David’s Journal: Payola

Payola, from David Byrne’s (Talking Heads) Perspective

David’s Journal: Current: “I wondered if every pop song that had moved me on the radio, from when I was in my teens, had been paid for. Oh jeez! Therefore, other than a few free-form stations around at that time I was being treated like a Pavlovian dog — what I had believed were my subjective passions and discoveries were actually the result of a concerted program to pound certain tunes into my innocent brain. I had been totally manipulated! What I thought were decisions and loves that were mine and mine alone had been planted in my head by sleazy characters I could barely imagine. Free will? Hah! My entire past was called into question. Who am I? Am I not partly what I like? And if those things I like were not completely of my own choosing, then what am I?

Obviously, this insight applied to our audiences as well. And now, with the success of this single, to our own songs! I caught myself thinking to myself, “they APPEAR to be loving this song, but little do they know they’ve simply been manipulated to like it, just like I was manipulated to like the stuff I like!” They don’t REALLY like it all THAT much, I shouldn’t believe what I see. In fact, I began to doubt whether the song was as good as its reception seemed to imply. As a songwriter and musician I of course would like to believe that when an audience shouts for a song it’s because we’ve written something pretty good that touches them in some significant way. The implication is that my fellow musicians and I are pretty talented. We should pat ourselves on the back, be proud, we deserved some of the perks that were coming our way.

Knowing that the song was partly paid for throws all that ego boost material out the window. Ooops, maybe the song is just O.K., and we’re all so easily manipulated that it doesn’t really matter if it’s good or not. And, as well as thinking less of myself, I began to think a whole lot less of our audience. When people would come up to me and say “boy is that a great song, I LOVE that song!” I would be tempted to tell them, “no you don’t, you’ve just been saturated with it and manipulated like the rest of us. You like it because your soul, your likes and dislikes, are up for sale to the highest bidder.””

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