Is Jango Payola?

old timey radio

My last article on Jango sparked spirited discussions on the Just Plain Folks forums, the CD Baby forums, and Music Think Tank. Words like “scam” and “payola” are recklessly thrown about. We need to dispel these unfair and inflammatory accusations before we can have an honest debate.

Is it a scam?
Absolutely not! It is a service that delivers everything it promises. Jango sells airplay, not results. To put it in perspective, I’ve spent nearly $4,000 on Taxi since becoming a member in 1997. I’ve had over 100 forwards, but no deals. I’ve spent $7,000 on traditional radio promotion, with literally nothing to show for it. That doesn’t mean that Taxi and traditional radio promotion are scams. They just haven’t been effective (YMMV).

Is it payola?
Traditionally speaking, payola is the illegal payment for over-the-air broadcast of songs as regular airplay. The term simply doesn’t apply. Jango is not regulated by the FCC, and is not breaking any laws.

In a more general sense, the word has come to refer to any secret payment made to cast a product in a positive light. That’s not the case either. Paid plays are distinct from regular plays. The site opens a pop-up asking for feedback in the form of a rating, comment, or becoming a fan. There’s an ad for the Jango Airplay program right in the header!

Is it immoral?
No, because no deception is taking place. The system is transparent. Artists pay for advertisement, the same way traditional advertisers buy slots on TV and traditional radio.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s address the more compelling argument, which goes something like this:

Airplay should be based on merit alone. If an artist’s work is good enough, it should be played for free. If it isn’t, it shouldn’t be played no matter how much money is thrown behind it. By legitimizing pay-for-play, we devalue art and ruin the listening experience.

First off, my music does get played for free. When a listener visits the site, they’re asked to “enter any artist and click play.” If they enter “Color Theory,” they’ll hear my music, and I won’t have to pay for it. The airplay program allows me to buy extra plays, so that if they enter “Depeche Mode,” they may still end up hearing my music.

Some argue that Jango should simply accept submissions and play the best of what they receive. Before the airplay program started, they did (I sent them my latest, but never heard anything back). The problem is that screening the material costs the company money, which results in more interruptive traditional ads. Assuming that listeners would rather hear quality indie songs than traditional ads, the airplay program provides a better listening experience.

Quality control is key. All songs must be approved by the staff before entering paid rotation. If a song gets more negative than positive ratings, it gets “retired” (and the unused plays refunded). New users will only hear one airplay song per day max. Regular users will hear up to one airplay song per hour on average, unless they opt in for more.

Is it effective?
For many, this is the only question worth asking. Here are my stats at a little over $200 into my $300 campaign:

Color Theory stats May 9

You can see by comparing “total plays” to “paid plays” that I’m getting a good number of unpaid plays, which will continue after my campaign ends. The numbers look good, but how do they translate into measurable results like sales and mailing list signups? The honest answer is, I don’t know.

One listener bought a CD and t-shirt from me directly, but most sales probably go through iTunes and Amazon via the “buy” button built into the player. My Amazon sales are up, but I’ve got a lot of balls in the air right now, so I can’t necessarily attribute that to Jango. I won’t know about digital sales until they’re reported to CD Baby.

A label owner friend of mine was targeting electronic and dance bands, but discovered through Jango’s fan overlap report that Britney Spears fans love the band he’s promoting. He changed his targets and saw a huge spike in Amazon sales. So at least there are some anecdotal success stories.

As for mailing list signups, I can’t trace any to Jango. While I can message my fans through the site, both individually and collectively, I can’t send them an actual e-mail. As an experiment, I sent out a bulletin entitled “does anyone read these bulletins?” to 170 fans, requesting a simple acknowledgment. Three people responded.

Obviously Jango can’t afford to litter the site with MySpace-style band ads, or force their listeners to respond to messages. They need to maintain a compelling listening experience with as few interruptions and distractions as possible. Still, a few unintrusive tweaks would go a long way towards helping artists measure the results of their paid campaigns:

  1. Track clickthroughs and open rates. How many people clicked the “buy” button as my song played? How many people actually read my bulletin? At least I’d know whether or not listeners were considering buying my music.
  2. Allow direct communication with fans by e-mail. When a listener chooses to become a fan, present them with the option to “allow this artist to communicate with me directly.” Let listeners opt out sitewide, and they won’t see the checkbox again. Deliver our messages and bulletins through e-mail (keeping the address hidden for privacy reasons), or send an e-mail notification. At the very least, e-mail a weekly iLike-style digest of artist bulletins. One way or the other, just give me a reliable way to communicate with my fans.
  3. Place a prominent opt-in link on my profile. Give listeners more than one chance to decide. If they already agreed to direct communications, the option to opt out should be presented instead.

