More than 50 music industry organisations have called on UK collecting society PRS to reverse its decision to cut its annual donation to the PRS Foundation by 60%. That cut, an open letter states, threatens the future health of the UK music industry, and could jeopardise recent improvements in the representation of women and minorities within it.
PRS confirmed at its AGM last month that the annual grant it provides to the Foundation it founded back in 2000 will be cut from the current £2.5 million a year to £1 million a year from 2024. The society says the cut in funding is necessary because the specific income stream the donation comes from – interest earned on investments and royalties awaiting distribution – has declined.
However, critics of the cutback say that PRS could and should have identified another other way of funding the Foundation so that the current £2.5 million grant can be maintained, even if that means diverting some of the royalties the society collects on behalf of its songwriter and music publisher members.
After all – despite a temporary blip caused by the pandemic – PRS revenues continue to grow, with a self-stated ambition to become a billion pound society, processing more than a billion pounds in royalties each year.
Some critics specifically point to the so called digital black box as a possible alternative source of funding for the Foundation. These are streaming royalties that PRS collects but which – because of data issues – cannot be allocated to specific songs, songwriters or music publishers.
Because publishers have an opportunity to claim the streaming royalties they are due before any money moves to the digital black box, the chances are that a significant portion of those unallocated royalties relate to songs from unpublished grassroots creators. Therefore, the argument goes, those monies should be used to support the grassroots creator community through initiatives like those run by the PRS Foundation.
Those criticising the funding cut also argue that the PRS Foundation – with its various funding schemes that support innovative music-making projects, help creators progress in their music careers, and encourage and enable more diversity in the music industry – are more important now than ever as the music community slowly recovers from the COVID period.
The Foundation does now have other sources of income, and has said that the £1 million a year commitment from PRS will ensure it can continue to operate. However, the funding provided by PRS is still key for the Foundation, and therefore the 60% cut in that funding will significantly reduce the impact the charity can have.
Many of the 50+ organisations who have signed an open letter calling on PRS to reconsider the funding cut have received grants from the Foundation to help in their work supporting artists and songwriters. They also represent a diverse mix of organisations in terms of genres and location.
Among them are Britten Sinfonia, Sound & Music, Non Classical, Future Bubblers, Cheltenham Festivals, Opera North, Jazz Re:freshed, Red Note Ensemble, Oh Yeah Ireland, Focus Wales, Punch Records, South Asian Arts, Brighter Sounds, UD Music, Jazz Promotion Network, British Underground, Black Music Coalition and Freedom: Art Of Improvisation.
The letter states: “The future health of the UK music industry – and our existing hard-won improvements in representation for women and minorities – are under threat from a drastic and potentially devastating 60% cut in grassroots funding for PRS Foundation, voted for by the PRS Members Council and announced by CEO Andrea C Martin”.
“We respect the commitment displayed by PRS For Music through its 22 years of investment in emerging UK talent from the grassroots up”, it goes on. “As the principal patron of the PRS Foundation, PRS For Music has contributed significantly towards making the UK music industry more accessible, more equitable, more creative and more profitable”.
“However, both PRS For Music’s track record and the music industry itself will be damaged for the foreseeable future if its unprecedented cutback of PRS Foundation funding is enacted. We stand together to urge PRS For Music to halt its proposed cuts to PRS Foundation and reverse a decision that could set the fragile post-COVID music economy back by decades”.
The letter then notes the positive impact the PRS Foundation has had over the years, including the success of the artists it has supported, and its various schemes to address diversity issues in the music community, and to support music-makers across the whole of the UK.
“In terms of impact”, the letter notes, “60% of the Foundation’s music creator and 67% of organisation grantees are based outside London; 63% of creator grantees are women, mixed gender groups and gender minorities; nearly half are from ethnic minorities; 15% identify as disabled; and over a quarter identify as LGBTQIA+”.
Noting the growth in PRS revenues – and its ambitions to be a billion pound society – the letter says: “As signatories to this letter, we applaud the adoption of a ‘growth mindset’ by the PRS and in doing so urge you to value the needs of the sector and look at alternative means of increasing income other than clipping the wings and pulling the rug from under its much loved and much relied on PRS Foundation”.
“Our work together with PRS Foundation in developing talented PRS members and future members”, it adds, “helps to generate the creative assets of the music industry, contributes to PRS revenue, the UK economy and to the international cultural landscape”.
It then concludes: “As Andrea C Martin said in her AGM address; ‘we must be brilliant at the basics’. For this to happen, full funding for the Foundation’s work is vital. Otherwise, as Jess Partridge stated in The Guardian, ‘the number of people who can afford to make music is going to be dramatically reduced, [we will not have] an industry in which people from different backgrounds are empowered to participate'”.
You can read the open letter here.
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