Venezuelan Radio Quotas

A Great Idea for Localities Everywhere

by Matthew Montfort


The Venezuelan National Assembly recently passed a law requiring that no less than 50 percent of all music played on the nation's radio stations be Venezuelan. Of that, half must be classified as "traditional."

I coined the term "world fusion music" and firmly believe in the benefits of cross-cultural collaboration. I believe in freedom of speech and a free media. But I firmly support this law. It will help keep the seed material of Venezuelan music alive, and it will help support local artists.

A July 19, 2005, article in the San Francisco Chronicle reports:

Backers say the harps and bandolas that now resound through this country of 25 million are playing the overture to a musical revolution. "We've always had traditional Venezuelan records in stock, but before a few months ago we never sold any -- not one," said Miguel Angel Guada, manager of the Disco Center Superstore in one of the capital's largest malls. "It was all Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys and that sort of thing. But now I'd say one-third of our business comes from Venezuelan artists, which is absolutely incredible." The new law can make listening to the radio an adventure in dizzying contrasts. One minute a disc jockey might spin Puerto Rico's Daddy Yankee rapping about "Biggie and Pac," and the next minute it's flutes and fiddles from the Andean highlands. Some Venezuelan rock and pop artists have begun to record cover versions of traditional songs to take advantage of the mandates. Almost all local artists, regardless of age or genre, are reaping the rewards. (The original article on Venezuelan music quotas can be found on

Even though it would make it harder for me to get my own music played all over the world (and most of my airplay income definitely comes from outside the USA where there are still pockets of respect for musicianship left), I think every country should have a similar law to preserve traditions and support local musicians. While the US music and media industry presents its opposition to such laws in free speech/free media/free trade terms, the reason they are against the Venezuelan law is it restricts their power and makes it harder for them to monopolize music sales. But the Venezuelan law doesn't prevent any type of music from being played on the radio, it just gives equal time to local music.

The implementation of a similar law is especially important in the USA, where radio stations owned by big media companies have very narrow play lists that keep out the most creative musicians and don't allow for local programming. For the United States, I would suggest a very modest law requiring that, in exchange for the use of the public airwaves, all radio stations be required to fill at least 10% of their music programming with music made in the local region, and fill an additional 10% with music performed by musicians who are graduates of music schools or are acknowledged masters of specific musical traditions. Imagine the change if just 10% of the music played on the radio was made by artists well trained in music!

This would insure that the best musicians in the world would get at least some air time (virtuoso level musicians get almost no airplay on US commercial stations now) and that local musicians would finally have a small voice locally. This small change would bring huge benefits. For the first time, most people would be exposed to a few recordings by creative well-trained musicians, a few examples of various musical traditions, and get to know a few of their local musicians. This could eventually lead to a situation where people are as proud of their local musicians as they are of their local sports teams.

If that happens, the music industry would grow exponentially and people would get much better music. This would help greatly with the general state of culture in the USA, which the right wing has been complaining about so loudly. Ironically for the right wing, the way to better culture in the USA is not to merge church and state while giving more power to corporations to exploit the marketplace, but rather to require that public airwaves serve all the public by presenting diverse points of view and cultural experiences. The free market is excellent at getting individuals what they desire and are willing to pay for, but not very good at getting society what it needs.

Getting such a law passed in the USA in the current political climate is a tall order. The music and broadcast industries would lobby against it even though it would ultimately be in their best interests, and there would be constitutional concerns based on the flimsy but often winning legal argument that money is a form of free speech. But these are not reasons to give up. If the public demands diverse local programming, broadcasters will eventually make some modest changes even in the absence of a law forcing them to do so.

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