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PRS royalty distributions up in 2020, but COVID effect means collections were down 19.7%

By | Published on Monday 26 April 2021

PRS For Music

UK song rights collecting society PRS has announced that the total sum of royalties it distributed to its songwriter and music publisher members last year was up 2% to £699.4 million, but that the COVID effect will be felt much more this year.

The songs side of the music rights business is feeling the negative impact of COVID more acutely than the record industry, because songwriters and music publishers rely more than artists and labels on those copyright revenue streams that were hit by the pandemic.

Song rights, unlike recording rights, earn from live performance, of course, which is a royalty revenue stream entirely cut off by the shutdown of the live sector. But monies from when recorded music is broadcast or played in a public space are also more important on the songs side, and they too were down as a result of COVID.

So, alongside that top line positive stat published by PRS this morning – the 2% increase in royalty distributions last year – there were plenty of gloomy stats too.

Royalties paid to the society by the live sector last year were down 79.1%, with public performance at large (which includes pubs, clubs, bars, cafes etc, as well as live shows) down 61.2%.

Total income from the radio sector was down 9.2%, because commercial stations saw their ad income hit by the pandemic, especially early on. And all of those declines combined mean that collections across the board – including international income – were down 19.7%.

Because monies collected through the collective licensing system take some time to flow from user to songwriter, the negative impact of those declines will be most acutely felt on the payments PRS makes to its members this year.

Digital income – the most dominant revenue stream on the recorded side – continued to grow of course, up 5.1%. Though that increase is not enough to counter-balance all the declines. Royalty distributions to members are expected to be down about 10% in the next year.

Commenting on all this, PRS boss Andrea Czapary Martin said: “Composers and songwriters have relied more than ever on their PRS royalties in 2020. The increased distributions announced today, set against the most challenging of years, represents a significant achievement for PRS For Music”.

“The increase, driven by growth in online revenues, cannot alone negate the immense loss of income and harm on the whole music industry, and the livelihoods of those within it, in 2020. This year will be similarly challenging, as the dramatic fall in revenues during the last year will be reflected in declining distributions throughout 2021”.

“As we look forward”, she added, “re-opening of the live sector must be a priority, while the repercussions of Brexit will become clearer through new limitations on touring outside of the UK. Music has played an invaluable role for many of us throughout periods of isolation, providing entertainment, escapism, and connection. We must not overlook the talented writers and composers behind the music we turn to”.