Thursday, 6 January 2011

Keeping it live

The decline in live music in public places dates back to the rising popularity of the phonograph early in the last century. Since then numerous inventions and developments have seen the trend continue.

Pubs in the UK have also been in decline for years. The smoking ban of 2007 has been held up as a major cause but changing lifestyles and cheap supermarket booze are probably just as much to blame. So pubs, like the present government, are looking for ways to cut costs and live music is an easy target. And not just pubs but restaurants and galleries too.

You can expect me to argue that cutting back on live music is short-sighted. That it's detrimental to the future of music in the UK strikes me as obvious. But even in terms of pubs' economics, cutting an obvious expense does not guarantee a saving. From The Guardian:

"Research carried out by PRS for Music – the Performing Right Society of composers, songwriters and music publishers – found that pubs that provide music take on average 44% more money than pubs that do not, a figure which rises to 60% at the weekend.

Live music nights proved to be the greatest draw, with one in four publicans reported increased takings of between 25%-50%."

However, as this article explains, the licensing laws make it time consuming and expensive for small venues, including pubs and restaurants, to obtain a licence for live music. It's understandable that publicans and restaurant proprietors see live music as not worth the effort and expense. Let's hope the current government will act on its promise to 'cut red tape' with that surrounding music licences being the first to meet the scissors.


  1. It occurred to me the other day. PRS tries to protect artists and ensure they get their royalties - ie the big players!. But to those that play live music locally in small just has the effect of reducing the number of venues. kind to those already earning millions, unkind to the small players....not the right way round.

  2. Interesting observation, Molly. I haven't been a member for very long but when I mention it to theatre companies who use music I have written for them they have either never heard of PRS or demonstrate a complete ignorance of how it works. The forms don't get filled in so I don't get my royalties from performances. And I have even come across large, prestigious venues (albeit with small audience for live events) that appear ignorant of PRS.

    I don't know what happens to the fee a small venue pays for the privilege of having live music or even if they have to register separately with PRS, although I assume that is the case. But has any landlord, at the end of a gig, ever handed anyone you know a PRS form to complete? As you say, the system favours the big players who play in big venues where there are people to deal with the paperwork.

  3. I really don't know how the PRS works. It seems to be a society of members who have effectively contracted the PRS to collect royalties on their behalf.

    But I have heard it described as the only body that can collect royalties in the UK, which I don't believe is true, since if you, Jonathan, create a work, you have the right to collect royalties from whoever might perform it.

    I think they do negotiate "blanket" rights to play music, such as in a shop or pub, and they distribute the income amongst members on some basis that I don't understand.

    Is the licensing of live music venues a recent thing?

  4. I belive the PRS is exactly as you describe it, Mark. It is a not-for-profit organisation that has been around for about 100 years. It saves each individual artist from making a contract with every single venue in which his/her music is played. I'm still trying to establish how supplying pre-recorded music for live theatre shows fits into the scheme of things.

    The licensing of venues is a different matter and is handled by local authorities in the same way as they deal with applications to serve alcohol. But the law was tightened up a few years ago so that anything bigger than a duo requires a music licence. The old sing-song around the piano now requires a licence too and pubs without have got into difficulties when drinkers decide to join in with the chorus. This is when the law becomes grey, sprouts long ears and grows a tail.