Understanding royalty collection societies can be one of the most confusing parts of being an artist, but it’s also one of the most important.

For a writer/composer to get paid whenever their music is used by businesses, played in public or used by third parties in places like radio and TV, their works need to be registered with PRS. This also includes royalties from artists performing their own live shows, or other artists performing cover versions of their tracks.

In the first of our ‘Explained’ series, we take a look at PRS for Music (commonly known as PRS or the Performing Rights Society) – the world’s leading organisation for music writers and composers – and speak to their Writer Representative Manager, Mike Hyland.

[Photo: Calvin Harris is one of PRS for Music's highest-earning songwriters.  He won the Songwriter of the Year Award at PRS For Music’s Ivor Novello Awards in 2013. - courtesy of PRS for Music's M Magazine.]

What does PRS for Music do?

PRS for Music issues different types of music use licenses to businesses and organisations that use music. These vary from blanket licenses to pay-per-play licenses, and cover everything from podcasts, streaming services and broadcasters to shops, offices, clubs and festivals. It then distributes the royalties to the artists whose work is used and is registered in their database. It incorporates the MCPS, which collects royalties due from the ‘mechanical’ reproduction of music such as the sale of CDs and DVDs.

In 2013, it distributed £665.7m to its members. Over 100,000 songwriters, composers and publishers in the UK are registered with them. They have over 100 agreements with other collection societies across the world, which means they can track whenever and wherever your music is played around the world to ensure you will get paid.

How do I sign up with PRS and how do I register my work?

You can sign up for PRS for Music membership by clicking here and paying a one-off £50 membership fee. You then register the original tracks that you have written on their database. “We match this information to data we receive from broadcasters and other music users so we can distribute royalties when your music is used” explains Mike.

Can I register remixes?

Generally speaking, remixers are paid a one-off fee for their work and are not given any royalties from the released track. PRS deals with the writers and  composers of the original track only, although if a remixer asks for a cut, a deal can sometimes be made. “If the original composer agrees, an alternative titled work can be registered with PRS for Music crediting the remixer with a percentage share of royalties.” This could be useful for producers who are just starting out and may agree to do remixes for free.

Can I register tracks with samples?

You should not register any tracks with uncleared samples with PRS for Music. In the worst cases, this could lead to legal action. “Any piece of music containing a sample must first be cleared with the original copyright owner, no matter how small. Once you have cleared this with the relevant publisher or composer you can register your work with us, including details of the sampled work. You should also make sure the copyright of the sample in the actual sound recording is cleared with the relevant rights holder.

Will registering and reporting music with PRS for Music become easier?

PRS for Music’s registering and reporting services can be tricky to use. Luckily they are working hard to overhaul their processes. “We are always looking into ways of improving our website and have recently improved our facilities for reporting overseas usages and live events. We are currently developing a more streamlined work registration system and are working with members to make the website even more user-friendly. We launched our first mobile app this year and will be adding further functionality soon.”

A common criticism is that a lot of music use goes unreported – particularly in clubs, who pay for a license, but are rarely actually paying for the music that is being played by the DJs. Again, they are working hard to make reporting as accurate and as easy as possible. “Last year we began a new electronic music initiative, Amplify, which brings together electronic music writers, producers, publishers and labels to ensure they fully benefit when their tracks are used. The group is working with DJ technology specialists to find ways to report set lists automatically from clubs, radio and live performances.”

Technologies like DJMonitor, Pioneer’s Kuvo and Native Instruments TRAKTOR plugin with Richie Hawtin all point a way to an effortless and accurate future for reporting. In the meantime, DJs can also provide set lists via the PRS website – but can only include tracks that are already registered with them, which means many promos can’t be logged.

What does PPL do?

PPL is a similar – but separate – organisation to PRS, but it pays royalties to record labels and performers for the use of their music, whereas PRS pays the original writers and composers. Look out for more information on PPL in the next part of our ‘Explained’ series.

To find out more about our label services get in touch here.

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