|WEDNESDAY 1 JUNE 2022||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|TODAY'S TOP STORY: The Featured Artists Coalition has launched a petition calling on UK song rights collecting society PRS to reconsider its decision to reduce the funding it provides to the PRS Foundation. The society confirmed last week at its AGM that that funding will be cut from the current £2.5 million a year to £1 million a year from 2024... [READ MORE]|
FAC launches petition over cut in PRS funding to PRS Foundation
PRS created the standalone Foundation in 2000, having previously supported new music initiatives via a Donations And Awards Committee. The society then committed to provide the organisation with an annual grant. That donation comes from what PRS calls 'non-licence revenue', which is basically interest the society earns on investments and royalties awaiting distribution.
Since its creation in 2000 the Foundation has launched numerous schemes providing funding to individual songwriters and artists, as well as various talent development organisations, aiming to help music-makers pursue innovative music-making projects and to progress in their music careers.
Those schemes have funded thousands of projects over the years, and have become all the more important in an era where music-makers often need to build more momentum around their music-making themselves before commercial music industry partners are able to invest. And also where independent artists have more international opportunities, often because of digital distribution, but then need financial support to truly capitalise on those opportunities.
As the number of funding schemes and the number of applicants has grown, the Foundation has also found other sources of income to boost those schemes, with various music companies and organisations providing additional cash, including record industry collecting society PPL.
However, the PRS grant remains a key part of the Foundation's income. That is now being reduced, PRS says, because it is making less from those interest payments than it used to. A spokesperson told The Guardian: "Donations from PRS For Music are generated separately from the royalties paid out to our members. This income has declined significantly over recent years. As such, the difficult decision was made to reduce our donations".
Providing more context, the Foundation's CEO Joe Frankland confirmed in a statement that conversations have been ongoing for some time regarding future PRS funding, with the society's management team and Members' Council exploring possible alternative ways to support the charity "once it became clear that the specific source of revenue from which charitable donations are made will no longer be sufficient to maintain a higher level of support".
"Regretfully, no alternative solution was found which worked for all parties and the Members' Council delivered their decision to the Foundation in December 2021", Frankland added. Although insisting that the £1 million a year commitment from PRS will ensure that the Foundation can continue to operate, he admitted "this is disappointing given that PRS's overall collections are on an upward trajectory and the society is on a path to collect £1 billion annually from its licensees".
Many in the wider music community have responded negatively to PRS's decision to reduce its funding to the Foundation, insisting that - if 'non-licence revenue' is indeed slumping - the society should have found another way to continue supporting the charity at the current level.
After all, as Frankland noted - although the monies PRS collects and distributes were hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and especially the shutdown of live music - beyond that temporary blip the organisation's income continues to grow each year. And that self-stated ambition to become a "billion pound society" - ie to be processing more than a billion pounds in royalties every year - was repeated at last week's AGM.
Many other collecting societies around in the world actually divert a portion of the royalties they collect to funding initiatives like those run by the PRS Foundation. And while some societies have been criticised for diverting too much money to such schemes - especially when those deductions also apply to royalties they collect on behalf of songwriters in other countries - many people would support a modest diversion of this kind being instigated by PRS. Especially if the diverted money came out of the so called digital black box.
'Black box' is the colloquial term used to describe monies collected by collecting societies which cannot be accurately paid through to the members whose music was specifically used by each licensee. The black box exists because many of the licensees licensed through the collective licensing system are unsophisticated users of music who are not able to provide comprehensive usage data - ie they can't tell the society what music they actually used.
They are also often paying relatively nominal licence fees into the system each year, meaning it would be impractical for PRS to monitor usage itself, because the costs of doing so could exceed what is actually being paid by the licensee in the first place.
Societies do now receive and gather more usage data than in the past, and the use of audio ID technology should increasingly help societies identify what music has been used and therefore which members should be paid. However, for now the black box remains and each society has to come up with ways of distributing that income to its membership, often based on general market share data.
