We Are Scientists at Jersey Live 2008
My job involves a number of different things – part of it involves writing political stories, another part involves writing stories about toilets turned into cafes.
But the part I’m going to draw on now is the one that involves me writing stories, doing interviews and even presenting a show all about music – particularly music created by new, unsigned bands.
Download my interview with Barney Hooper of PRS (mp3) >
The BBC has a strand of – currently – radio and online programming called Introducing. The brand carries across Radio 1 with Huw Stephens and Steve Lemacq and on 6music with Tom Robinson.
It also carries across the BBC Local Radio network as well – with shows on almost every local radio station, shows for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on BBC Radio 1 and more still online.
Each one of these shows plays unsigned bands, or at least bands that are signed but usually to small labels with little or no hope of making it to mainstream playlists – at least not any time soon.
Every time one of these bands gets played by one of these shows – and there are dozens of them across the country – the producer of the show (or someone else on the bigger stations) logs the music.
That log, that detailed log with information on when, how long, who and what you’ve played is sent to PRS – the music rights collection agency.
That information is then used to pay those bands that are members of PRS. The amount a band gets paid depends on how long the song is and how big the radio station is.
I spoke to Barney Hooper, Head of PR for PRS and he explained the scale. He said: “It really varies. A tiny radio station it would be less than £1 a minute if their music is used and up to £30 a minute on Radio 1.”
But you have to be a PRS member to get the money.
In the past this has been pretty prohibitive as the cost of membership was somewhere approaching £200. Even if you’re played on BBC Radio 1 a couple of times this still doesn’t pay for itself.
However, PRS have now re-branded themselves and changed their pricing structure for bands – partly by chasing more businesses for licences and money.
The Twang at Jersey Live 2008
Barney explained the new cost of membership to PRS has now been reduced to £10, but you don’t even have to pay that straight away.
He said: “that is deffered until your first Royalty Payment. So pretty much membership is free now and £10 deducted out of the first cheque you get – so it doesn’t cost you anything just to sign up with us.”
So by signing up as a songwriter and agreeing to give them £10 from your first royalty cheque you’ll get paid every time your song is played on the radio.
As well as the BBC there is also an increasing number of commercial radio stations playing occasional tracks from unsigned local bands – and unsigned not so local bands.
Getting a three minute track played on Radio 1 would more than cover the cost of joining and give you a bit of cash to boot.
But it isn’t just radio play that gets a band/songwriter money after becoming a PRS member. If you tell them what gigs you’ve played and where they will give you £5 per gig – if you have a song/video on YouTube you get around 1p per viewer.
In fact Barney explained that one as well: “In 2007 we were the first society in the world to licence YouTube, so if music is up on YouTube being played and being watched – a small amount of money comes back to us.
“The amounts are very small, just to manage expectations, I can’t remember the exact number but it is less than a penny per watch. Money will still be earned but you do have to have your videos watched a lot and your music heard a lot for that to come through to you.”
So a band that gigs every few days, works hard to get their music played on local radio, national radio and even internet radio – has a video on YouTube that gets a steady stream of views per week and even works to get their music into adverts and video games – you could earn something close to a living wage without selling a single CD or download.
But there is a flip side to this – the people that pay the rights collectors.
It is well known and expected that a radio station pays for the music it plays but what might not be as well known is the fact that any business that has music playing needs a licence.
The exception to this is lone workers. Here’s Barney again: “Not lone workers, the law actually could specify that anyone listening to music in a commercial or business environment would have to have a music licence from us but we don’t licence lone workers, we don’t licence businesses in domestic premesis. Any small business with more than two workers would require a licence from us.”
He does give a rough insight into the cost of that licence: “If you’ve got a workplace, an office or small business with five or fewer employees then the licence is £44 per year plus VAT – less than a £1 per week basically. And then you’ve got access to all the music you can imagine.”
Basically this money for bands, the ability to give these smaller bands more revenue on a more regular basis is coming from the increasingly strict enforcement of the music licence requirements.
Any garage with the radio on will need a licence, any office listening to CDs on a regular basis will need a licence, any hairdressers listening to an iPod over speakers – licence.
Of course you could always ignore that and only play podsafe or non-PRS registered bands – maybe bands could start labelling their music NON-PRS – but when it costs nothing to become PRS registered and you get money everytime you’re music is played anywhere – why would you?
Surely it is worth the relatively small fee charged for a PRS licence to help keep music being made by the next generation of briliant British bands and musicians?
Music that is coming from the heart and soul and not from the corporate think tank – music made in a garage and back street pub and not over coffee in a five star resteraunt.
Maybe the licence could be extended – I’d pay £50 a year on top of my broadband subsciption for the right to download any music I like – but I’m not convinced £5 a month will be enough for the likes of Simon Cowel.
But what about if that £5 gave you unlimited access to independent music – how quickly would the major labels tow the line – especially if the downloads covered by my £5 a month counted towards the chart positions?
More from me:
Jersey Introducing on Twitter | My photos of bands | Jersey Introducing on MySpace