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« What makes a good "manager" in the DIY world? | Main | What artists should know about Jango »

Is Jango payola?

old radio

My last article on Jango sparked spirited discussions on the Just Plain Folks and CD Baby forums, and in the comments. Words like “scam” and “payola” are recklessly thrown about. We need to dispel these unfair and inflammatory accusations before we can have an honest debate.

Is it a scam?

Absolutely not! It is a service that delivers everything it promises. Jango sells airplay, not results. To put it in perspective, I’ve spent nearly $4,000 on Taxi since becoming a member in 1997. I’ve had over 100 forwards, but no deals. I’ve spent $7,000 on traditional radio promotion, with literally nothing to show for it. That doesn’t mean that Taxi and traditional radio promotion are scams. They just haven’t been effective (YMMV).

Is it payola?

Traditionally speaking, payola is the illegal payment for over-the-air broadcast of songs as regular airplay. The term simply doesn’t apply. Jango is not regulated by the FCC, and is not breaking any laws.

In a more general sense, the word has come to refer to any secret payment made to cast a product in a positive light. That’s not the case either. Paid plays are distinct from regular plays. The site opens a pop-up asking for feedback in the form of a rating, comment, or becoming a fan. There’s an ad for the Jango Airplay program right in the header!

Is it immoral?

No, because no deception is taking place. The system is transparent. Artists pay for advertisement, the same way traditional advertisers buy slots on TV and traditional radio.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s address the more compelling argument, which goes something like this:

Airplay should be based on merit alone. If an artist’s work is good enough, it should be played for free. If it isn’t, it shouldn’t be played no matter how much money is thrown behind it. By legitimizing pay-for-play, we devalue art and ruin the listening experience.

First off, my music does get played for free. When a listener visits the site, they’re asked to “enter any artist and click play.” If they enter “Color Theory,” they’ll hear my music, and I won’t have to pay for it. The airplay program allows me to buy extra plays, so that if they enter “Depeche Mode,” they may still end up hearing my music.

Some argue that Jango should simply accept submissions and play the best of what they receive. Before the airplay program started, they did (I sent them my latest, but never heard anything back). The problem is that screening the material costs the company money, which results in more interruptive traditional ads. Assuming that listeners would rather hear quality indie songs than traditional ads, the airplay program provides a better listening experience.

Quality control is key. All songs must be approved by the staff before entering paid rotation. If a song gets more negative than positive ratings, it gets “retired” (and the unused plays refunded). New users will only hear one airplay song per day max. Regular users will hear up to one airplay song per hour on average, unless they opt in for more.

Is it effective?

For many, this is the only question worth asking. Here are my stats at a little over $200 into my $300 campaign:


Color Theory stats May 9

You can see by comparing “total plays” to “paid plays” that I’m getting a good number of unpaid plays, which will continue after my campaign ends. The numbers look good, but how do they translate into measurable results like sales and mailing list signups? The honest answer is, I don’t know.

One listener bought a CD and t-shirt from me directly, but most sales probably go through iTunes and Amazon via the “buy” button built into the player. My Amazon sales are up, but I’ve got a lot of balls in the air right now, so I can’t necessarily attribute that to Jango. I won’t know about digital sales until they’re reported to CD Baby.

A label owner friend of mine was targeting electronic and dance bands, but discovered through Jango’s fan overlap report that Britney Spears fans love the band he’s promoting. He changed his targets and saw a huge spike in Amazon sales. So at least there are some anecdotal success stories.

As for mailing list signups, I can’t trace any to Jango. While I can message my fans through the site, both individually and collectively, I can’t send them an actual e-mail. As an experiment, I sent out a bulletin entitled “does anyone read these bulletins?” to 170 fans, requesting a simple acknowledgment. Three people responded.

