Business Interviews

Q&A: Jane Dyball, MCPS and IMPEL

By | Published on Monday 13 April 2015

This interview appeared in the March 2015 edition of the CMU Trends Report. Buy our reports from the CMU Shop or get every edition by signing up for CMU Premium

Jane Dyball

With songwriters becoming particularly vocal in the digital royalties debate, and some of their publishers also beginning to gripe about how streaming revenues are distributed between different stakeholders, it is worth reviewing how the publishing side of the music rights sector goes about licensing such services.

We know that collective licensing is more prevalent on this side of the music industry, that the collecting societies generally have more power, and there is the big split between so-called ‘mechanical rights’ and ‘performing rights’. But digital services are now being licensed by the publishers in Europe through a combination of collective and direct licensing.

In the UK, there are separate collective management organisations (CMOs) for the publishing community’s mechanical and performing rights – MCPS and PRS respectively – though for many years the two operated side-by-side, ultimately launching a joint venture business called PRS For Music to handle both deal-making and the day-to-day administration of collecting and distributing royalties from those areas where collective licensing applies. Which was convenient once digital services arrived on the scene – most digital platforms needing both mechanical and performing right licenses at the same time.

But last year that changed. PRS For Music still exists, and still handles much of the day-to-day tasks that stem for both mechanical and performing right licensing, but MCPS is now a customer rather than a shareholder, and exists as a standalone organisation again. And Jane Dyball, who held legal and business affairs posts at major music publisher Warner/Chappell for over 20 years, was recruited to run it.

CMU’s Chris Cooke spoke to Dyball about the changes, her role at the top of the new look MCPS, and current trends in digital licensing.

CC: Explain to us the change that occurred with the MCPS/PRS relationship last year.
JD: As everyone knows, PRS and MCPS were in a joint venture for many years. Originally called ‘The MCPS/PRS Alliance’, it subsequently became PRS For Music. But with costs being shared between the businesses, and MCPS revenues declining as the physical market declined, it became difficult for MCPS to remain in the partnership.

MCPS is actually owned by the Music Publishers Association, and they decided in 2013 that they would withdraw from the JV and, instead of being in partnership with PRS, MCPS would become a customer of PRS services. MCPS now takes fewer services from PRS and those services are provided on a fixed price basis, as opposed to taking on a share of costs. Our costs have therefore consequently reduced and we have more stability in terms of managing them.

This new customer relationship with PRS will run for a few more years, at which point the plan is that MCPS will ask potential partners to tender, and we hope that our friends at PRS will be one of the tendering businesses. The publishers hired me at the beginning of 2014 to supervise the PRS relationship and provide strategy for MCPS going forward. This includes new licensing opportunities and initiatives.

CC: What impact does the new relationship have on licensees, publishers and songwriters day-to-day?
JD: Well there was and will be no seismic change as far as MCPS members are concerned. Many people don’t even realise that the ‘conscious uncoupling’ has happened, and that’s probably a good thing because it shows that the wheels of the machine have not fallen off during this change. Of course, most of the credit for that has to go to PRS.

As far as licensees are concerned, I want to get the message out there that MCPS is now a licensing partner which is willing to listen to its customers and which can offer easy-to-use licensing schemes so that our customers can get licences quickly. Where rates are negotiable we will not promise to be pushovers, but we will promise to negotiate in good humour and in a timely manner.

MCPS has a pretty poor reputation in the market place and I will be working flat out to change that. We have already revamped some areas of our production music licensing rate card with good results, and we will look at every single licensing scheme over the coming months looking for ways to make improvements. If anyone out there has problems with our licensing schemes, now is the time to tell us – we would welcome this kind of input.

My hope is that over the next few years people will start to notice MCPS and think of it differently – as a facilitator of business and a supplier of services, rather than as a slightly uncool and out-of-date dinosaur.

That change won’t happen overnight, but bit by bit we will try to make MCPS more dynamic and more responsive to business needs, while remaining a haven for rights holders. We also need to do some more work on MCPS’s finances so that we can start to look at passing cost efficiencies and increased revenues back to our members.

CC: For the uninitiated, remind us of the difference between mechanical and performing rights, and why they are traditionally managed separately on the publishing side of the business.
JD: Even I’m not old enough to remember how that came about! Mechanical rights relate to the copying of music, and the name relates to the mechanical process involved in copying piano rolls. Performing rights obviously relate to the public performance of music.

Neither mechanical nor performing rights are terms recognised by name in copyright legislation, and so the difference in their administration is an historical commercial issue. Mechanical rights tend to be owned by the creator and licensed or assigned to a publisher who uses MCPS as its agent. Performing rights are actually assigned to – and therefore technically owned by – the PRS for UK repertoire.

