Behind the cloak and daggers

Chuck Peters over at sg radio review has a half-cryptic rant up about “a certain record promoter” whose aggressive promotional methods have ticked off “the powers that be.” These “self-appointed SG rulers” were so miffed that they “even emailed dozens of folks [in the industry] advising them that this promoter was ‘engaging in questionable promotion activities.” Someone, please get me my secret decoder ring. Ok, so Peters does head the entry with a note warning readers that “this post will probably not make much sense to some of you,” since Peters was … well, leaving out all but the barest pertinent details of who what when where etc. But what on earth is this all about?Pretty simple, actually. The SN - and more specifically, Ken Kirksey - is up in arms about Rick Hendrix Company, a promotional outfit known for its, uhm, vigorous efforts to get its clients’ names out there and get their songs in the single-digit chart positions. The email Peters refers to is a recent missive Kirskey sent out via the SN’s radio promoters listserv. You may recall Kirksey used the radio promoters listserv back in the summer to go off on promoters whose “focus is solely on getting a high position on the Singing News chart. Maybe it’s pride or ego that drives them , but ethics and morality certainly don’t get in their way in the pursuit of chart position.” Kirksey didn’t name names or get specific in that message, but this time he’s isn’t mincing words or offering concessions or maybes. He gets right down to bidness in the first sentence in this most recent message: “It has been brought to my attention that the Rick Hendrix Company is engaging in some questionable promotion activites [sic] regarding the Heirline song ‘You’ll Never Run Out of the Blood’” (a song, it’s worth noting, that Hendrix wrote). The “questionable activites” Kirksey has in mind involve an ad than ran in Peters’ Southern Gospel Showprep (a daily newsletter that goes out to sg djs with information they can use on their shows) promoting “You’ll Never Run Outta Blood” that said “Could it be a #1? DJs…we need your help;” and a pseudo-clever promotional ploy of sending “backstage passes” to radio stations that included the message “this could be a pass to an Heirline #1 party; the choice is yours.” Obviously, the point in both cases was to encourage djs and managers to vote Heirline’s song to the No. 1 position on the SN charts (and thereby make the “#1 party” possible). This is, to be sure, pretty audacious of the Hendrix Co. (the SN’s thinking here is probably that since Heirline is, to be generous, largely unknown, the only way one of their songs could go No. 1 is if station managers artificially inflate air-play reports for the group’s song). But then, this is the promotional company that took a boilerplate mass-mailing from the Presidential inaugural to the group Young Harmony and turned it into a minor cause celebre overnight with one carefully suggestive press release (though full disclosure: in a conversation I had with Hendrix shortly after the event, he insisted the press release had not been intended to mislead). So the real interesting stuff here is how knotted up the SN’s knickers are by all this.

For his part, Peters thinks Kirksey’s message smacks of hypocrisy. Well, that’s my paraphrase of Peters. Here he is in his own words: “I really don’t have a problem with record promoters doing their job. It doesn’t bother me that they ask radio to play their artists’ songs. That’s what I expect them to do. What I really find funny is that a few “powers that be” would single out a couple of public advertisements but overlook the daily romancing and attempted buying of charting points that goes on in private phone conversations and emails everyday.” Notwithstanding the fact that Peters is a longtime radio man and has a vested interested in defending the company whose ads Peters has benefited from in his showprep, he’s got a point. I mean, I’m on record as pretty much deploring the whole sham of radio charting in sg (say it with me: charts should reflect sales, not unverifiable radio “air play”). But as I’ve also said in the past, it’s difficult to take the SN’s preachifying about people who work the chart system for all its worth, when the SN is the one who owns and controls the system to begin with. When you set up a chart that pivots on the honor system - trusting djs and/or station managers to fill out chart ballots based on station airplay and not, say, based on which song’s promoter showers the station manager with all manner of incentives and solicitous overtures - you can’t be shocked that someone somewhere finds creative ways to achieve his or her goals. In this case, what seems to have the SN’s dander up is that the Rick Hendrix Company has been pretty unabashedly brazen and bold about its promotional effort - by using high-profile advertisements and direct-mail campaigns to djs to promote its clients’ songs, rather than whispering sweet nothings into station managers’ ears in those “private phone conversations and emails” that Peters mentioned in his post.

Near the end of his email message, Kirksey writes, “We have not yet decided what action we will take on this matter, but we wanted to make sure that radio station and radio promoters know that we are aware of this kind of activity, and we take very seriously the effect it can have on the perception of the integrity of our charts.” And there you’ve got things boiled down to the bare bones of the matter: “the perception of the integrity of our charts.” Just as the SN got in a serious snit after AMGS posted full-text copies of SN’s stories (and so created a bootleg archive of some stories the SN later deleted from its site and wanted to pretend they had never run), the SN’s big beef here seems to be that Hendrix & Co. are pointing up just how vulnerable and compromised the SN chart really is (and it doesn’t help the SN in this case that big-time groups like the Hoppers have used the Hendrix Co., a fact that makes one wonder why the SN can find promoters like Hendrix to be “questionable” but have not a public word to say to the groups that keep Hendrix in bidness). Making an example of Hendrix may make the SN feel better; it may even be in order in this case. But it won’t fix anything if Kirksey & Co. aren’t prepared to confront the serious systemic problems with the SN chart.

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