Livestreaming: UK Performing Rights Society Accused of ‘Inflicting A Further Blow On Artists’

Most artists and crews trying to stay alive on livestreaming income are operating on very tight margins.
– Most artists and crews trying to stay alive on livestreaming income are operating on very tight margins.
A songwriter rate needs to reflect that, as many industry professionals are currently trying to point out to the PRS, the UK’s collecting society.

The UK’s performing rights organization PRS has introduced a new online live concert rate for livestreamed events generating below £500 ($685) in gross revenue, and the country’s live pros aren’t happy with it.
Artists, which includes PRS members writing their own songs, promoters, venue operators wanting to generate some business via small-scale livestreams while physical events are still banned, will have to to pay the fixed rate via a new PRS online portal in order to obtain the necessary rights, which include “the communication to the public and associated mechanical and synch rights of our members’ repertoire through digital services,” as PRS states on its website.
PRS' new fixed rate for small-scale livestreams.
– PRS’ new fixed rate for small-scale livestreams.
As published on the collecting society’s website.

The rate is fixed at £22.50 for livestreams generating revenues below £250, and at £45 for livestreams generating revenues between £251 and £500.

The UK’s Featured Artists Coalition and Music Managers Forum published a few sample calculations to show how these rates would play out in practice. In the worst case, where the ticket revenue is lower than the fixed rate of £22.50, the licensee would end up paying more than they’d make on a show. 
As the FAC and MMF pointed out in a joint statement, “some artists promoting their own shows would be obliged to pay up to 100%+ of gross revenues to PRS – even if performing their own original compositions for free, leaving artists out of pocket, even if fundraising for charities during the pandemic.”  
Even at its lowest, for shows that generate £250 or £500, respectively, the fixed rate amounts to 9% of gross ticket revenues, which is more than double the tariff for normal events with a physical audience.
A breakdown of what the new PRS rate would look like in reality.
– A breakdown of what the new PRS rate would look like in reality.
Courtesy of the Featured Artists Coalition and the Music Managers Forum in the UK.

PRS’ standard concert rate is between 4% and 4.2% of gross revenue. Even in the physical space, PRS used to charge small-scale shows at grassroots venues a fixed fee, which it removed after much objection from the industry. 

What is more, the new PRS license for small-scale livestreams only covers events selling tickets within the United Kingdom.
As PRS admits, it is still “in discussion with other societies to deliver licensing solutions for UK based gigs and concerts which might be accessed internationally.”
As Pollstar reported before, live pros have been pointing out that PRS is not in a position to mandate a global license for livestream events hosted in the UK.  
The PRS states that “works owned or controlled by members of PRS and members of some other societies for audiences internationally” may be covered, but it depends on the mandates PRS has in place with sister societies abroad, which don’t cover all territories.
As far as livestreams generating more than £500 in gross revenues, PRS asks licensees to get in touch.
The latest information dating back to December is that PRS wants to introduce an increasing tariff rate, from 8% to 17% of gross ticket sales for anything generating more than £500.
As an open letter co-signed by hundreds of artists and their managers sent out at the time stated, such a rate “will make livestreaming unviable, for both the smallest emerging artists and the biggest superstar acts.”
According to Andrea Martin, CEO of PRS for Music, the performing rights organization is “continuing to work hard to agree a range of licensing options for providers of larger events, including a proposed discounted rate during the pandemic. 
“This is a part of the market which has seen exponential growth and is itself constantly evolving, meeting the expectations for worldwide blanket licenses is alone no small feat, but we are committed to finding solutions which ensure members can be paid fairly when their works are performed.”
Commenting on the latest rate for small-scale livestreams, Martin said: “We recognize the importance of providing simple licensing solutions wherever possible and the licensing portal for small-scale online events is an example of this.” 
Roxanne de Bastion opening for Thea Gilmore at Islington Assembly Hall in London, England.
Robin Little/Redferns
– Roxanne de Bastion opening for Thea Gilmore at Islington Assembly Hall in London, England.
The new PRS rate seems to penalize independent artists, said de Bastion.

