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Streamlining the Hit-Making Process

Clear Channel wants to cut the indies out of the deal

While this infuriates many artists, Jenny Toomey is one of the few who is doing something about it. Toomey is a D.C.-based recording artist, former indie label head and musicians' rights campaigner who serves as the executive director of the activist Future of Music Coalition (www.futureofmusic.org). "The system is broken and there's no reason you should have to sell 250,000 copies to recoup" costs, Toomey tells the Houston Press. "The reason it costs so much is because [media conglomerates] own the bottleneck, and it's expensive when things become artificially constrained. When there's only two people who own 70 percent of the important commercial market radio stations, then they can force you to pay huge amounts of money. Now, if there were more folks who owned more stations, and more diversity of stations, then you could hear more music and you could promote on those stations for less."

Absent a Justice Department inquiry (not likely in the post-September 11 set of priorities), or significant litigation in key music business states like California (again not likely in a state beset by more pressing problems), there is little hope for reform anytime soon. Still, Toomey believes change inevitably will occur.

"I think it has to," she says. "The Internet has changed everything, in the sense that it makes manufacturing and promoting music less expensive. Right now we're still struggling through the bottleneck, but once it's forced open, it balances the playing field a bit. Doing a record through the traditional channels is still very expensive, absolutely. But as the Internet develops as the main pipeline for people getting their music, there's no reason why it can't be a lot less expensive, and artists can't reap more of the benefits."

But since radio deregulation, things have gotten worse rather than better. At least in its drugs-n-escort days, the payola system was recognizably, pathetically, laughably human, but now it's just computers beaming money into one another and spitting out bland playlists at us.

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