Such black box distribution rules are often controversial, perhaps inevitably given there will always be winners and losers whatever rules are adopted. Though the distribution of the digital black box is arguably the most controversial.
Because, in the case of streaming services like Spotify, we know exactly what recordings have been streamed, with the services providing super comprehensive and accurate usage data. However, under the current system the services don't know what songs are contained in those recordings, so each month music publishers and collecting societies receive recordings based usage data and must then identify what songs have been streamed and who owns the rights in those songs.
With some recordings, the song itself or the owner of the song isn't identified. Song royalties due on those tracks then end up in the digital black box, usually administered by a collecting society, and ultimately distributed across the industry according to that society's distribution rules.
However, given that publishers and societies have all had the opportunity to claim what they are actually due before any money ends up in the digital black box, it seems likely that a sizeable portion of that cash relates to songs created and released by DIY and hobbyist musicians who are not published and are not members of any collecting societies, and who are therefore not part of the big old matching and claiming process.
In the ideal world those song royalties would be passed through the DIY distributors back to the DIY and hobbyist musicians. But while that is not practical, some argue that digital black box should instead be used to support DIY-level artists via organisations like the PRS Foundation.
In its 2019 'Song Royalties Guide' - which discussed the digital black box - the MMF stated: "Unallocated monies [should not be] distributed on a market share basis. Because it is almost certainly the case that unallocated monies relate to streams of songs created and controlled by more grassroots writers and publishers, who never benefit when market share distributions are employed".
"The songwriting community should be rigorously consulted regarding what should happen to this income", it added. "One solution would be to allow these monies to be distributed to grassroots music makers through the talent support initiatives many societies already operate". In the UK, that would be the PRS Foundation.
MMF CEO Annabella Coldrick re-stated this position when responding to last week's confirmation that PRS was reducing its support of the Foundation. "It's extremely disheartening to hear today's confirmation of funding cuts to the PRS Foundation's budget", she said. "We'd urge PRS to rethink this decision, and to consider redistributing unallocated 'black box' royalties in order to support emerging and grassroots talent".
And yesterday the FAC made a similar call when launching its petition against the funding cut. It noted: "The £2.5 million donation to PRS Foundation in 2021 represents just 0.32% of PRS For Music's collections, and 0.37% of distributions to members according to the society's 2021 reporting. A £1 million donation would represent 0.13% of collections and 0.15% of distributions at 2021 levels. Should the collecting society reach its £1 billion target [for collections], a £1 million donation to PRS Foundation represents a mere 0.1% of collections".
It then cited the most recent Transparency Report published by PRS, which "includes 'amounts invoiced and collected but not attributed' of a massive £235m and 'delayed distributions' including for 'data issues' of over £20m. In other countries, monies collected by societies, which are not able to be attributed to the society's members, are used to fund new talent initiatives. That is not how PRS distributes such funds, although it's not particularly clear how those funds are distributed".
As for the potential impact of the PRS Foundation's guaranteed income being reduce, FAC CEO David Martin added: "This decision seems to have come at the worst possible time. With a difficult post-pandemic landscape, new barriers to touring in Europe and the crippling effect of a cost-of-living crisis, with its knock-on impact for touring costs and consumer confidence, it's hard to reconcile the decision to cut funding with what our sector actually needs to get back on its feet".
"It's hard to overstate", he went on, "we really are facing the most difficult time for our artists and songwriters in a generation, and we are at real risk of the UK ceding its status as a global, music powerhouse".
Majors and Spinrilla set out jury selection questions as copyright dispute proceeds
The majors first sued Spinrilla in the US in 2018, accusing the mixtape service of infringing their copyrights by allowing their music to be included in mixes without licence.
For its part, Spinrilla argued that it had previously had good relationships with the record companies, many of which had sought inclusions in the mixes it hosted for promotional purposes.