I’ll continue to report back with my results over time. If you are considering trying Jango Airplay, please use my affiliate link. You’ll get 100 free plays, and any money I earn will be used to buy more plays for my songs.

For more information on Jango and similar services, see my other articles:
Why I Still Use Jango
The Jango Focus Group

What Artists Should Know About Jango
What Artists Should Know About Earbits
Is a Last.fm Powerplay Campaign Right for You?

25 thoughts on “Is Jango Payola?”

  1. I don’t remember you mentioning it, though you may have, but one of the tools I’ve found quite useful as a Jango newby is the “Fan Overlap Report” found under “fan details”. The chart takes the listeners that have enjoyed your music and become your “fan” and gives you a measure of what other bands they have on their playlists. I’ve used that chart to add some target band names to my list. For example, I saw that a couple of the top bands liked by my new Jango “fans” were Devo and Gary Numan. I hadn’t even considered adding them originally, so now they are on my list. Suddenly, I’m getting more “likes”, and it may be because I’ve found that my own music appeals more to a certain new wave fanbase more than a modern (or even DM driven) fan base.

    You mentioned that you have a friend who found they had more success switching to Britney Spears. Same idea– try different things and see where your music REALLY fits in. Why sing to a crowd that doesn’t think you fit with what they like? Instead, find out who DOES like your stuff and cater to them. I would wager that Color Theory would appeal to a lot of people who wouldn’t call themselves fans of Depeche Mode.

    -Todd

  2. Great points!

    You can’t have Payola if you don’t have a DJ. I would rather have the listeners decide what is good rather than a few taste makers who work for Jango.

    I think many others will follow this great model Jango has invented.

    Monty

  3. is was me who said it was payola in your last article on Jango, but I said it tongue-in-cheek.

    it wasn’t reckless, it was a joke! ;)

    please re-read my response. I’ve got no qualms with jango, really

    cheers!

  4. @Todd – Yeah, I’ve found the overlap report helpful, though I’m reluctant to target my music to Metallica fans! Really. That was a surprise…

    @Dave – No worries, it wasn’t you. If you check out the threads I linked to at the beginning of the article, you’ll see what I was referring to.

  5. brian,
    cool. I just read through some of the threads.

    The connection with payola can only be superficial (and so my joke). it is interesting that some people would go all the way with that idea

  6. FAO: Brian

    What about buys? Was anyone bought your song from the “buy” link on your profile?

    I’m wondering because, even if 2.5% of 5000 listeners bought your song at $0.99… that’s $123 dollars, more than what you paid in the first place, so could actually be a business model.

  7. I like the sentiment, but 2.5% is wildly optimistic. I’d expect more like 0.1% to be quite honest. That’s 5 out of 5,000. Still, if those five bought an album or two, that could cover half the cost of the plays.

  8. Actually, yea, that makes sense.

    But you’re right, if out of 5000 plays you got 5 purchases of an album that costs 10 dollars then you’re making half of the investment half… But you’re also going to be getting royalties from Sound Exchange, which are like 25 dollars for 5,000 plays… so thats about 75 percent of the cost of the campaign covered, isn’t it?

    Now… wouldn’t it be more effective to only link to a physical album on Amazon, or something? So that they don’t go on iTunes and purchase only 1 song?

  9. Actually, it’s quite possible that we won’t receive any royalties on paid plays. From what I understand, that’s the way it works with Last.fm Powerplay campaigns.

    We don’t have any control over where the “buy” button links to, but I’d just as soon have it link to downloads. Most music sales are through iTunes anyway.

  10. So really at best you’ve made $200 from your $300 investment?

    I’m not so sure I like Jango. It seems cheeky to be charging artists to give them the content, and then go and sell advertisements against that content.

    I can see the draw of paying to get new people to experience your music (nothing wrong with advertising), but with those kind of figures, I don’t see why it’s any better than last.fm.

  11. Thanks for the comment Peter!

    I have no way of knowing what I’ve made back. I can confirm $83 in direct sales as of today, but most sales are probably through the “buy” buttons on the site, which I can’t track separate from my “regular” sales.

    Last.fm costs 20x as much per play, and Grooveshark Artists costs 5x as much, so it’s at least cheaper than the alternatives.

  12. Sorry, I didn’t mean the last.fm power plays. To get organic plays we have to pay them, but that’s free on last.fm.

    If you were to take an educated guess, do you think you’ve broken even on the $300?

