"They're always going to have a bigger army. That is going to help them win most of the time."
——Cory Robbins to Jeff Leeds


Will Monday’s Settlement Level the Playing Field at Radio? Brummel and Robbins Don’t See It, but Rose Holds Out Hope
Monday’s revelations have quickly generated a compelling subplot involving the ability (or lack thereof) of indie labels to compete with the Big Four for radio spins. The story took shape Monday night at a meeting of the American Association of Independent Music, during which President Don Rose (the founder of Rykodisc) announced that Apple and Microsoft had committed to leveling the playing field in the download competition by upping the pay rate for indies from 65 cents to 70 cents, the same coinage the majors get. Rose also pointed out that indies now claim a 28% collective marketshare. If Rose’s figure is accurate, the indie labels would have a bigger piece of the pie than three of the Big Four. Those two talking points lit a fire under the indie-vs.-major discussion.

The flame burned higher Tuesday morning, when Jeff Leeds chose to climax his story on the Spitzer/Sony Music brouhaha with another comment from the very same Mr. Rose (as The Times so politely put it). "This sounds to us like something that will be very helpful," said Rose to Leeds in reference to Spitzer’s handslapping. "It's obvious to us that we're not getting the fair share because of the embedded relationships with big radio."

When he read Rose’s quote, a disbelieving Tony Brummel, the voluble Victory Records boss, was inspired to fire off a retort, titling his email: “The real indie response.” Here’s what Tony had to say: “Do you know the difference between a bookie and a stock broker? I don’t. The term ‘payola’ always seemed quite hypocritical to me. In politics, they call it ‘lobbying’ but you never see anyone getting busted for that. Whatever the end game is here, it will not ‘help’ any of the independent labels get more records on the airwaves. When programmers decide to program more independent music, you will see a difference, only then. If Spitzer wanted to make a change, he would ‘lobby’ the FCC to force the stations to program at least 20% (this representing roughly what the current, independent label marketshare is) independent content. Is he going to go after retail co-op next? What about buying onto tours?”

Thursday morning, Leeds brought Robbins Entertainment’s Cory Robbins into the dialogue with a follow-up story he titled Payola or No, Edge Still to the Big.”

Pointing out that Robbins Entertainment was one of two indies with songs in the Top 40 (DHT’s "Listen to Your Heart” is #5 this week), Leeds extracted the following tidbits out of Robbins:

"They're always going to have a bigger army," he said about the majors. "That is going to help them win most of the time." Robbins also said that the DHT single wouldn’t have made it into the Top 5 without positive research and call-ins.

Explaining that he’d spent less than $100,000 on independent promotion on the single, Robbins asserted that indie promo is " good for small labels. Every now and again we have a record that can cross over to the pop chart, and that's when we need indies. If someone can get me a station I need and I can pay $1,000, great." That’s far cheaper, he explained to Leeds, than paying a full promotion staff on salary.

Leeds closes his piece with another quote from Robbins that underscores the disparity in staff and dollars between majors and indies. "We can mail our records and call [individual stations] and hope they listen."

In the story, Leeds points out that the collective indie marketshare on current product is actually 18%, which, while less impressive than Rose’s claim, still puts them in third place.