It also stressed that it had a system in place to respond to requests by copyright owners to have unlicensed music removed, even working with a record industry approved audio ID company in order to run that system.
The latter point was part of an attempt by Spinrilla to claim protection under the good old copyright safe harbour. Such protection would mean that - while Spinrilla may have hosted user-uploaded mixes that contained unlicensed music - because it wasn't directly involved in creating those mixes and it had a system for removing mixes at the request of copyright owners, it shouldn't be held liable for any copyright infringement that occurred on its platform.
However, in 2020 the judge overseeing the case ruled by summary judgement that Spinrilla could not rely on safe harbour protection because - at the point the majors went legal in 2017 - it hadn't completed all the formalities required under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act to qualify for such protection.
That included registering as a DMCA agent with the US Copyright Office, and having and enforcing a repeat infringer policy. The latter requirement has become a key point in many of the music industry's lawsuits against digital companies that claim safe harbour protection when their users infringe copyright.
Despite that summary judgement regarding Spinrilla's liabilities, there remains the question of what damages the mixtape sharing platform should pay, which is where the jury trial comes in.
Given that the labels are pushing for so called statutory damages of $150,000 per infringement - and have identified 4082 specific copyrights that were infringed - this could be another case where the majors win mega-bucks damages. So both sides are understandably keen to ensure that the right kind of jury is recruited.
With that in mind, both sides have proposed questions to ask potential jurors which were included in a court document earlier this month that was published by Torrentfreak yesterday. Both sides have also raised issues with the other side's questions.
The labels want to know how potential jurors access music, whether they've ever used Spinrilla, or created a mixtape, and whether they or anyone close to them has any experience of "deejaying". Presumably it's assumed that mixtape-making DJs will be more sympathetic to Spinrilla than the music industry.
The labels also want to ask whether potential jurors have ever been accused of copyright infringement, whether they donate to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and whether they "believe that artists and record labels are not entitled to earn money when people listen to their music".
Spinrilla is actually OK with many of the labels' questions, although not those regarding artists and labels not getting paid, reckoning that that is an attempt to condition or bias the jury against the mixtape service, and that such questions "assume an untrue fact that the artists do not get paid, suggesting there are not other ways that they do get paid".
The labels, meanwhile, object to many of the questions that Spinrilla has proposed. Many of those questions make statements about the legal proceedings and/or defences Spinrilla is likely to present, and then basically ask "how do you feel about that?"
Those sorts of questions, argue the labels, are "entirely improper" and "transparent attempts to pre-educate the jury on defendants' theory of the case".
It remains to be seen how many of the proposed questions the judge hearing the case allows to be asked. Meanwhile, we are still awaiting a date for when all of this will properly get to court.
Mark Owen signs to BMG
In fact, if you were paying very close attention you had probably already worked out that that deal had been done - after all, BMG is listed as the label on the new track on the streaming services. But now the deal has been written about in both a press release and the CMU Daily. And that's what makes the contract binding, right?
"I am super excited to sign with BMG, they are a great team full of inspiration and ambition and I can't wait for the world to hear my new record", says Owen.
Alistair Norbury, BMG President Repertoire & Marketing UK, adds: "We are delighted to welcome one of Britain's best-loved artists to BMG, both as a songwriter and recording artist. With a 30 year career behind him, Mark has a unique ability to connect with music fans of every generation. It's a pleasure to work with him".
Yeah, that's right, Mark Owen has a 30 year career behind him. You're old, what of it?
'Land Of Dreams' is set for release on 23 Sep, and Owen will be heading out on a short UK tour in October. Here are the dates:
16 Oct: Bristol, Academy
Spinnin Records restructures marketing department, ramps up Web3 activities
The label's current brand and recording marketing teams will be merged, with Susanne Hazendonk being promoted to the role of VP Of Marketing in order to oversee the combined operations.