  13. I’m getting the free plays on Last.fm too, so it’s not an either/or proposition. I only got 645 plays in Q1 of 2009, so I’m reaching far more people on Jango.

    My guess is that I probably haven’t broken even on the $300, but that I might over time if some of the listeners stay on board as long-term fans.

    I’ve yet to hear of any promotional method that can earn back its expense in sales, valuing time at a measly $5/hr.

  14. With promoting, it isn’t always easy to say if you’ve “broken even”. I think that if you try to weigh direct sales with your promotional costs in any particular arena, you end up saying “no”. Hopefully by spending $300 on something like Jango, you end up with long-term outcome that pays long after the money is spent. You’re into regular rotation, keep picking up fans, and the next time you release something, maybe a whole handful of people that didn’t know your stuff on the first 4 albums are there to pick up the new one.

    That’s why it is not always easy to quantize a specific promotion. But I think in this case, the amount is rather small. $300 is nothing for a pile of plays directly to listeners who like your brand of music, when compared to a $700 half-page ad in a music magazine that will get you nothing, ever.

    -Todd

  15. I agree with the poster who said the thing not to like about Jango is that they CHARGE for air play, and then they go and sell advertising.

    Normally the business model is one or the other, but they decided screw it, let’s do both. That’s the only thing that really turns me off about what they do, it’s greedy and it doesn’t really work that great for unsigned musicians – although the model works really well for Jango.

    And you are right on 100%, no way is this a scam, they tell you what they are doing, then they do it.

  16. My understanding is that you only hear an ad when you skip a track, but I haven’t played around long enough as a listener to know for sure. I personally have never heard an ad.

  17. Good question, with no easy answer. The $500 is pretty much negligible, which means you’re going to be doing all the promo yourself on the internet. Alternately, you can build a following around an amazing live show. I’m still using Jango here and there, mostly just dumping back any affiliate money I receive into the site. It continues to bring in mailing list signups, Facebook friend requests, Twitter followers, and a few sales. If you’ve laid down your groundwork with a solid product, compelling web site, and consistent presence on the major social networks, it’s probably worth $100 to see what kind of response you get on Jango.

  18. i joined jango 2 weeks ago and paid for promotion of 100 airplays and waited for the songs to go live.

    its been 2 weeks and the songs havent gone live and i sent them 2 emails and havent received 1 response from them..i really would like a refund cause of this poor service from them. regardless of whether this is a scam or not i will never use jango again,.

  19. I tried Jango. At first I thought it was great as I constantly got a high pop score, got free organic plays and got 600 likes, 400 fans from 9000 plays. I have however not had one conversion to a sale, a fb like or even a website visit from Jango. I have sent out many bulletins and messages within Jango and heard NOTHING from fans. I even sent a message asking if the fans were real, again got nothing. I am beginning to wonder if these Jango "fans" are indeed just computer generated?

  20. Very lucid and articulate dissection of the service and what to expect. I joined on a Friday (1250 credits spread out through 18 songs) and I got listen stats in minutes. in 5 days I have 17 fans and a few more "likes" on Facebook. People from all over the world are listening to my music. The service delivers on what it promises; playing your music on internet radio. It has decent analytic stats; who listened, where, a rating, whether they become a fan. Still, it's very difficult to quantify whether your investment is paying off, apples to apples. My music is children's music, so it's a much smaller pond, but easier to get noticed quickly. It's a long term notion; plant the seeds of your music and hope that it grows. I do know that fans will listen to your music without a credit having to be used, so getting a fan is a quantifiable success insofar that that particular set of listeners is listening to your music for free. You're no longer paying for those listens to be played. And to address whether a fan is computer generated, I can only say that I thought of that too, so I asked someone (my wife) to go about the process completely independently, and she did. She looked up my music, listened to songs and became a fan.

  21. Glad to hear you're off to a solid start! I would think that you'd have more luck in your genre, if people are in fact listening to children's music on Jango at all. I guess if not, your spins won't get used up, so all good. :)

  22. I used Jango for a few months last year and really enjoyed it for all the reasons you said. I got about 33 fans per 1000 plays on average (subject to fluctuations). You get some feedback from fan comments and also data on where your music is popular. The investment didn't pay off for me monetarily, but it was a fun experiment. It is possible they are fudging some of their stats (hard to measure that objectively), but definitely some fraction of the fans are real people with genuine facebook pages, emails, etc.

  23. That is my question too. Although, a few hit the Facebook site .. BUT.. Seriously, this is why I am here.. Are these real stats.. Cause if you are a lousy band getting lots of hits, you keep paying the company for more.. Damn, feels lige I'm a drug addict.

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