One of the UK’s biggest funders of new and emerging music, responsible for nurturing the careers of artists such as Sam Fender, Little Simz and 2021 Mercury Prize winner Arlo Parks, this week saw its budget reduced by 60%.
The PRS Foundation, which funds hundreds of budding artists and music organizations across the country — including a number of artists from bands underrepresented in the music industry — announced Wednesday that its revenue would be reduced from £2.75m to £1m from 2024, citing financial necessity. The decision was made by its parent company and main funder PRS for Music, which collects royalties for musicians when their music is streamed or performed in public.
Industry professionals and artists greeted the news with dismay, foreseeing potentially disastrous consequences for the UK music industry. “We are extremely disappointed,” says Annabella Coldrick, general manager of the Music Managers Forum. “The artists just went through two years in which they had no live income. The cost of tours has gone up, tickets are not selling due to the cost of living crisis. And yet their collecting society, which sits on huge revenues, cuts their funding.
“Established artists don’t come from nowhere – often it’s years and years of hard work for very little money,” says keyboardist Dan Leavers of London jazz trio Comet Is Coming, who counts Shabaka Hutchings among his members and was supported by a PRS Foundation Career Fellowship. “When we were signed to a smaller, tight-budget independent label, PRS accepted our application and saw something in us: that belief drove us to make our greatest music ever.”
Acting on behalf of its 160,000 members, PRS for Music has raised over £650m in 2020 broadcasters, licensed premises such as pubs and nightclubs, radio stations and streaming platforms, spending £80m on their own administrative and staff costs and £2.75m on PRS Foundation.
In a statement, PRS for Music said, “PRS for Music donations are generated separately from royalties paid to our members. These revenues have decreased significantly in recent years. As such, the difficult decision was made to reduce our donations.
PRS Foundation chief executive Joe Frankland said the cuts were “disappointing given that PRS’s overall collections are on an upward trajectory and the Society is on track to raise £1billion a year. “.
Eight of the 12 artists nominated for the 2021 Mercury Prize have received funding from the PRS Foundation, including acclaimed Black Country indie band New Road. “Without the support of the PRS Foundation, it would have been extremely difficult to break even playing gigs outside the UK,” says guitarist Luke Mark. “It’s an even bigger issue for new artists today with the rising costs of European touring since Brexit. It’s also validated our expertise as songwriters and producers. This belief means so much to emerging artists.
Demand for funding has increasingly outstripped supply, with requests more than doubling since 2014. fairer game,” says The Comet is Coming.
The women and artists of color who rely most on the PRS Foundation stand in stark contrast to the leadership of PRS for Music. On the 25-member Council of Members, which reviews the work of the PRS Board of Directors, there are eight women and only two people of color, with the majority of those elected and appointed coming from major labels, not popular music. An unprecedented number of black and minority ethnic candidates, including another Mercury Prize nominee in Laura Mvula, have come forward as candidates for the Council this week. PRS members rejected them all, electing seven white men and one white woman.
“It’s so tone deaf,” says an exasperated Coldrick, who attended the AGM where board members were elected and funding cuts announced. “They basically stood up and said, ‘We know we have a diversity issue on our board,’ and then cut the fund by taking steps to build that diversity.”
The post-Covid comeback of live music has seen PRS for Music’s revenue rise by nearly a quarter to £780m in 2021, and a thriving live scene following the full lifting of pandemic restrictions will continue to swell its revenue . But according to music PR Jess Partridge, “the number of people who can afford to make music is going to be drastically reduced” by PRS for Music’s decision. “Don’t you just want to see an industry in which people from different backgrounds are empowered to participate? Because it really is.