Obviously Jango can’t afford to litter the site with MySpace-style band ads, or force their listeners to respond to messages. They need to maintain a compelling listening experience with as few interruptions and distractions as possible. Still, a few unintrusive tweaks would go a long way towards helping artists measure the results of their paid campaigns:

  1. Track clickthroughs and open rates. How many people clicked the “buy” button as my song played? How many people actually read my bulletin? At least I’d know whether or not listeners were considering buying my music.
  2. Allow direct communication with fans by e-mail. When a listener chooses to become a fan, present them with the option to “allow this artist to communicate with me directly.” Let listeners opt out sitewide, and they won’t see the checkbox again. Deliver our messages and bulletins through e-mail (keeping the address hidden for privacy reasons), or send an e-mail notification. At the very least, e-mail a weekly iLike-style digest of artist bulletins. One way or the other, just give me a reliable way to communicate with my fans.
  3. Place a prominent opt-in link on my profile. Give listeners more than one chance to decide. If they already agreed to direct communications, the option to opt out should be presented instead.

I’ll continue to report back with my results over time. If you are considering trying Jango Airplay, please use my affiliate link. Any money earned will be used to buy more plays for my songs.

Brian Hazard is a recording artist with fifteen years of experience promoting his seven Color Theory albums. His Passive Promotion blog emphasizes “set it and forget it” methods of music promotion. Brian is also the head mastering engineer and owner of Resonance Mastering in Huntington Beach, California.

References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (16)

I agree, Jango is far from payola. Listeners know what they're listening to, and know that artists have paid to have their songs played. There is no fraudulent transaction. It also gives small, independent, artists the ability to have their songs put forward to listeners in a relatively popular medium.

The question of having songs played based on "merit" is fallacious at best because it assumes that there is some objective way to determine artistic merit. Traditional radio airplay is determined by a combination of listenership and music sales. Artists that sell more records will be played more often, regardless of artistic merit. Good independent artists, artists who are just starting out (like me), or those without huge distribution deals, are not going to be able to penetrate that market without a good bit of luck. Jango provides a venue for us to get played alongside the big guns and develop a fan base.

I'm just starting out, cutting my first EP, and I can't wait to get on a role, and Jango is definitely going to be part of my strategy.

May 9 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

I've just started using Jango and Last.FM to promote my music via their respective paid programs. Initially I had some problems getting the campaign to start properly but their tech support helped me out when I posted a forum request.

It's early days for me but I feel Jango offers a bit more bang-per-buck, although I presume the user base is probably much more established because it's been around longer. However, that said as an artist all I really care about is how well my music is received and whether anyone is interested in listening to, and hopefully buying it. The stats Jango provide are far more insightful than and the ability to see who has become a fan, or has 'liked' music with the potential to email them directly is a great marketing tool.

I bought 1000 airplays on Jango at $30, which is 3 cents per play, whereas cost me 7 times more at 21 cents per play. For now I will be sticking with Jango unless lower their costs and/or introduce a more compelling stats package.

In my opinion is Jango is well worth a look at if you want to get your music played to the masses.

July 25 | Unregistered CommenterRich

People can be so ignorant sometimes... Jango payola? Get real.

I've been writing, recording and performing for 15 years, and I can honestly say that Jango is the best promotion outlet for Independent Musicians that I've run into yet. It's simple, effective and affordable. I mean, I can drop ten bucks into my account, and in two days, I've got 20 new fans that I can communicate with.

Also the reports are excellent, and really give good insight into what works and what doesn't.

I'm also an avid listener of Jango, and the content diversity and quality is superb.

January 21 | Unregistered CommenterAdam

In 1985 and 87 we utilized independant promotion services for two of our singles that we released. Yes payola !!!! One of the singles landed in the top10 amongst secondary radio in the midwest.That s the way the business ran back then.Our second single was released and started to follow suit.Our [plan was to release a full length project to follow up and commence a touring schedule. We were informed by our radio contact OVERNIGHT that radio stations would no longer servce vinyl records ONLY CD FORMAT. The difference in opportunity cost was staggering. It has taken us 14 years to recover!!!!
I was a party to hearings in front of The US Library of Congress in 1994 DART Proceeding.
Jango is the last piece of the pie we order to" Advertise our product". Bopp Du Wopp music.
God Bless the JANGO revelation.

