Pay-for-Play Was Banned From Radio — But Texts Reveal It May Still Be Thriving

Rolling Stone

Elias Leight, writing at Rolling Stone:

In June 2019, Mitch Mills, a senior vice president of radio promotion at Elektra Records, sent an urgent text to Steve Zap, an independent radio promoter who works with a number of stations in the adult contemporary format. The pair are both longtime players in the music industry, and have texted each other periodically about Warner Music Group acts, including Panic! at the Disco, Twenty One Pilots, and Fitz and the Tantrums. The June 2019 text shows that Mills was worried because Panic! at the Disco were receiving fewer plays than they had the previous week on a station Zap oversaw. “Stevie … [down] 11 in panic,” Mills wrote. “I just did a 2k deal with you … I need Panic back up.”

The text is one of more than 2,500 messages involving Zap that have been obtained by Rolling Stone. A number of these texts, covering 2018 to July of this year, refer to conversations with major label executives about promotional giveaways and payments to a radio station in connection with airplay – practices that have supposedly been banned.