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The difference between paid reviews and payola concerning playlisting

marketing playlisting May 29, 2024

Keywords: Submission, review, payola

This is a guide designed to help you make the most of the playlisting guides on this website.

There are 3 terms we have to address;

  1. Playlist submission,
  2. Paid review, and
  3. Payola

A playlist submission is submitting a track to be considered for a spot on a playlist. The playlister(s) are looking for good songs, you’re looking for legit playlists to submit to - that’s the exchange happening with playlist submission.

This is done at no cost to you, as paying to influence the likelihood of your placement (payola) is illegal. The only only circumstance which it is ethical to “pay for playlisting” is when you’re paying the playlister (or playlist network, in the case of something like PlaylistPush) to review and critique your work - this comes with the chance of it being added to playlist(s) if the vibes match.

It is important to understand how payments work in these situations. As such, let’s talk about paid review next before getting into the unethical methods.

A paid review is when you pay someone to give you feedback on your music. The reviewers want money, you want feedback - that’s the exchange happening with paid reviews.

The reasoning behind your desire for this feedback is subjective and could be anything;

  • You value the expertise of the reviewer and want to know their advice for improving.
  • You’re a fan of the reviewer and want their opinion on your track.
  • You have a new song out and want to bring it to the attention of those reviewing.

Whatever the reasoning, the mechanism that moves the exchange is value. The feedback is valuable to you, the money is valuable to the reviewer.

The important distinction is that you’re not paying for attention, though this may be an indirect byproduct of your paid review.

For instance, you may pay for a review from a YouTuber during one of their live streams. You’re paying for the feedback, but the byproduct is getting in front of their viewers.

It’s okay to enjoy the byproduct if it’s beneficial (or, at least, benign). If you’re doing paid reviews solely to encourage some kind of placement or attention other than feedback, you’re technically thinking from a payola perspective.

Payola is the practice of bribing someone to use their influence or position to promote a particular product or interest. You’re looking for quick influence, they’re looking for easy money - that’s the exchange happening with payola.

A paid review becomes payola if;

  • You pay with the intent to promote your track (ex: adding a message to promote yourself when you pay for review during a livestream - reviewers hate this).
  • The reviewer guaranteed you promotion or preference due solely to your payment - highly unethical, though it does happen.

When paying for reviews from playlisters, there’s no guarantee that your song will land. Further, this is a unique circumstance because there are multiple exchanges occurring;

  1. The playlister (as a playlister) is looking for songs, you’re looking for playlists.
  2. The playlister (as a reviewer) wants money, you want feedback.

Reputable playlisters do not charge for spots, as this is illegal (payola). But they can, just like any other creator/expert, charge a small fee to review your song.

At this point, they can decide (more immediately) to playlist your track if they believe it fits the vibe. Reputable playlists don’t force you to pay to be considered, as you would be anyway.

So paid reviews are a way to ‘move a head of the line’ (and receive feedback); they are particularly useful with big playlists as a way to prevent your track from being lost (which is a normal occurrence). As a playlister myself (who doesn't even do paid reviews), I can tell you that it’s very easy to lose tracks.

And even if I do get to it, it might take a while if you didn't submit via DOPE (technically my version of paid review). Think of paid reviews like the fast pass you can get at Disney World that helps you skip the long lines for the best rides.

I hope this helps you make better informed decisions about playlist submission and paid reviews! If you have any questions, please ask me in discord.



Join My Label, DOPE 🔥


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