Her team will include Clyde Davis as Head Of Digital, Julian Vicari as Head Of Marketing & Socials, Jeroen Linnenbank as Head Of Promo and Lesley Quist as Head Of Creative, plus several execs focused on marketing and/or streaming activities in specific markets, including Tim Condran in the UK, Ranya Khoury in the US, and Sivan Liu and Crysal Du in China.
Confirming all this, the label's CEO Roger De Graaf says: "Flexibility is key in today's music industry. By restructuring the focus of Spinnin Records' collective efforts, I'm confident that we will not only be able to keep up with but continue to predict trends in the global music scene - offering our artists the best experience, service, marketing and promotion along the way. I'm so pleased Suzanne will be stepping up to lead our efforts in this area and put her incredible experience and expertise at the service of our artists".
Hazendonk herself adds: "Marketing a music label in the modern landscape is both complex and challenging. By restructuring our marketing efforts to closer align our work around artist development, individual music releases and Spinnin Records' overall brand, we will be able to harness synergies that benefit all of them".
So that's all good. But what about the Web3 and NFT nonsense? We were promised Web3 and NFT nonsense! Well, the label also says that it is "increasing its investment of resources into Web3 and NFT business development, led by the launch of Tiësto's first ever NFT project and other activities in this space. Spearheaded by Steven de Graaf, Spinnin Records' Commercial Director, the initiative seeks to not only create new opportunities for partnerships and revenue streams, but offer the label's fans and artists a new world of truly unique experiences". Good times.
Adds the there mentioned Steven De Graaf: "Spinnin Records has always been fearless in adopting new strategies and technologies. The worlds of Web3 and NFTs are still defining themselves and I can't wait to explore the possibilities between these burgeoning new spaces and the vibrancy of music, live events and commercial partnerships. These technologies give the Spinnin team new tools to tell the stories of our artists, while building stronger relationships with fans and offering truly unique experiences along the way".
More government support needed for a night-time sector facing a "perfect storm"
More than 200 night-time businesses responded to the survey, with more than half reporting a 30% increase in operating costs compared to pre-pandemic levels, meaning that 48% are barely breaking even while 20.2% are currently making a loss. As a result 44.7% of respondents said they are 'unsure' if their business will survive the next twelve months, with an additional 20.8% stating that they are 'not confident' about the next year of operations.
There are various factors causing the steep increase in costs, though the surge in energy prices is a key factor, with night-time businesses seeing energy costs rise by an average of 37% as they renew contracts with their gas and electricity suppliers. Meanwhile, weekly sales are, in many cases, yet to reach pre-pandemic levels. 36.5% of respondents said their weekly sales have dropped by 30% compared to 2019, with 15.5% reporting up to a 50% drop.
On top of all that, many night-time businesses are also servicing debts incurred as a result of the COVID shutdown. Says the NTIA: "The culmination of pandemic debt, growing energy bills, workforce challenges, supply chain, increased insurance premiums and product cost increases have created a perfect storm. Operating cost pressures coupled with consumers with less disposable income have seen the early stages of a recession with slowing ticket sales and visitor frequency".
"There is still some way to go to see the true impact of cost inflation on businesses", the trade body adds, "with over 53.8% of respondent businesses still to renew energy contracts. The uncertainty on costs and trading levels has seen over 44.7% respondents 'unsure' whether they will survive the next twelve months and 20.8% stating they are not confident".
With that in mind, it goes on: "We need the government and Chancellor Of The Exchequer to be decisive through a financial intervention. The Chancellor must consider measures to support businesses". That could include reinstating the VAT cut on live entertainment and ticketing that was in place during the pandemic, and a cap on energy prices for small and medium-sized enterprises.
Commenting on the new survey, NTIA CEO Michael Kill says "These figures are extremely hard to ignore, the situation is worsening day by day, with operating costs becoming untenable. We are starting to see the impact on customers through slowing tickets sales, bookings and frequency of visit".
