Compulsory PRS fees continue to damage Bristol music venues

Local Labour MP Kerry McCarthy is pushing to reduce a £38 Performing Rights Society (PRS) fee, which is said to be damaging local venues by the charity Music Venue Trust.

The compulsory payment is inflicted upon independent venues per live show which has left some struggling to turn over profit.

McCarthy is a patron of the trust and has scheduled to meet with PRS to discuss the fee. She stated, “Venues like The Fleece, Exchange and Thekla are an important part of Bristol’s night-time economy.”

“I met with the Culture Minister, Matt Hancock, to discuss this campaign. It might seem like a small amount but if you’re talking about audiences of 50, it eats into money made.”

In the last 10 years, the UK’s music venues have decreased at a rate of 40%. Founder of the Music Venue Trust, Mark Davyd, says that Bristol isn’t an exception and that a contributing factor to this decline is the fee.

“That £38 is applied to 400 of these venues across the UK. It’s £38 regardless of the amount of tickets you sell, regardless of any extenuating circumstances. When you add it all together at a rate of five nights a week, it starts to be a significant amount of money.”

Where does the money go?

PRS are yet to comment, but detail through their website that the music licenses ensure that songwriters, composers and publishers get paid when their music is used. They also deduct administration costs.

Despite some musicians benefiting, it also means that certain venues in Bristol are less willing to take risks on booking smaller bands than they used to because of ticket sales concerns.

Owain Jones, promotions assistant at Thekla has said they have significantly reduced their number of local shows. “It’s increasingly harder to justify a solely local band bill at a venue the size of Thekla as the costs of opening the venue are just too high for a show that will likely not sell enough tickets to make any money.”

“It’s becoming harder for music venues to make money in the current industry, it makes more sense for a venue to be shut than to open at a loss.”

Despite certain factors dragging down venues in the city, it was reported in a study by Bucks University that the Bristol music scene generated over £123m of revenue for the local economy in 2015.

Another positive is that some venues have diversified in order to stay afloat. For example, The Exchange in Old Market recently opened a coffee shop to make extra income from the space.

Owner Matt Otridge stated, “It’s not really rocket science, when you have music venues you don’t end up utilising it for large hours in the day. The space lends itself well to doing a coffee shop. It’s a busy commuter run and there’s lots of student developments out the back, so it will be loads of extra bodies in the area who might want to stop by for a coffee.”

Former new music editor at the NME and Apple Radio presenter Matt Wilkinson stresses the importance of places like Exchange surviving. “These venues take real chances by booking brand new artists, and in turn they help nurture and develop them. Without the freedom and helping hand they offer, the entire British music landscape would be dramatically different.”

This is backed up by a tried and tested case study, Frank Turner, who began his career playing in some of Bristol’s smaller venues like Thekla and The Louisiana. He has since gone on to play the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony and perform sell out shows at Wembley.

As an ambassador of the Music Venue Trust, he states, “Independent venues are vital for the existence of a vibrant music scene; not just the underground, but also for the mainstream, if it is to have a hinterland of any kind. Our culture needs a space to exist in, without it, it is endangered.”

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