As Pop Music Scandal has revealed Billboard’s unethical alliance with Lady Gaga these past couple weeks, a veteran employee of the magazine got in touch with us. We met for an hour conversation this afternoon, and the interview is very telling. Of course, for legal reasons, we can’t give his real name, but his information is interesting.
PMS: What made you get in touch with us and write such a passionate letter?
Former Billboard Employee: I worked with Billboard for several years. I thought what you wrote might have been over-exaggerated, but I just knew there was also some truth to it and wanted to tell you the real story.
PMS: What did we over-exaggerate?
Former Billboard Employee: I don’t think artists ever meet with Billboard and try and pay them cash to cheat. That is a ridiculous assumption (no offense). But you’re not far off. Billboard does do “favors” for certain artists or their record companies, but they don’t add unearned points to artists’ songs so they could chart better.
PMS: Be More Specific
Former Billboard Employee: In 1995, around the time Billboard started going downhill, Tommy Mottolla met with the magazine after Michael Jackson’s HIStory wasn’t selling as well as expected. Motolla wanted to know if Billboard had any “suggestions.”
I was at the meeting when they informed Motolla that since single sales were big, Sony could severely reduce the price of the single. Thus, we have the beginning of the end of the relevance of Billboard‘s charts. “You Are Not Alone” was released at 99 cents (49 cents in come places) and debuted at No. 1 — thus giving the illusion that people still wanted to hear Michael Jackson. Then, Sony started doing this with a lot of artists. Soon, other labels followed.
PMS: Didn’t anybody at Billboard say something, like how wrong it was.
Former Billboard Employee: If they did say something, they were fired. But, it gets worse. Later in the year, there was a meeting with Billboard, Sony, and, I think, Soundscan. Michael’s album had shipped more than 2.5 million copies though it didn’t sell nearly as much. Sony wanted to make it seem like a bigger hit because everybody was calling it a flop, though it certainly wasn’t a flop worldwide.
It was Billboard that suggested a double album (if the recordings go over a certain time — I forgot what that was) should get double certification. I thought it was an okay idea, but the only reason the idea even came up was to appease Sony, not because Billboard thought it was really the right thing to do. Suddenly, overnight, Michael Jackson’s album went from being certified 2X platinum to 5X.
PMS: But Billboard did change their charts in 1998 to reflect airplay more than sales, correct?
Former Billboard Employee: That was three years too late. And the only reason they did it was because a lot of people were criticizing the charts. Billboard didn’t care if the industry was cheating, After all, Billboard was now PART OF the industry, but pretending to be a magazine that reported on it.
PMS: You said in your letter that Billboard has special “relationships” with other artists besides Lady Gaga.
Former Billboard Employee: Yes, Billboard tends to develop special relationships and act as a publicist for pop divas, given that over 80 percent of the employees are gay, not that there’s anything wrong with that. [He laughs at the Seinfeld reference from the 1980s.]
PMS: Can you give any names?
Former Billboard Employee: Well, at beginning of 2015, when reports that pre-orders for Madonna’s Rebel Heart album were crashing — which I thought was ridiculous because pre-orders don’t stay on top for a long time — her management contacted Billboard to try and fix up the PR damage. Billboard wrote a front-page article [it is posted here] about how pre-orders for the album were estimated at between 50,000 and 60,000 copies — that number was WAY exaggerated. If the album sold that much in pre-orders, there is no way it only debuted with sales slightly more than 100,00 copies when it came out.
Janet Jackson is another recent example. Her team had several meetings with Billboard. I don’t know what the contents of those meetings were about. I do know that Janet was gaming the system by giving away free copies of her album at her concerts to people who bought other things. Janet’s team claimed the album sales were part of a bundle, but many argued if those getting their free copies were aware of any bundle. Then, there was something that had to do with albums given away with Uber rides, but I don’t remember exactly what it was.
PMS: I remember the Janet Jackson thing and thought that Billboard needed to take a stand on that.
Former Billboard Employee: Well, of course. And other employees were pissed as hell. But if they said anything, they were suddenly “let go.” It only got worse when Janice Min took over.
Stay tuned to Part 2 of Pop Music Scandal‘s interview, which deals more specifically with the truth behind Bill Werde’s exit, Janice Min’s takeover, and more specifics about Billboard‘s relationship with Lady Gaga.