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PRS upgrades its major touring service, possibly to counter direct licensing movement

By | Published on Friday 31 May 2019

PRS For Music

UK collecting society PRS For Music earlier this week announced a revamp of its Major Live Concert Service which, among other things, will now go by the name MLCS By PRS. Which rhymes. Sort of. Well, there’s an ‘ess’ and then another ‘ess’.

MLCS is a scheme that began way back in the 1990s with U2, and which provides bigger name artists who are touring arenas and stadiums with a more hands-on service when it comes to processing the song royalties that are due on those shows. That service is most valuable when PRS member artists are touring internationally.

By convention, when a British act tours beyond the UK, the local collecting society in each country they visit will collect any song royalties due and then pass those monies back to PRS so that they can be paid to the artist (assuming they wrote the songs they are performing). However, delays, deductions and data issues can all occur once royalties pass through multiple societies. MLCS was in part set up to try and reduce the impact of those issues for major tours. The local societies still do the licensing, but PRS works to reduce delays and such like.

In recent years some high level acts – especially those who predominantly write all of the music they perform – have actually pulled out of the collective licensing system on the live side while they are on tour. They then appoint an agent which negotiates a song rights licence directly with each show’s promoter, meaning the artist can often get paid quicker, and with less processing fees being charged.

The direct licensing approach can become complicated, though, where you have co-writers who are not part of the tour. Plus there is the question of how you licence songs being performed by support acts, given song royalty payments usually take the form of a percentage of total ticket income. Those who prefer the direct licensing approach argue that these complications are mainly the result of collecting societies, which are keen to discourage direct deals, refusing to introduce any flexibility into their own licensing systems.

However, some would argue that, with MLCS, PRS offers artists of a certain level the best of both worlds, ie a more hands-on service that reduces delays and deductions but which also allows co-writers and support acts to be paid through the collective licensing system. And with the changes PRS has announced this week, the society is likely hoping to convince more artists of the benefits of staying within the collective for major touring activity, despite the issues with licensing via third party societies.

Among the changes are new digital tools, streamlined processes, fixed payment terms and a reduction of admin fees. PRS also says it is working hard to get rid of ‘promoter kickbacks’ in other countries, one of the key issues that persuaded some artists to go the direct licensing route. This is where, in some countries, some societies give some promoters discounts on royalty rates in some scenarios. But these discounts are often not properly communicated to the artist, who is really paying for the kickback.

A PRS spokesperson told CMU that the UK society has been “actively seeking to eliminate this practice for a number of years. We have been working directly with a number of our affiliates to eliminate the discount mechanisms from the local tariffs”.

It’s also hoped that, with some of the new digital tools made available under the revamped MLCS scheme, it will be easier for artists and their teams to work out what they are due in each country, and therefore better monitor payments coming in. The PRS spokesperson added: “We have launched our Live Concert Calculator, that calculates the applicable tariff rate in each territory, so that tour managers can ensure that the correct tariff is applied to performer’s settlement”.

“We also work with the local society and the performer’s representatives to ensure that the correct box office receipts have been declared to our affiliates and that the tariff rate is correct”, the spokesperson added. “We’re confident our service offers one of the most transparent solutions in the world, allowing faster and greater royalty payment to our members”.

Another digital tool PRS hopes to offer is called Concertify, a technology made by Finnish company Mind Your Rights, which the society plans to pilot. This, PRS said in a statement this week, “provides a platform for all parties within the value chain to access real-time visibility of the datasets necessary for processing royalty flows, such as setlists, venue information, payment statuses and box office receipt”.

Commenting on the MLCS upgrade, PRS’s Director Of International Sami Valkonen added: “We acknowledge representing the world’s top talent comes with expectations, and we need to be in a position to offer a service that meets those requirements to be given the privilege of continuing to collect their concert royalties. We’ve taken on board feedback from several of our key member representatives and are committed to making MLCS a proposition that further solidifies PRS as the go-to provider of major concert tour copyright management”.