – but it does.

The entertainment industry's business ethics rival that of politics, with the ever-present, "I'll scratch your back, if you scratch mine" approach.

Last week, Justin Stewart, Universal Records' United States college representative, e-mailed 29 different campus stations' music and program directors, including Western's own CHRW 94.7FM, with an e-mail promising, "anything you want in return," if the stations put a song by artist Joseph Arthur on their Top 30 chart.

This incident stands out as extremely blunt evidence of music promotion at its ugliest, but this is, unfortunately, only the tip of a sketchy industry iceberg. Entertainment media is a finicky business to say the least. When free concert tickets, merchandise and CDs are waved in front of someone's face, it's easy for a journalist to be tempted to act as more of a music promoter than a critic.

Perhaps most appalling in this situation, is the fact that a representative for Universal Records – a major music label – tried to sway campus radio stations.

When you listen to the radio, you're well aware that the music is more packaged than a Happy Meal and you accept it as such. However, college radio should be a haven for artists and listeners alike, who want to hear or make music that is devoid of outside commercial influence. It's a sad reality that campus radio stations, once regarded as the breeding ground for unsigned talent, may no longer be deemed sacred.

There is some solace to be found in the fact that CHRW, and many other campus radio stations, had enough integrity to resist Stewart's proposal, but it is hard not to question what we, as an audience, consume.

Since there is no such thing as "bad publicity" in the music industry, Joseph Arthur will probably be regarded as the poor artist who was unwittingly associated with the ploy of a record company representative. But, while these types of stories have been heard before, the state of entertainment media may ultimately be the biggest victim of all.

From the merit of the musicians we hear on-air, to the reviews we read in print media, the question should always be, who do we trust? While Justin Stewart provides only one recent example, he, no doubt has colleagues with similar promotional practices that are simply far less blatant, but just as unethical.

It's up to members of the media to maintain their integrity and ensure the back scratching only goes one way.




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