"Our industry is still extremely fragile, many will struggle to survive another crisis", he goes on. "Time is running out, the Chancellor must act now, and answer the calls from the industry to reduce VAT back down to 12.5% and an energy cap for SME businesses".
Beth Orton announces new album, tour dates
"Through the writing of these songs and the making of this music, I found my way back to the world around me - a way to reach nature and the people I love and care about", she says.
"This record is a sensory exploration that allowed for a connection to a consciousness that I was searching for. Through the resonance of sound and a beaten up old piano I bought in Camden Market while living in a city I had no intention of staying in, I found acceptance and a way of healing".
The follow-up to 2016's 'Kidsticks', the new album features contributions from The Smile's Tom Skinner, Tom Herbert of The Invisible, Alabaster dePlume and Shahzad Ismaily. It's set for release on 23 Sep.
Already set to support Alanis Morissette in the UK next month, Orton will be playing headline dates following the release of the new album in October. Tickets go on sale on 10 Jun. Here are the dates:
7 Oct: Birmingham, Academy 2
Apple has added a new Shazam guide to music venues and clubs in London to its Maps app. Presumably there are more of these planned for other cities.
Venue operator ASM Global has appointed Sam Ryder (not the Eurovision singer) as General Manager of the York Barbican. He joins from another ASM operated venue, the Bonus Arena in Hull, where he was Head Of Operations. "I am delighted to be joining York Barbican and furthering my career with ASM Global", says Ryder. "I'm looking forward to continuing the success of the venue which has been expertly led by Darren Moore, we're also making plans to improve hospitality provision, and of course bringing top UK and international events to the great city of York".
Christina Aguilera has released new album 'Aguilera', which brings together the two Spanish language EPs she's released this year, plus new track 'Cuando Me Dé la Gana', featuring Christian Nodal.
Vory has released new track 'Daylight', featuring Kanye West.
Jungle are back with two new songs, 'Good Times' and 'Problemz'.
Will Butler has also released two new songs - his first since leaving Arcade Fire - 'A Stranger's House' and 'Nearer To Thee'.
What So Not has teamed up with Killer Mike and Oliver Tree for new track 'Mr Regular'. "It's one of the biggest songs I've ever been part of, tied up in red tape for too long", says the producer. "'Mr Regular' is about the difficulty that we face through our childhood and career progression as clueless superior figures try to control and shape our path".
Working Men's Club have released new single 'Ploys'. The band's new album, 'Fear Fear', is out on 15 Jul. "The first album was mostly a personal documentation lyrically, this is a blur between personal and a third-person perspective of what was going on", says frontman Syd Minsky-Sargeant. "I like the contrast of it being happy, uplifting music and really dark lyrics".
Buzzcocks will release new album 'Sonics In The Soul' on 23 Sep - their first since 2014 and first since the death of vocalist Pete Shelley in 2018, with Steve Diggle taking on full frontman duties.
Sean Nicholas Savage has released new single 'Streets Of Rage'. "It's about the glimmering eye of a seagull eating trash, or a cat on the fire escape, from another being, in another world, that glimmer of hope, the glimmer of life", he says. His new album, 'Shine', is out on 22 Jul.
Thoughtcrimes - featuring ex Dillinger Escape Plan drummer Billy Rhymer - have released new single 'Panopticon'. "Lyrically, it outlines the attempt to wake up from dreams of a highly medicated, futuristic, dystopian setting", says vocalist Rick Pepa.
Cumgirl8 have released new single 'Dumb Bitch'.
GIGS & TOURS
John Legend has announced a second show at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 6 Apr, with the first taking place the night before. Tickets are on sale now.
Cassyette has announced UK tour dates in September, starting at Cathouse in Glasgow on 9 Sep and finishing at London's Islington Academy on 20 Sep. Tickets are on sale now.
Check out our weekly Spotify playlist of new music featured in the CMU Daily - updated every Friday.
