PRS panel on unlocking songwriter royalties: why PRS festival licences are crucial for creators

Here’s why PRS festival licences are crucial for music creators

We break down what we learned from Festival Congress 2024.

Elle Ayers
  • By Elle Ayres
  • 6 Feb 2024
  • min read

Independent festivals from across the UK, including the likes of Shambala, Truck and Tramlines, converged in Bristol once again to discuss the status of the sector and learn from each other about succeeding in the famously difficult venture of organising festivals.

PRS for Music hosted a panel unpacking why PRS festival licences are crucial for music writers, which saw Elaine Allan, Head of Strategic Partnerships, Lucy Tamboura, Live Music Manager and Ian Edgley, Senior Live Music Manager from PRS joined by Chemical Brothers and Katy J Pearson manager, Jo Åström from Fleet River Music.

Elaine set the scene, clarifying the difference between PRS and PPL PRS for the room. ‘PRS set the tariffs, including the festival licence, which go through a consultation process with the relevant sector,’ she explained, adding that since the joint venture between the companies in 2018, the festival licence is now administered by PPL PRS.

Elaine continued, outlining what ‘festival’ covered in the context of the licence:  it must be an event spanning several days, including temporary structures and a range of unique artists. She cited the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as an example of an event that wouldn’t qualify because it uses established venues throughout the city.

Why must UK festivals be licensed with PRS?

All UK music festivals need their PRS licence to operate as it ensures that royalties can be paid to the music creators responsible for any of the songs played or performed. Submitting setlists then ensures that PRS know who to pay the royalties to – this is why it’s so important to report your live shows whenever you play live.

It’s always better for the festival to seek out their PRS licence themselves ahead of the gates opening, rather than waiting to be chased once the final stage has been dismantled. This helps to speed up the process of paying royalties to the artists. 

‘Royalties are allocated based on a couple of factors,’ Lucy explained, ‘Firstly, the capacity of the stage. So, the bigger the stage, the larger the royalty payment. Then the duration of the song, the longer the song is played, the more royalties generated.’All licensees, whether it’s radio station, streaming platform, or in this case, a festival, are expected to report their music use to PRS, Lucy continued.

‘For 20 of the UK’s largest music festivals, we send PRS staff to collect the setlists each year. We’re always looking at that list to see where we can get the most value, and by value I don’t necessarily mean money: we’re looking at how many of our members will be there and who.’

DJ setlists can be more complicated to acquire at festivals due to the spontaneous nature of a DJ set and so Music Recognition Technology (MRT) can prove very useful. ‘It involves installing a box into the sound desk which captures snippets of the music played that is then reported directly to us,’ Lucy clarified, adding that at present this only works with recorded music but that they’re looking at ways to roll this out further.

The royalties can always reach the music creator

PRS collects royalties on behalf of other societies from around the world. This means that all artists, whether they are with PRS or not, can receive royalties from the live performance of their work at UK festivals.

The panel went onto to discuss the difference between UK and international festivals with Jo commenting that royalties from UK festivals tend to be paid quicker due to the better infrastructure in place to pay them out. 

‘Live royalties are a lifeline’

‘Performing at festivals is one of the most exciting aspects of being a professional artist,’ Jo smiled, ‘and the royalties from live shows have a huge impact on performers who are also songwriters.’ Unpicking this, she explained that in contrast to the fee for the live show which is split between the band, tour manager, stage production – the list goes on! – the live royalties go to the writer and helps them to keep creating music.

Conversation returned once again to the effect that festival royalties can have on a music career. Ian reflected that over the past 20 years, he’s seen how affirming receiving festival royalties are for those who have just started writing and performing, providing a real financial lifeline.

‘Entry-level artists across the board are struggling to make a full time living out of music, probably working multiple jobs’ he continued, ‘So it’s a real sense of validation for them when they see that they’re earning royalties from their festival shows. Over the course of a summer that can really add up and make a difference.’

Whilst PRS festival licences can seem like just another cost for independent organisers to fork out for, they run at a lower rate to support the independent festival industry and are pivotal in making sure that music creators are paid for use of their work, protecting a key revenue stream which helps ensure writers can afford to keep making music.

The fields may sometimes be muddy but the importance of licensing festivals couldn’t be clearer.