Friday, June 08, 2007


Finding Out Who Your Friends Aren't: Sony BMG apologized to radio for attempting to strong-arm programmers into dropping the Tracy Lawrence/Kenny Chesney/Tim McGraw hit, "Find Out Who Your Friends Are". When this controversy started, I fielded several calls asking my counsel. I am not a lawyer and don't play one on the radio. In my position I have to look at both sides. While everyone seemed to be skewering Sony BMG, I wondered, what's their side of the story? A Sony source told me that CO5 (on behalf of Tracy Lawrence) was encouraging stations to play the version with the three stars, when they had agreed that they would not promote that version.

Sony may be reluctant now to discuss their side since they looked so bad sending out their emails. The bottom line though is that Sony BMG appeared as the big corporate machine trying to shut down the little guy who's simply trying to break through so that Sony songs would have a better shot at the number one chart position.

Wonder what Kenny Chesney thinks about all this?

I've never been a fan of mass consolidation in the music industry. The more that is under control of one company, the less chances we'll see being taken, at least by the majors. The good news though is that independent labels are breaking through with real hits from Tracy Lawrence, Emerson Drive and Jason Aldean. Radio is to be commended for looking past the majors to find the best music to fill the slots.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

You've just gotta wonder why, when they need all the help they can get, labels are still asking radio not to play songs. Country is one of the hardest places to go "off the menu" and this story, as well as the Tim McGraw/"If You're Reading This" mini-flap proves it. Even at a good time for Country product, there's no reason why PDs couldn't find more hits. But the industry doesn't encourage that.

Anonymous said...

I found it interesting that Sony/BMG sent the cease and desist by email. If they were serious about then they would have sent letters via certified mail. I think Sony thought they were going to scare some pd's into pulling the song. My other question is about the timing of the email...this record is 33 weeks old on my playlist...why now?

BTW: I never was approached by anyone at CO5 about the Tim & Kenny version, as a matter of fact, they asked why I wasn't playing Tracy's version...

Phil Sweetland said...

Hi Joel . . . As always, your blog is fascinating, well-researched, and beautifully written.

The Sony BMG vs. CO5 case is truly a David v. Goliath battle, but as your blog points out, it appears that neither side is altogether innocent. There are never any real babes in the woods along Music Row or at Country Radio.


Sony BMG has essentially become, in the Country record market, the equivalent of the old Clear Channel Radio of 2-3 years ago. It's a massively dominant company whose rivals are constantly sniping at it. Strongarm tactics were commonplace in the rise of both companies, so neither Sony BMG nor CCU made themselves many friends outside their own firms, or for that matter with their ex-employees such as the countless ex-CCUers or the fine ex-Columbia Nashville promo VP Larry Pareigis - tho investors are never bothered by these techniques to acquire and maintain market share in the hyper-competitive markets of music and Radio. Many tough-as-nails business consultants actually encourage this type of ruthlessness.


As always in extremely complex cases like this (situations that too often appear deceptively simple), we look at not only at what events transpire but just as much as when corporations make their moves.

Many have criticized Sony BMG for waiting several months after the release of Tracy Lawrence's album to go after CO5. It's a valid question. But if, as your blog points out, CO5 representatives have actively been working reporting stations in recent weeks to play the trio version - certainly knowing full well that the counting computers were unable to differentiate between the trio and the solo version of the track, which I think are the exact same length and performed in the same key - then we can only wonder whether Sony BMG's lawyers waited until they felt they had a valid case before making their move. Moreover, it can be argued that Sony BMG did not want the trio version to slow the progress of the new Kenny Chesney single at Country Radio - since Kenny is one of the singers in the trio - but since the new Chesney single was the runaway adds leader last week, this hardly seems to have been the case.

Keep up the wonderful work Joel, and God bless ya - - -

PHIL SWEETLAND
Music+Radio contributor, The New York Times
Onwer+publisher, Country Insider weekly Enewsletter of Country Radio