Payola: Understanding Power and Influence in the Culture Industry of Music


Jaimis Ulrich


  • David Iyam, Professor of Anthropology, Whittier College
  • Julie Collins-Dogrul, Professor of Sociology, Whittier College

Author: Jaimis Ulrich, Whittier College Mentors: David Iyam, PhD., Anthropology and Julie Collins-Dogrul, PhD., Sociology This study critically examines the effects of payola, commonly known as “pay-to-play” on the Los Angeles music scene. Pay-to-play is an agreement made through a booking agent, between a band and venue, which guarantees that the band will pay a contracted amount of money in exchange for stage time through the sale of tickets. Although top venues and promoters alike will argue that pay-to-play provides a “guarantee” that money will be made and people will come out to L.A., I argue that pay-to-play is actually limiting many talented and professional bands that are unwilling to pay hundreds of dollars for stage time, thus deterring visitors because of the lack of a culturally dynamic and evolving music scene. I will test my hypothesis by interviewing “seasoned” bands: those that have been performing for five years or more, and “garage” bands: those that have been performing for one year or less. I predict that the garage bands will be more willing to pay-to-play out of desperation for a stage, in pursuit of “the dream” or for the prestige that many associate with playing in L.A., while the seasoned musicians will avoid pay to play at all costs, holding on to individual principals and placing the integrity of their work before paying for stage time. I will also examine the struggle for access to venues between those who agree to pay-to-play and those who refuse to pay-to-play to understand if pay-to-play really does offer bands access to “better” venues and larger audiences. This study is important when considering the impact pay-to-play may have on the development of future music culture in Los Angeles and how social structures like pay-to-play may influence the “cultural production” of music.

Presented by:

Jaimis Ulrich


Saturday, November 23, 2013




Poster Session 1 - Villalobos Hall

Presentation Type:

Poster Presentation