May 15 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

I believe that Jango provides a great service for artists and listeners. They are being totally honest with the artists and listeners. Both groups of people know what they are getting. The artists get their music and the listeners are exposed to music that they might fall in love with based on their previous votes. In my experience, listeners gave some great comments about a song my sister, Marisa, and I wrote. The song is entitled 'Our Wedding Day'. Many people commented that they were happy that they were able to experience the song. Those listeners might not have heard it had it not been for Jango. I then put a song, "Peace Be Still' by our group 'Voices Of Praise' and we got the same result. I know that it is not possible that everyone liked the songs because everyone has their own taste, but those who did got the opportunity because of Jango.

July 19 | Unregistered CommenterJames

Wow - so you think a 12% unpaid plays is worth the investment?
151 - 'new fans'
How many listeners are there for real on Jango?
Their headline banner ad is misleading to say the least 'Guaranteed airplay to 7 million Listeners'
So if on a 12% unpaid for 7 million potential listens I would be paying for 6,160,000 listens?
Even at a 'deal' you are looking at $100,000 for what?...
Jango are taking YOUR money to pay the Royalties to known artists and taking a piece of the pie in-between.
Give me ONE example of an artist that has broken through the platform, by that I mean a living, that they can attribute to getting airplay on Jango.
You won't find one.
It's a Pay-for-Play Pandora and they are light years ahead - I guess its a sign of how desperate indie artists are these days to try and break through.
When you quit your day job lets us all know...

July 26 | Unregistered CommenterBollocks

Sorry it took a year for me to respond, but I'm still scratching my head over your math. Pandora versus Jango is not an either/or thing. You should definitely get on Pandora if you can! Yet, I can't provide an example of one artist that has broken through on Pandora, so I suppose it's worthless. ;)

July 30 | Registered CommenterBrian Hazard

Typical ignorant nonsense spouted by typical cynical musicians or managers or dare I say anyone else. You need to do some sort of promotion and it really does not matter where you do it but you need to take one thing into consideration Bollocks.

Jango airplay is basically glorified advertising. They should word it as such so as to distinguish it from normal promotion which comes from mailing a press release and your promo CD. Something by the way artists should do in earnest.

Having done radio promotion, club promotion and internet promotion I can tell you that as great as radio airplay is concerned, you will NOT get any consistent airplay unless you have a smash single.

You WON'T know if you have a smash without some form of paid marketing and promotion. Take your pick. You can do club promotion if you are making dance music or you can do online promotion for pop or even dare I say TV promotion. Also you can do specialist radio if your music suits that format.

If you are doing mainstream pop then really you have NO option than to do online promotion before you even think about going to radio for the all important playlist. The reason being you need to go to radio when you are absolutely sure and have evidence to back it up that you have a smash. Untill then you MUST use things like Jango/google/youtube/online banner ads to determine if your record is a smash.

The maximum I would spend on this kind of low level promotion is $200. This could even include a prize for a competition. Once you garner your data you can then decide how to take it further.

Now going to Jango as an effective marketing/advertising strategy, well it can be. Limit the amount you spend per campaign, set solid goals and customise your page. When you get fans run a competition to get them to your website.

Stop thinking in terms of free promotion. Radio is your customer. They LICENCE your music so give them something to LICENCE.

July 30 | Unregistered CommenterKehinde


I thought composers and artist are supposed to get PAID for having their music
purchased, downloaded, & streamed. Are you now saying you expect US to PAY
to have people listen to our music.

As a 30+ year full time professional musician/songwriter/producer I think this sucks.
It reminds me of how the pay-to--play concept destroyed the club scene
in L.A. in the 80s.

It seems like even C.D.Baby is now part of the - "lets make it impossible
for musicians to make a living" attitude.

Why can't I get the storeowners to pay me to take their products when I
go shopping?

The next time I get my car fixed or go to the doctor, I want Them to pay ME.

Cosmic Cat Music

November 24 | Unregistered CommenterRoshan

Roshan, for someone who claims to have been in the business 30+ years, you certainly don't seem to understand the industry or Jango/internet radio.

First of all, the artists still get paid if people buy their music. Jango takes no part of that money. Secondly, to act like pay-for-play is a new concept is just silly. Even decades ago when everyone and their mother wasn't in a band, it was hard to get radio play and people paid for it. Legally and illegally. This is marketing, advertising, promotion, etc. Is it best case scenario? Of course not! It sucks but it is a fact of life in 2010.