Lil Nas X and Nicki Minaj announce brand partnership deals
Hard to say really, although it's a little easier to work out what Minaj's new brand partnership actually involves. Whereas with the Lil Nas / M&Ms tie up... well, the press release says that the musician and sweets brand will "leverage the power of music to lay the groundwork for a new platform that brings people together to celebrate music, build connections, and enjoy more moments of fun through a series of initiatives set to kick off later this year".
Allison Miazga-Bedrick - Senior Brand Director at M&Ms parent company Mars Wrigley - attempts to explain further: "In the world Mars wants tomorrow, society is inclusive. And through the M&Ms brand we're committed to inspiring moments of connection and fun by encouraging a deeper sense of belonging". Yeah, that's just waffle, isn't it?
"Music is one of the most powerful tools to bring people together", she adds. "Like our iconic M&Ms brand, music sparks nostalgia, memories, and fun and we are THRILLED to be able to partner with one of the most trailblazing artists in the world, Lil Nas X, to help us further cement M&Ms' role within entertainment".
Still not really sure what any of this involves, but my guess is some sort of website with a social element and some video content. If you were hoping Lil Nas X might be on hand to provide some clarity, well, his quote suggests that he has absolutely no idea what's happening either.
"M&Ms is iconic and I'm a huge fan of the brand", he says. "I'm excited to work with them on some really cool projects this year that are as colourful as they are".
Sure. OK. Let's move beyond meaningless marketing waffle to the specifics of this Nicki Minaj deal. Which is easier to understand. In that we're told that the Minaj / MaximBet alliance will involve the musician and brand collaborating on merchandise, parties and fan experiences that seek to combine entertainment, sports, celebrity and, of course, betting. Though Minaj also gets some of those made up job titles that used to be super popular with music brand partnerships.
Specifically, Minaj is becoming an ambassador and strategic advisor for and to MaximBet - which is an offshoot of men's magazine Maxim. Currently live in twelve US states and the Canadian province of Ontario, it wants to broaden its market by getting more ladies involved. Men have obviously long been happy to throw their money in the bin when it comes to online betting, but seemingly women are still a 'growth market' in this domain.
"I don't think I've ever been prouder of a collaboration", says Minaj, dubiously. "Merging business savvy power moves with my natural, creative, sexy, fun, and fashion-forward expression is just so spot on as it relates to this partnership. I'm ready to fully step into my potential as a young, influential queen, and owner and open doors for others to dream big. Get ready for the sexy parties and remember: scared money don't make NO MONEY! HA! Place your bets! Let's GO!"
And that's how you do it. MaximBet CEO Daniel Graetzer adds: "Nicki is best known around the world as a mega superstar, but we know her as a brilliant businesswoman. Her role as a strategic advisor to MaximBet will be invaluable to us. She's built one of the most powerful brands in the world, her own, and she's applying that same savvy and creativity to our lifestyle sports betting brand. I couldn't be more excited to be working with her - she is creative, smart, passionate and bold. There is no one better suited to helping us take this form of entertainment mainstream".
In terms of made up job titles, there's one more to mention. Because Minaj isn't just getting on board with MaximBet, she's also taking up a new role at Maxim magazine as part of the deal too. She is now a Creative Director for the publication, which, says the press release, "will enable her to influence editorial, photography, profiles, covers and future events for the iconic publisher". Uh huh.
"We are THRILLED to partner with Nicki Minaj", says Sardar Biglari, Editor-In-Chief of Maxim. "She is an extraordinary entrepreneur and the leading artist of her generation, a combination that will be transformative for Maxim".
So that's all great. I'm so happy for everyone involved. Especially for anyone who has any idea what Lil Nas X is doing with M&Ms. Nicki Minaj's deal - by the way - also serves to promote her upcoming tour dates and new album 'NM5'. Which I guess - by me simply mentioning them here - just happened. See, the system works!