Skip to contents
Hot Pod Insider

Insider August 4, 2022 — That’s payola 🤌

It shouldn’t be surprising that the long, illustrious history of payola would extend to podcasting, but Hot Pod alum Ashley Carman’s report for Bloomberg still manages to shock with how widespread and casual the practice is. I dig into it below, but it is definitely worth a full read.

Plus, SoundCloud lays off a chunk of its staff, and Beyoncé edits her album at the behest of social outrage.

People are paying for podcast appearances

Well, that’s one way for podcasts to get around a shitty ad market. Popular podcasts including The Human Upgrade and Dear Media’s The Skinny Confidential Him & Her Podcast have accepted as much as $50,000 from guests who want to appear on their show, per Bloomberg’s report. Without the proper disclosures that those segments are functionally advertisements, it pretty clearly falls into the payola camp.

The podcasters and guests who participate in the practice are pretty shameless about it. Many of the appearances are facilitated by booking startup Guestio, an aboveboard service that says it has generated $300,000 in payments to guests and podcasters since 2020. The Human Upgrade host Dave Asprey told Bloomberg, “I would take as many as I can get that meet my standards.”

It cuts the other way, too. High-profile guests charge for their appearances to boost podcasts’ visibility. The platform (which looks a lot like Cameo) shows celebrities willing to come on to your show for a price, Bloomberg reported, like boxer Manny Pacquiao, who charges $15,000.

When looking at the platform, I noticed there are a number of podcasters offering their services as well. Guestio books for appearances beyond podcasts, and the listings advertise broader categories like “virtual interview” or “live platform.” Comedian Michael Rapaport, who hosts I am Rapaport, is listed for $15,000. Former NCAA coach and podcaster Tony Franklin is listed at $10,000. It isn’t stated whether any transactions took place for either host or if any of those appearances were specific to podcasts. A rep for Rapaport did not respond to request for comment, and Franklin told Hot Pod that he was unaware of the listing and does free radio and podcast appearances. 

The stakes are different for the two types of transactions. When a show hosts a guest who paid to be there to publicize their goods or services without disclosing it as an advertisement, that is actively deceiving their listeners. When a guest charges money to lend their influence to a show, that is a variation on the paid appearances circuit frequented by celebrities, business leaders, and former presidents. But still, it’s never pleasant to see how the sausage is made.

SoundCloud will lay off 20 percent of its staff

Music streamer SoundCloud is the latest company to institute layoffs in the wake of a worsening economic climate. CEO Michael Weissman emailed the staff on Wednesday saying that one-fifth of its global workforce will be let go, according to a report from Billboard. The company did not specify which departments would be impacted.

“Making changes that affect people is incredibly hard. But it is one that is necessary given the challenging economic climate and financial market headwinds,” Weissman wrote. “Today’s change positions SoundCloud for the long run and puts us on a path to sustained profitability.”

SoundCloud confirmed the layoffs to Hot Pod and said in a statement that “during this difficult time, we are focused on providing the support and resources to those transitioning while reinforcing our commitment to executing our mission to lead what’s next in music.” 

SoundCloud has recently been making moves to better position it in the competitive streaming landscape, acquiring AI startup Musiio and cutting a licensing deal with Warner Music for its popular Fan-Powered Royalties payment system. Music streaming has remained robust, even with a recession looming, but audio companies are preparing for the worst. Even growth-mode Spotify is paring back its hiring by 25 percent.

Beyoncé edits “Heated” and “Energy” after backlash on social media

Renaissance hasn’t been out for even a week, but the changes are already rolling in. Despite widespread acclaim for her new album, Beyoncé got heat online for using the same ableist slur in “Heated” as Lizzo did just a few weeks ago and was called out by Kelis for interpolating part of her 2003 hit “Milkshake” in “Energy” without notifying her. As of Wednesday, the lyric had been changed and the interpolation was removed.

There is a long tradition in the industry of changing music after its release, but the process usually takes much longer. In the past, it would only be apparent in rereleases or at concert performances. With streaming, the response is immediate, and the only evidence of the original exists in TikTok clips and a handful of vinyl and CDs purchased by superfans.

Lizzo also changed the lyric containing the slur earlier this year, and Kanye West made multiple changes to The Life of Pablo soon after it was released in 2016. One editor at The Verge noted that music is becoming more like “editable software” rather than static art. It’s a shift that feels kind of troubling and makes it a lot easier for artists like Beyoncé to control the PR around their releases.

That’s all for today. I’ll be back tomorrow with radio earnings and industry moves.