Positive sign for music publishing’s health, as UK collection society PRS announces its biggest payout in 108 years

PRS for Music CEO Andrea Czapary Martin

Covid lockdowns across 2020 and 2021 are now in the rear-view mirror for the music industry. But for music publishing rightsholders, the impact of these shutdowns remains fresh in the memory.

Example: In Warner Music Group‘s latest FY results (to end of September 2021), the firm’s music publisher – Warner Chappell Music (WCM) – saw overall revenues grow by 16% YoY to USD $761 million.

That was largely due to boosts in digital and sync revenue. But these gains offset some Covid-related trouble: performance revenues fell by $20 million at WCM in FY 2021, down 14% YoY.

Explained Warner in its FY 2021 filing: “[This] decrease in performance revenue [was] primarily driven by the impact of Covid disruption on bars, restaurants, concerts and live events, which have only partially recovered.”

There was a similar picture at Universal Music Group, whose music publishing division (Universal Music Publishing Group) posted record results in its FY 2021 (to end of December). UMPG’s overall revenues were up 15% YoY at constant currency to EUR €1.335 billion in the period, primarily driven by growth in streaming royalties.

However, Covid’s impact took a negative toll here too: “[Publishing] performance revenue experienced the delayed negative impact of the 2020 Covid-related slowdown,” read UMG’s FY 2021 report.

Further summing up these Covid-related headwinds: Earlier this year UK collection society PRS For Music announced that it had distributed GBP £677.2 million in royalties to its members across the course of last year.

That figure was down 3.2% YoY, with Covid lockdowns to blame for the decline.

Over 160,000 songwriters, composers and music publishers are represented by PRS for Music; the UK org pays out royalties when their music is streamed, downloaded, broadcast, performed live and played in public.

PRS explained when announcing its 2021 results: “Royalties from North America were impacted to a lesser extent [by Covid lockdowns than royalties in the UK], as the nature of restrictions varied from those in the UK and public performance is generally a smaller percentage of royalties collected.”

It added: “Asia Pacific and Latin America were the most heavily impacted overseas territories, primarily due to stringent Covid-19 restrictions, such as a wholesale ban on music played publicly in Singapore.”

Now, though, some very welcome and positive signs are roaring into view regarding the return of post-Covid normality to music publishers’ global performance income.

Case in point: Last week, PRS For Music announced that its October payout to members was the biggest distribution in its 108-year history.

A GBP £211 million royalty distribution to its members represented an 18% YoY increase of £32.5 million, said the org.

PRS pays royalties through four main distributions each year: in April, July, October and December.

“The record payment of royalties by PRS for Music reflects our relentless focus on maximising the value of members’ rights.”

Andrea Czapary Martin, PRS For Music

Andrea Czapary Martin, CEO, PRS for Music, said: “The record payment of royalties by PRS for Music reflects our relentless focus on maximising the value of members’ rights.

“Ensuring members are paid as quickly and accurately is at the heart of everything we do.”

Live and public performance royalties were up 210% YoY in the October 2022 payout, said PRS, and included “all remaining royalties held for adjustment during the interruption to licensing during the pandemic”.

Money distributed from music played overseas, including cable retransmission, was up 2.5% against the same period in 2021, said PRS.

Last month, PRS For Music announced it will be launching a free portal for songwriter and composer credits.

PRS claims that “for the first time, metadata attributed to over 2 million works will be published, with plans to release millions more, over the following 12 months”Music Business Worldwide