Time to ‘Rethink’ PAYOLA, Ghanaian Musicians Must PAY If They Want Their Songs Out There…

Reggie Rockstone
Reggie Rockstone

For many years, we’ve smoked ourselves in the US 1950’s doctrine of Payola without necessary looking at the cross-sectional effects—especially the benefits of paying for your music to be hugely played on radio stations.

Ghanaian songs are not going anywhere and this is partly due to the fact that, our musicians have bought into this concept of; ‘I will not pay for my music to be played or promoted’, wrongly terming every payment for radio broadcast as POYOLA, a contraction of “pay” and Victrola record players.

Now let me emphatically mention that, paying a DJ to play your song on radio is not PAYOLA and there is nothing wrong with it—be it legal or moral.

According to the U.S. law, 47 U.S.C. § 317 which gives grounds to PAYOLA, the illegal act of PAYOLA takes place when a  radio station plays a specific song in exchange for money, service or other valuable consideration directly or indirectly and fails to disclose on air as being sponsored airtime—rather, presents the song as being part of the normal day’s broadcast.

All around the world, musicians and record companies pay HUGELY for their songs to be played/promoted on radio stations, online and TV. There is nothing wrong with such payments; the only thing wrong is when those broadcasting the songs fail to state that their actions are sponsored.

In fact, I consider Payola as an intelligent crime against radio listeners and not even the musicians so why are the musicians in Ghana rather the ones heavily fighting it?

Have we sat down to think of this? What is the difference between paying for your music video to be shown on a TV station and paying for your music to be played on radio?

If there are equally good or crap songs out there and a DJ has a limited time on his hands, I see nothing wrong if a musician buys 4 minutes of the DJ’s airtime to make sure his song is played—-and remember the catch, as long as the DJ makes it clear to the listeners that this is a promo or does not present the song as being part of the normal day’s broadcast, that is not illegal and it is not called Payola.

Ghanaian musicians are seriously failing to market and promote their songs. Most think printing out some promo CDs and handing it out to a few radio stations is just enough—and that compels the radio stations to play their songs.

What stops a musician from walking into the marketing department of a radio station, buy airtime as they do for their music videos and make sure their new songs are heard?

To me, it is time musician’s re-evaluate the concept of Payola and ensure that while not breaking the law, they can get their songs out there, especially when the industry is over-saturated.

In law, the playing of a song and acceptance of money to do so is perfectly legal, and does not constitute payola. It is it the failure to let listeners know through an announcement that payment has been made that makes this act a misdemeanor offense.

Like it was once said, “Hell, there’s payola in every industry. It’s common knowledge that most products and services are sold not just on their interest quality. For example, food companies often pay retailers to give their products prominent placement on store shelves. None of that is illegal. It is all an accepted way of doing business. We can argue whether it is ethical, but it’s not illegal”.

I am not saying Payola should be championed, because it is a crime against radio listeners. However, I am saying, payola is not what most of us think it is—-and that paying a radio station to play your song is not payola. It becomes payola when the radio station deceives its listeners by presenting the song as being part of the normal day’s broadcast.

If Obaapa tomatoes can pay and advertise on radio stations, nothing stops a musician from paying and advertising his music too. A commercial like; ‘Hey Charley, have you heard the new song from Efya or Sarkodie, it dey be k3k3—and a minute of the song being played—thereafter’ during allocated commercial time can never be illegal and it will do magic!


Law & Celebrity is a column on GhanaCelebrities.Com which focuses on how the law affects our celebrities, their lifestyles, new media, entertainment, etc.

Chris-Vincent Agyapong Febiri, who will be looking at these issues is a postgraduate International Human Rights student, holds a degree in Law (LLB), Diploma in Para Legal and also has extensive knowledge and interest in celebrity lifestyle & social media.


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  1. Irony of life. In Nigeria recently, 2face, P Square, D’banj etc. Almost all Nigerian musicians were banned by the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) and the Independent Broadcasting Association of Nigeria (IBAN). They were banned because the Musicians under COSON were demanding ‘PAYOLA’ from the Radio and Television Broadcasters for playing their music. The ban has been lifted weeks ago and I think everything has been sorted out. It’s their right and they’re demanding for it. They were not happy because the Broadcasters and DJs were playing their intellectual property without due process. But, in Ghana, it’s a different ball game. The musicians are pleading with the DJs to play their music (for free) they spent hours upon hours, sleepless nights in cooking. That’s ridiculous. It should happen only to up-comers and not those that has been in the game for a long period (a decade or so). I think things should be done the right way here in Africa. We shouldn’t take peoples hard work for granted. 2face Idibia was paid about half a million dollars for using his all time music ‘African Queen’ as sound track in the Hollywood movie ‘Phat Girl’.

    Proudly NIGERIAN
    – Peace

    1. I dont think it should happen to new, artists, either way all musicians work very hard on everything they do, and often do to bed at 5 am doing wtv they need to do, its not an easy game so why say anyone should pay, if the song is nice be it commercial or not they should play it for free, if it is requested by listeners that even better, djs should remain partial and stop trying to control what we listen to. Its disgusting behaviour!