A Chunk of Change

ABC News

Feb. 16, 2006 — The ride to the top of the charts was an American dream come true for drummer Jake Slichter, of the Minneapolis band Semisonic. The band’s song “Closing Time” became the No. 1 tune in the country in 1998.

“We had always been like the little unknown band with songs very few people knew,” Slichter told ABC News’ Brian Ross.

“I remember the first time we played ‘Closing Time’ when it was a No. 1 hit,” Slichter said as he recalled a concert at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.

“The song sort of starts quietly, and you could feel this sort of peel of screams kind of go back through the crowd,” he said. “When I crashed the cymbals on the downbeat of the chorus, you could just feel this incredible, like, tidal wave of energy and it’s just like whoosh.”

“We have been playing rock music our whole lives. That is that moment,” Slichter said. “That is a rock star moment.”

‘A Chunk of Change’

But as the song started to spread across the airwaves of American radio, from Los Angeles to New York, the new rock star said he was in on one of the secrets of his band’s success — payola.

“We definitely benefited from payola,” Slichter said. “There is no doubt about it.”

Payola, what many authorities would call bribes, is money and gifts that record companies and middlemen give to radio stations to play songs.

“It cost something close to $700,000 to $800,000 to get ‘Closing Time’ on the air,” said Slichter, “to keep it on the air long enough for people, for public taste to really grab on to it, yeah. A chunk of change.”

Payola was a multimillion-dollar secret that was out in the open at last week’s Grammy festivities in Los Angeles, where a number of recording artists on the red carpet said it was an unfortunate part of the industry.

When asked if he believed if payola still existed in the industry, veteran artist Tony Bennett said, “Absolutely. It costs a lot of money to make something famous.”

Grammy nominee Fiona Apple told ABC News, “It’s a business about money. People are trying to get what they want done, and they’ll pay for it if they’ve got the money, sure.” Apple added that she did not know if payola was responsible for getting any of her work on the airwaves.

Others were also not surprised that payola still existed.

“I think that’s been going on a really, really long time,” said Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins. “I think back in the ‘70s, they used to pay people with hookers and cocaine, and now they’re just doing it with straight-up money — so they can go out and buy their own hookers and cocaine.”

E-mails Tell the Story

According to music industry documents, payments to radio stations in a variety of forms have helped launch some of the country’s best-known hits and Grammy winners, including last year’s Grammy winner for song of the year, “Daughters,” by John Mayer, and last year’s best new artist Grammy winner, Maroon 5.

Journal Archive