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Independent festivals group warns any PRS fees price hike could bankrupt events

By | Published on Tuesday 14 June 2016

PRS For Music

For over a year now, UK collecting society PRS has been reviewing what it charges the promoters of live events where songs repped by the rights organisation are performed.

Presumably fearing that the society now plans to increase those charges, the Association Of Independent Festivals this morning put out a statement saying that any such price hike would have a ‘catastrophic effect’ on the grassroots festival community, while calling for such events to be treated differently than other live music shows.

As previously reported, under its ‘Tariff LP’ licence, PRS takes 3% of ticket monies from concert and festival promoters. Those monies are then distributed back to songwriters and publishers whose songs are performed at said shows. For new artists, where fees from gigging are often nominal, that PRS income can be key, especially once they are on the festival circuit.

PRS has reviewed the Tariff LP rates twice in recent years, the first time deciding to keep things as they were. Though, when announcing the new review last year, the society said: “The live music sector has changed dramatically since 1988, when the current tariff was set by the UK Copyright Tribunal. As a membership organisation, we have an obligation to ensure that our licensing is simple, efficient, fit for purpose – and recognises the valuable contribution our songwriters and publishers make to the live music industry”.

Part of the motivation for the review is the fact that the live sector boomed in the 2000s as the recorded music market went into steep decline. Some songwriters and publishers, who rely on licensing income from both the live and record industries, reckon they should be getting more from the former now it is out performing the latter.

Though many in the live sector point out that, given PRS is on a percentage of ticket sales, its members have already benefited from the boom. Plus, for all the booming, the live sector remains a challenging place to operate, with tight profit margins, especially at the grass roots, and in the festivals sector where production overheads are high and mega-fees are charged by many headline acts.

Indeed, the festival sector has so many more overheads than a conventional theatre or arena tour – reckons AIF – that PRS should treat festivals and tours separately, with different rates.

Said the indie festival trade group this morning: “[We] are warning against the catastrophic effect that a rise to the live tariff would have on grassroots events. The AIF are calling instead for a separate festival tariff that will take into account the unique nature, tight margins and high-risk nature of staging music festivals. Such a model already exists in Ireland with the ‘multi-venue’ Tariff MS”.

AIF also argues that its members’ events offer vital platforms for new artists looking to expand their fanbases, and that many festivals have performances beyond music, something the current system doesn’t acknowledge or allow for.

Summarising, Paul Reed, General Manager of the AIF, told reporters today: “It is remarkable and absurd that festivals and concerts sit under a single tariff. With the global recorded industry in transition, independent festival promoters are taking risks on breaking artists and staging high-risk events on incredibly tight margins”.

“PRS For Music’s plans to increase this already inflexible and damaging tariff could mean the bankruptcy of many events that provide a valuable platform for both emerging and established artists. There is a clear, unarguable need for a separate festival tariff. This already exists for festivals in Ireland, a clear precedent and a workable model that PRS should consider and which would result in a solution that is fair, transparent and sustainable”.

Taking the offensive, Reed them criticised the society’s big review, and the consultation process it involved, saying: “It is also prescient that PRS For Music has over 118,000 members and approached just under 32,000 of them as part of this consultation. They received just 48 responses from their members (0.15%), which is derisory. Songwriters therefore are not driving this process. Any increase would be a naked land grab by PRS, driven solely by their executives and some major music publishers”.