PRS For Music CEO Andrea Czapary Martin on the return of live, TikTok, livestream u turn and songwriter fees

In the good news/bad news meme that has been our lives for the last year, very few positive moves come without a caveat of uncertainty. And PRS For Music’s 2020 financial figures are no exception.

So while, as Audio Media International reported earlier in the week, the period saw the collection society dish out a record £699.4 million in royalty distributions (up 2% on 2019), the money coming in actually fell by 19.7%, as the pandemic devastated key performance rights sectors such as live music and licensing of shops, pubs and clubs.

With so many songwriters hit hard by the suspension of so many activities they rely on to make a living, PRS payments are more important than ever. So, as retail reopens and we begin to contemplate the cautious return of live music, I got on a Zoom call with PRS For Music CEO Andrea Czapary Martin to talk through the state of play.

Martin became chief exec in June 2019, and was just settled in when Covid hit. She’s been busy throughout the crisis, appearing at the DCMS Committee inquiry into music streaming and getting embroiled in a row over PRS’ proposals for a new livestreaming tariff. Here’s what she had to say…

How did you manage to have record distributions during the pandemic?

“We pivoted really quickly to the new world to make sure we protected the livelihood of our members. We became much more efficient in distributions. Although we were down in revenues coming from public performance, especially live, the reason why we have another record year is that distributions coming from online increased [by 63.2%] and that helped compensate for the fall in distributions coming from public performance. We also concluded many more licences, more than double the prior year, and we did that while we were also significantly reducing our costs by 12.9%. Every pound counted.”

Looking at the figures, the impact of Covid is stark: hitting revenues in broadcast and international, as well as public performance. What will that mean for your members going forward?

“We’re definitely going to have more tough times in 2021, but I’m convinced music will prevail. The decline in the second half of 2020 will definitely be felt in 2021. One interesting thing we saw in 2020 was a 30% increase in work registered and we had 8,000 more new members, we now have a total of 155,000. So we’re confident that see an increase in revenue in 2021. Royalties paid out will be down in 2021, we don’t expect another record year, but revenues will increase. The demand for music is really strong and it’s going to be stronger.”

When do you expect revenues from live music to return to pre-pandemic levels?

“For the moment, there’s no clear road map for reopening live venues or festivals. We’re working with the music industry across the UK and we’re really pressing the government to see what the road map is. So it’s really hard for us to predict.”

PRS backed down after criticism over plans for a new livestream tariff. Where are you with the revised proposals?

“We’re going to be shortly publishing our proposals on the bigger type of licensing for online live concerts. We represent composers, songwriters and publishers, so we’ve had massive discussions around this thing. We went and did roundtables and also did a call for views, which had almost 2,000 responses. Of course, we had healthy debates, but our focus is to make sure we protect the value of our members.”

Are you confident the revised proposals will be more acceptable?

“Yes, and why I’m confident is, we’ve had many discussions with our members, the major writer reps, with publishers and we feel it’s going to be good for our members.”

They’re not actually the ones with concerns though, are they? Have you had conversations with people who weren’t happy with the original plans?

“Yes, we included them in the discussion. When you have 155,000 members, can everybody be happy? We have to do what’s right for the major part of our membership.”

One of your new online licences was with TikTok. How hard was that to get over the line?

“It was not easy, but we got what we wanted.”

Did it include a significant retrospective payment?

“Of course. That is competitive information but yes, it was worth having (laughs). It was definitely worth it, and we’ll see more of that coming in 2021.”

What’s been the impact of the pandemic on PRS itself? Your people costs were down 18.9% on 2019, were there job losses?

“In 2019, we did some restructuring, so our base was already quite efficient on the people side. Then we had a hiring freeze and that’s how we reduced our headcount. Also, unfortunately, there was no bonus or salary increase. Definitely not for me, I haven’t had one since I arrived in 2019.”

What are you hoping for from the DCMS committee investigation into music streaming?

“We look forward to hearing what the outcome of that is going to be. We welcome the DCMS committee inquiry in this area and we’ll look carefully at the recommendations.”

Would you like to see songwriters and publishers given a larger cut of streaming income?

“For the moment, it would be inappropriate to [talk about] exactly what the outcome should be on that. But we want to have a version of the EU Copyright Directive. It is so important that we do something about safe harbour. And we want them to do something about streamripping. When you Google ‘free music’, there are still so many platforms that pop up that don’t even have a licence.”

Are those things more important than songwriters getting a bigger piece of the pie?

“What’s really important for us is that ensuring our members are properly paid whenever and wherever their music or works are played. The division of the pie, we can’t comment on that, because that’s out of our realm.”

British music has its challenges overseas, with no UK artists in the IFPI’s Top 10 Global Artist Chart for the first time ever, and Brexit bound to have an effect. Will that impact on future international revenues?

“It’s interesting that you say that. Because when I look at all the hits that happened in 2020, yes, maybe on that [IFPI] specific example, but if you look at the Grammys, there were some Brits that won. So UK music is very strong and will continue to be stronger, we just have to look at all the new artists who keep on popping up. At my first Glastonbury in 2019, we invited Celeste to our tent and no one knew her, but look at where she is now. There are still people coming through. But we have to say to the government how strong UK songwriters and composers are, and how international [the business] is. I don’t think we push that enough with the government. When people talk about the UK, they think of music.”