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Jango screens junk, but it's still pay-for-play

CEO says Jango Airplay has quality-control measures in place to make sure listeners aren't bombarded with junk they don't want to hear. But it's still pay-for-play, and I wouldn't pay.

Jango CEO Dan Kaufman posted a long response to my post criticizing Jango Artist Airplay as a pay-for-play scheme that artists should avoid. (He also e-mailed me with contact info, so I'm fairly sure it's him, although the usual caveats apply.) It's a thoughtful comment, and Dan comes across as a serious businessperson, not a fly-by-night scam artist.

The question isn't whether you're serious enough to spend money on promotion, but whether Jango is the place to spend it. Jango

To summarize, Jango is trying to maintain a quality experience for listeners by making sure they're not inundated with Airplay artists they're not going to like. Rather than playing Airplay artists based strictly on how much money they contribute, Jango screens them all to make sure they meet some sort of quality bar. A similarity algorithm is applied, so you won't be hearing some random rap artist between The Cure and The Smiths. If a listener hates a particular song, he'll never hear it again. Artists who score poorly across the board are removed from rotation entirely and their money is refunded. Perhaps most important, Jango will only play an Airplay artist no more than once every 20 songs, so at least 95 percent of the music you hear will be music you explicitly want to hear.

All good for listeners. But from an artist's perspective, it still smells like pay-for-play. If Jango is screening Airplay entrants anyway, why make them pay? Why not just open Jango radio to emerging artists who the editors think are good enough? And how does Jango decide who needs to pay and who gets in for free? Do you have to be signed to a record label to get on Jango for free? What about independent artists who are suddenly the subject of a lot of searches at the Jango home page? (Probably not--too easy to game.) Where's the line?

I understand that every company needs revenue, but there's a difference between companies that charge a flat fee for a particular service, and a company that discriminates downward by charging only those artists who can least afford it. CD Baby, TuneCore, and nearly every other company that caters to independent artists has a standard price list--if you're going through them, you're paying the same fee or percentage, no matter who you are or how popular you become. They have enough faith in the value of their service that they can set a universal price and watch the money roll in (or not).

The biggest red flag for me comes when Dan mentions artists who are "serious enough about their career to spend money on promotion." As a musician, I heard variations on this theme all the time and it drove me nuts: "You've got to spend money to make money"; "You've got to invest in your career."

No kidding? Ask any musician how much money they've spent over the years on musical gear, rehearsal space, recording equipment, studio time, CD manufacturing, mailing envelopes to radio stations and labels, building Web sites, registering domain names, printing fliers, paying people to hang those fliers, paying club fees (sound guy, security) out of their take of the door, and on and on and on. We all spend plenty of money, thanks. The trick is spending it wisely. While still spending most of your time and energy making music that doesn't suck.

Again: marketing is important. Marketing isn't free. But I still think a musician's best bet is to use time-tested services that charge the same amount for everybody, and then let your music sink or swim on its own. If nobody's buying, and nobody's offering you gigs, then accept that you're playing music for your own personal benefit, not as a career. And maybe in another year or another band, you'll find that the situation has changed.

Perhaps Jango will prove me wrong and manage to grow user traffic and unlock a great new revenue stream at the same time. I'll look forward to hearing updates as the program continues.

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