Store owners pay to advertise in newspaper and on TV. Then you go and buy shit. Artists can pay to reach people they might not otherwise reach. Then they hopefully go buy your shit. Really not that hard to understand.

December 17 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

Old fashioned I guess but I just wouldn't feel I earned any listenership by paying anybody. I've worked hard to promote my CDs to internet radio stations and commercial radio stations. I feel I've legitimately gotten my CDs /songs placed on Roots Music Report and other charts. I will never pay anybody to play my music and that's my philosophy about how I want feel about myself. Others can do what they want but at the end of the day it's how you feel about yourself that matters. If this works for you then that's your prerogative..I never liked folks slamming each other for just having an opinion instead of well thought out responses.
Walt Cronin

October 19 | Unregistered CommenterWalt Cronin

I have a song on Jango. and plan to put more on as soon as they are ready. I am having a blast.
I have heard some great music on Jango. Its free for the listener and you can select about any
band or musician you can think of and instantly hear a song by who ever you have selected.

If a song comes up that you don't care to listen to you have a next button that instantly takes you to the next song.

If people like what is on there they can click on amazon or Itunes or what ever store the musician
sets into their account.

I think Jango is a great opportunity for people who listen and for people who create music.

I see Jango as a huge blessing.

April 20 | Unregistered CommenterGreg

It absolutely is PAYOLA. It is a SCAM.

Just because you were naive enough to toss your money into the fire, does not mean folks who see Jango for what it is, a Scheme to separate eager young musicians (and some old ones too) from their hard-earned cash, are RECKLESS. There are more RIP-OFFS like JANGO every day, so if you really want to do yourself and readers a favor, you should re-examine and revisit this idea.

Good luck.

November 29 | Unregistered Commenteramber

Jango has changed it's format. All artists should question if they are willing to pay to play with this new format. Some of us loyal jango fans are not pleased with this new format and will refuse to listen.....perhaps delete our accounts. Check out the new jango site before you pay to play.

February 2 | Unregistered Commenterchristine labelle

SCAM, I'll say. I have been using Jango RadioAirplay for about a year. Spent a pretty penny, none of which resulted in one sale. I have had over 80,000 plays, about 3000 fans.
I just recently I decided to contact all my fans via email. I asked if they really existed to please drop me an email with the word REAL in the subject heading. NOT ONE REPLIED.

There are allegations that Jango RadioAirplay uses bots to generate fans that are not real. I now believe it.
I don't mind paying for Airplay, however, I do mind being deceived.
I doubt very much that I have in fact been heard by 80,000 listeners and clearly I do not have 3000 fans.
What a blow to my ego.
Sure is crappy to know you've been had.
I would like to sue them. Would like to know how to get a class action against them.
Being a musician is hard enough without these scams bleeding us on so many levels.

I am going to run a test on it.All in all I feel it is pretty hokey.Agreed though I think it is a question of how outstanding your material is and the main thing you have got is your own website.That is where you can do what you want.Anyone has has been around for awhile knows that sour grapes end up making YOU look bad.Not them.One ought to do some research before buying into the sales pitch.If your going to drop a couple of grand on something why wouldn't it first be to improve your own website?It is true that no major artist has broken on this platform.And the artists that have a good thing going have worked hard in other areas to be sure. Yes airplay they can invent a few of them with great stories to tell yet you have never heard of them have you?Because they don't the old saying again comes into play a la Daffy Duck,"That's showbiz folks!" Here is what is important for you to consider,when you blog stuff out,take a moment to see what you are writing.If you lay a bunch of negatives out there you are not going to be helping your self at all.It may later return to haunt you.Talent 2k and every kind of scam rolls out down the pike,if it is too good to be true it is.Because there are not shortcuts in this racket.It is one of the toughest fields to make a career in.And much less glamorous then you are led to believe by the media.Yet the joy of performing to an audience that loves you is a fantastic high and spiritual revelation.

September 30 | Unregistered CommenterRene Labre

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