Artists, songwriters, managers and venue operators disagree. Roxanne de Bastion, artists, songwriter and FAC Board Director, for instance, said: “PRS have not consulted their members with regard to this new license, which seems to penalize independent artists, who largely perform their own material. 

“It makes absolutely no sense for me as an artist to pay a license to PRS, only to get it back (which can sometimes take years!) once PRS have deducted their admin fees. We need clarification and amendments to this, so that artists are not out of pocket with their livestream shows.”
As Jack Fawdry, singer and guitarist of the band TOVA, explained the struggle this new rate created for charity shows, in particular, including shows put on just to give the industry some basic work:
“TOVA created the Arts Council funded show S!CK to tell the story of my mental health recovery and to perform music to our new fanbase at a time where live music, connection and contact is impossible. S!CK was made in the hope that the storytelling, both musically and visually, would allow people to reflect on their own issues and seek help should they need it. 
“The show was also fundamentally made to offer people within creative industries – notably Siyan LTD where S!CK was filmed and produced – that have little or no work, a chance to showcase their expertise and receive payment for their hard work in a time where income is understandably hard to come by. 
“In order for the band to continue to support both our fans, our creative partners and ourselves, we needed to be able to hold onto the net £400 of ticket sales we made for the show. This contributes to our PR, recording, promotion and every pound at this stage is vital to drive our career forward. For artists like us a waiver to the PRS license live stream fee is needed so we’re not losing the money we’ve managed to earn during these testing times.”
On a positive note, PRS announced it wouldn’t be “actively pursuing licenses for livestreamed events that took place prior to the launch of the new portal.”
It won’t do much to lift the spirits of potential licensees: “Today’s announcement suggests the PRS’s long-term intention to set tariffs for even the smallest live streamed concerts at very best double the rate of pre-pandemic live gigs and shows a worrying lack of understanding that, for the majority of artists participating, live streamed concerts are self-funded and non-profitable, marketing events,” commented Chris Chadwick, manager of Puma Blue, Rosie Lowe and Guy Sigsworth.
“As such, a hit of [more than] 9% on gross revenue will make a lot of these events unviable inflicting a further blow on artists and managers in response to their genuine attempts to innovate and create opportunities in the face of the unprecedented shut-down of the live music industry. For myself and my artists, it raises serious concerns around our planned live-stream events with the prospect of a fresh gaping hole in pre-existing budgets,” Chadwick continued.
Comments from John Truelove of the PRS Members’ Council suggest that PRS doesn’t make the connection between the dire straits creatives are in at the moment, and the further strain its latest rate is adding: “Composers and songwriters have faced monumental challenges this past year. So, the huge surge in the online live concert market beyond anyone’s expectations, is positive news all round. It is great that so many artists are performing online concerts to stay connected with fans, to earn a living, and to promote new releases,” Truelove said, adding, “Anyone wanting to hold small online ticketed gigs can now get a PRS license in a simple and straightforward way. This will create even more opportunities for artists, musicians and writers to thrive together while ensuring that songwriters and composers are being properly paid when their music is performed.”
An insightful statement also comes from the UK’s Music Venue Trust, which claims to have been in talks with PRS throughout the Covid crisis in order to find solutions for the everyone working in the grassroots sector, which forms the backbone of this industry.
According to that statement, PRS never hinted at plans of introducing a new rate for the grassroots sector during those talks, which have been going on for some eight months. The MVT stated that it remains open to having discussions, however, “unilaterally announcing ill conceived new Tariffs in a crisis is not such a discussion.”
PRS’s unilateral approach is also criticized by David Martin, CEO of the FAC, and Annabella Coldrick, Chief Executive of the MMF, who released the following joint statement:
“All of us want songwriters and composers to be paid fairly and efficiently for the use of their work, but this is not the way to go about it. Once again, we would urge PRS for Music to stop acting unilaterally.
“They need to urgently listen to the growing concerns of artists and their representatives during the pandemic, implement a waiver for performer-writers to opt-out of such fees, and commit to a full and transparent industry-wide consultation before issuing invoices to cash-strapped artists.”