Given that mechanical rights are not actually vested with MCPS, it keeps us on our toes in terms of providing a good service. If we don’t, it’s very easy for our members to leave. Mechanical rights are traditionally paid to writers via their publisher if they have one, whereas performing rights are nearly always paid 50% – or 6/12ths to be precise – direct to the writer, even when he/she has a publishing deal.

Because these rights have been traded independently from each other for value for over a century, it is not possible to merge them without someone taking a commercial “hit”. However, the publishing business has ensured that they are licensed together whenever both rights are needed.

CC: One of your key remits is to grow mechanical revenues. Given the core mechanical revenue stream was CD, and that’s obviously in decline, where are the opportunities?
JD: The use of music by broadcasters and digital services is increasing, so those are the two obvious examples. However I also think there are significant opportunities in smaller licences. Wherever it is too difficult to get a licence at the moment, those uses often remain unlicensed.

We need to offer much more flexible licences, and an array of licences at £10 or less, which people can buy online and pay for by Paypal or credit card. I keep thinking that if I can get an additional 50p a year out of every person in the UK we will be fine. And that sounds achievable to me!

We also have to look at working “smarter” in order to save costs. The publishers are very good at running very tight ships, and societies have to do better at this. Cutting costs and working smarter shouldn’t mean that service levels suffer.

CC: Whereas the record industry has predominantly licensed digital directly, on the publishing side the CMOs still play a key role. How are streaming services licensed by the publishers, in the UK and elsewhere in Europe?
JD: It now varies from publisher to publisher, some license direct, some rely on their societies. But so far in Europe, regardless of whether the negotiation has been carried out by the CMO or the publisher, the publishers are still using CMOs to administer the invoicing and processing.

CC: So once the deals are done, the day-to-day management of royalties is till handled by the CMO across the board? Why did the publishers choose to go that way?
JD: Yes, because it is more cost effective for a publisher to outsource it to societies, and also because data is so much more complicated at song level than it is at master recording level. As we all know, there can be many writers and publishers in a single song, and allocations between different interested parties can be more easily made at society level.

CC: As you said, the way royalties are distributed is different when money is generated through a mechanical license, rather than a performing right licence. Given a stream needs both mechanical and performing licences – and are licensing the two side by side – how is the income then split between the two?
JD: It varies from country to country. There is no legislation to say what the split should be so this is decided at local society level. It would be helpful to the market to have the same splits throughout Europe, but societies tend to not liaise internationally on issues like this.

This issue doesn’t impact at all on the user, who will get both rights delivered together and therefore won’t be involved in the allocation between the two rights. I think international consistency between rights is more a case of us getting our house in order and I would support any steps in that direction.

CC: Does it still make sense to do the split at all, when the end beneficiaries – publisher and songwriter – are probably the same?
JD: It does, because most writers take advances from their publishers and the speed of recoupment will be faster from income sources which favour mechanical rights. Though it shouldn’t make a difference to writers who haven’t taken advances from their publishers.

There are also other questions which can potentially muddy the water, such as commission rates, social and cultural deductions and so on. At MCPS we can only deduct our published commission rates from the royalties we process, and don’t take any ‘social’ and ‘cultural’ deductions, but this is not the case at all societies in Europe.

CC: There has been much debate about how streaming money is split between the labels and publishers – the ‘share of the pie’. Is that an issue and is there an easy solution?
JD: So who decides how big the “pie” is? I don’t subscribe to the fact that there is a pie and that we should be fighting amongst ourselves as an industry over who gets what. I prefer to look at the rights I’m representing, and try to ascribe the correct value to them in a negotiation with a third party. I love record companies, but hear tales that some labels negotiate not only how much they get, but also set what the DSP is allowed to pay the publisher, which I don’t think is right. If you see some forms of streaming as being analogous to broadcasting, then publishing rights would be worth as much as, if not more than, master rights, so maybe if the pie is going to be split 50/50 then I would support the pie concept! In the meantime I prefer to concentrate on our business and our rights, because the quickest way of losing focus is to spend too much time wondering what everyone else is charging.

CC: Tell us about IMPEL – what does it aim to do, and how has it changed recently?
JD: The indie publishers have looked at Merlin and what a great job it does for the indie labels and said, “We want one of those”. Though publishing is more complicated, because data is not owned and delivered by one party, and so the invoicing process is much more complicated. So until recently IMPEL was just a name for a gathering of indie publishers who had joined forces and given their multi-territory licence mandates to PRS.

But since I was hired in January 2014 I have been tasked with the job of incorporating IMPEL, creating a board of directors, representing the publishers in any admin issues they have with PRS, and keeping an eye on negotiations with then digital services. I loved working closely with new digital services in my old job and so am keen to maintain and develop those and other relationships with digital platforms in my new role.

This interview appeared in the March 2015 edition of the CMU Trends Report. Buy our reports from the CMU Shop or get every edition by signing up for CMU Premium