The Performing Rights Society (PRS) have announced a new license fee for small-scale, ticketed, live-stream performances. Ironically, last week also happened to be Independent Venue Week (IVW), an annual celebration of the UK’s grassroots venues, supporting up and coming artists across the UK. PRS have received a host of criticism from a number of bodies in the music industry, suggesting that this new license would leave already vulnerable artists out of pocket.
The tariff for live-stream events has been set between 9% and 17% of the gross revenue, which is a steep jump from the previous 4.2% tariff for in-person events. For events with £250 or below revenue, there is a flat rate of £22.50 charge. This charge implies that even if the revenue is below the tariff, a payment still must be made.
Furthermore, those with a revenue of £251 to £500, have a flat rate charge of £45. This means for those with a revenue of £251, 17% of their revenue is paid to PRS. The tariff is to be applied to upcoming events, and retrospectively for events throughout 2020.
This license fee has been met with strong resistance. An open letter from the Featured Artists Coalition (FAC) and the Music Managers Forum (MMF) has been sent to PRS, urging them to reverse this new tariff.
PRS has responded to the criticism, stating that this new tax is necessary to support those in the industry other than the artists. Furthermore, many grassroots artists are not registered with PRS; an MVT analysis suggests that around 27% of grassroots artists have a PRS license. Those without a license would not be charged. PRS’ aim is to ensure that songwriters and composers will continue to receive a steady income.
What’s the Problem?
The key outrage linked to these tariffs is the audience PRS are targeting. The small, independent music industry, who are receiving less than £500 in live stream revenue, are disproportionately impacted by the tariff change. The unnecessary jump from 4.2% to 17% reflects a lack of insight from PRS. Most of these artists have minimal outside assistance, writing their own songs and composing their own music. The live-streamed events are organised by the artists themselves, with the profit going only to them, or a charity. For these artists, PRS would pay them back the tariff charge. Yet, considering that these small artists make up the majority of those targeted by these small-scale livestreams, the tariff becomes slightly arbitrary. Roxanne de Bastion is one of the small-scale singer-songwriters who fall into this category. “It makes absolutely no sense for me as an artist to pay a licence to PRS, only to get it back – which can sometimes take years – once PRS has deducted its admin fees,” she explains.
Another criticism of the new tariff was the lack of discussion and consultation prior to the decision. IVW founder, Sybil Bell, suggested that the decision demonstrated how PRS was “even more out of touch with our community.” She added that “many in the artists’ community, who are the beneficiaries of the PRS licence fee, are also against this new licence, which comes without any of the promised consultation with those it impacts.”
This rhetoric is matched in a statement from FAC’s CEO, David Martin, and MMF’s CEO, Annabella Coldrick. While acknowledging PRS’s aim in the new tariff, they criticised the lack of foresight. “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.”
With COVID-19 devastating the UK music industry, PRS’s decision to implement a license fee directly impacting up and coming, independent artists is questionable. The independent music community needs to support each other now more than ever.