Tuesday evening I attended the FAC’s (Featured Artists Coalition) event on digital music. The FAC is a free membership organisation for featured artists whose goal it is to educate and empower independent featured artists. There were three speakers: a representative of PPL, PRS and a digital distribution company called Zimbalam, each covering the basics of how they work and what the benefits are. It was great to see a room full of artists willing to learn to help themselves and even better to know that there are organisations such as the FAC who are catering to these needs. I also want to commend PRS for sending a representative to such an event (everyone knows that the GEMA, Germany’s equivalent, would not have shown up).
Ok, so why am I compelled to write this blog post? During the networking portion of the event I had a chat with the PRS representative that left me rather annoyed. For those of you who are not familiar with the organisation, PRS is a royalty collection agency. If songs I have composed gets aired on radio, TV or when I perform them live, the collection agency ensures that I receive my royalty payment for that. As an independent singer / songwriter, royalty payments are a substantial portion of my humble income.
PRS market themselves as being run by its members for its members. They claim to represent all musicians from lady gaga to, well, me. However, this really isn’t the case. PRS have a three level membership service, in which only the top earners get to vote on matters and put themselves forward for board membership. This means that the agency is in fact an oligarchy, an organisation run by the top earners, looking after the interest of the top earners only… with a big marketing budget.
When I asked the PRS representative on his opinion on the three level membership, I sincerely got the feeling that he actually didn’t know about it, the financial thresholds they are divided up in, or the discrepancies in rights to vote. This, however, did not stop him from trying to answer my question. I do not wish to misquote, nor do I want to point fingers at individuals, but I can’t help but find it amusing that an unprepared answer revealed the collection agencies true agenda. To paraphrase, this was the reply I received:
“You wouldn’t want all those thousands of members who aren’t making a penny get a say. I mean, they might just act in their interest”.
Well, finally someone’s being honest about it! Though unintentional, he put his thumb on the truth. Although it is in their interest to appear to represent all musicians, the objective of the PRS is to service top earners and top earners only, namely those writers who make a minimum of £20,000 a year on royalties and those publishers who make a minimum of £103,750 a year. For those of you who are interested, here’s a little screenshot showing you the numbers behind the levels of membership. You’ll see that the second level of members receive one vote each, whereas top earners receive 10 votes per individual. That’s right: 10.
Below the image there’s an additional paragraph that states that those members who earn the most can be eligible for an ADDITIONAL 10 votes. So, the more you earn, the more your interests are being represented and so on…
Also, it’s important to point out that being a so called “provisional” member does not mean your earnings are insubstantial, nor does it mean that we of the lowest income bracket are some sort of lazy benefit-fraudsters out to rob the rich of their golden trinkets. Every musician making below £2960 a year on royalties alone and all publishers making less than £14820 classify as “provisional”.
Am I being ungrateful?
I’m well aware that PRS have just launched more funding for upcoming artists, and I myself am applying (have I just blown my chances with this post do you think?). However, I can’t help but feel that these funding schemes are little more than lip service in the greater scheme of things.
This is not about bashing an organisation. I have been a member of PRS for years now and believe it to be a necessary institution. This is about getting involved in a good thing and trying to make it better. I’d love to hear your thoughts, especially if you’re working at PRS!