Can PRS help you make money with your music?

There’s no money in music, we hear you cry. But maybe you’re just not looking in the right places. Chances are, you’ve heard of royalty payments, but always assumed they were only for the multi-platinum-selling likes of Adele and Pharrell, not you and your bandmates. Don’t be so sure. To put it simply, if you write songs, then you’re potentially entitled to royalties. It’s high time you learnt about PRS For Music.

What is PRS For Music, anyway?

PRS For Music is a UK-based, not-for-profit collecting society that represents over 118,000 songwriters, and ensures they receive the royalties due whenever their music is played in public. Take a walk through any town centre and you’ll spot that red splodge-shaped logo displayed in the window of pubs, cinemas, hotels, hairdressers, and pretty much everywhere else. That’s because any business that plays music – or allows it to be performed live – is legally required to buy a licence from PRS. And some of the money generated by all those licence fees could end up in the pocket of your leather trousers.

But I’m just a local independent songwriter. Surely I’m not due any royalties?

Not so. You don’t need to be signed to a record label, affiliated with a publisher or even release a traditional album to join PRS and earn royalties. Fundamentally, there are two main types of royalty. Let’s say that a song you’ve written is played on the radio in your local café, used in a montage on a TV show, or even performed by your band on the local circuit. Every time one of these things happens, you’re entitled to performance royalties.

“Performing at a major festival could net you £1500 in royalties. Think how many times you’d need your material to be streamed to match that…”

Didn’t you mention another type of royalty, too?

Yes. When a song you’ve penned is physically reproduced (eg. on a CD or DVD), you have a right to mechanical royalties, collected by another company under the PRS umbrella called the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society Limited (MCPS). But we’ll cover that in a separate blog post – along with the related topic of synchronisation.

So can I make good money from performance royalties?

That hinges on various factors, including the attendance at your gig, how much air-time your song gets on the TV show and the audience share of the radio station. But let’s give you a ballpark idea. Based on statistics from recent years, if your song was played on Radio 1, you could expect up to £52, while a spin on a regional BBC station might get you a royalty of £4. If it was played on prime-time BBC1 for a minute, meanwhile, you could expect £91. Playing your own material at a small venue might only net you £6, but royalties for performing at a major festival like Reading/Leeds could be as much as £1500. Think about how many times you’d need your material to be streamed to match that kind of money – and PRS’s £100 joining fee starts to look pretty good.

“PRS collected over £537 million for its members in 2015 – so you don’t want to miss your slice of the pie…”

How does PRS know when my music has been played?

It’s not an exact science. The big boys – including major concert venues, TV networks and radio stations – are expected to supply PRS with a breakdown of the material they’ve used, and the society then calculates royalties due on a pay-per-play basis. That’s not going to be possible with every provincial pub and pet shop, though, due to the sheer administration involved, so PRS uses a less precise ‘sample’ approach to gauge what’s been played.

My bassist is a great player, but doesn’t write the songs. Can he join PRS?

Afraid not. Only songwriters can become PRS members – although non-writers can join the similar PPL as a performer member and earn royalties that way. Likewise, you can’t claim royalties from PRS if you’re the producer of a song, while performing covers live will only generate royalties for the artists who wrote the originals. It’s worth noting, however, that music and lyrics both qualify as ‘songwriting’, so if you can’t string together a chord sequence to save your life, better dust off that rhyming dictionary.

So how do I get involved?

First, you’ll need to join PRS For Music by paying the £100 administration fee, completing the online application form and posting it off with proof of ID. The next step is to register your original songs in the website’s online form and submit your setlists so you can start getting royalties for live performances. Royalties are paid four times annually – in April, July, October and December – and with PRS collecting over £537 million for its members in 2015, you don’t want to miss your slice of the pie.