Is Playing Music on the Radio A Form of Piracy?

Does playing someone’s music on the radio hurt them or help them? And is it a “form of piracy”?

I’m a lifelong radio listener. Not like I once was, of course, but I still listen, especially during my morning commute. A couple of weeks ago I happened to hear “The Step and The Walk” by The Duke Spirit on Indie 103.1, and fell instantly in love with it. So, is that a good thing or bad thing for The Duke Spirit?

A logical person would say that it’s a good thing for the artist. Right? I’d never heard of them, and now I have.

Of course, as we’ve seen many times before, the Recording Industry is not made up of logical persons. As a matter of fact, not only do they see no benefit in their artists being played on the radio, they want compensation.

Otherwise, “it’s a form of piracy,” and any argument that playing music is a form of promotion is a “red herring.”

Those aren’t my words, but rather the words of a spokesperson for a recording industry umbrella group with the hilarious name of musicFIRST.

“It’s a form of piracy, if you will, but not in the classic sense as we think of it,” said Martin Machowsky, a musicFirst spokesman. “Today we gifted them a can of herring, about their argument that they provide promotional value. We think that’s a red herring. Nobody listens to the radio for the commercials.”

Why is everyone is always a pirate to them? And by the way, if broadcasters are pirating music, then by extension, anybody who listens to the radio is receiving pirated goods. And if you ever tape music of the radio, you’re really a super bad evil pirate. From hell. But we already knew that, didn’t we?

The reality is that for decades and decades, pop musicians have mythologized their songs being played on the radio. They love it. It’s always a huge deal: a moment where they felt validated or legit. I mean, have you ever heard an artist ever say, even once, “When I first heard my song on the radio, I called my lawyer, and said, ‘sue those bastards, they’re ripping me off.’

You know why? Because being played on the radio is universally recognized as a good thing. You know why? Because it means that more people are hearing their music. Which almost always translates into more sales. Even now. Just ask Paramore.

So for the record industry — the same record industry that has historically plied broadcasters with money and drugs to play songs; the same record industry that has even bought song-sized commercial blocks to promote artists — to equate radio play with piracy, that’s just a load of horseshit.

Which is too bad, because such a crazy-ass, extreme position actually obscures the reality, which is that there is a nugget of truth in their argument: it’s not all one-sided. The recording industry also helps the broadcasting industry.

Let’s go back to The Duke Spirit: while there is no doubt that it’s good for The Duke Spirit that Indie 103.1 played them and I discovered them, it’s also a good thing for Indie 103.1 that I know they’re going to occasionally turn me on to something I’ve never heard before — otherwise, I wouldn’t even bother listening at all.

It’s really more of a symbiotic relationship. Yes, the music industry benefits heavily from radio play, but radio broadcasters need a steady supply of music, too.

Which is why I think that nobody should be demanding money from anybody else: while each would exist without the other, both industries would be in much much worse shape if the other didn’t exist.

2 Responses to “Is Playing Music on the Radio A Form of Piracy?”


  1. […] argument (if I can call it that) according to musicFirst is that the radio business has pretty much gotten a free ride since the legislation legalizing it […]

  2. […] myself as a fan. I liked having it out there, and it occasionally turned me on to new things, most recently The Duke Spirit’s “The Step and the Walk,” one of my favorite songs from 2008. […]