I'm often going on about the iniquity of record companies and the things that they do or try to do. In particular, the foiled (so far) attempts to increase the performance copyright from the current fifty years.
But I must admit, I do have sympathy with the current campaign, highlighted in this week's Music Week by John Smith, general secretary of the Musicians' Union.
In the UK, PPL collects and distributes airplay royalites on behalf of the record companies and performers. PPL gets 5.25% of revenues of radio stations that earn roughly over £1m pa. While the MCPS-PRS Alliance collects and distributes royalties for composers, songwriters and publishers, and also gets 5.25% of revenues of radio stations that earn over the same amount.
In other words, UK radio stations pay the songwriters and the performers when they play a track.
This would seem fair to me, since most radio stations are generating their audiences because of the music they're playing, and the performances of those tracks. They're not getting session singers in to cover the songs after all. In the commercial sector, that audience is turned into revenue for the station. It's certainly true that stations add value to simply playing the music. They surround it with talent (your mileage may vary), and information services such as news and sport. They put the music in context, and select the music that they think their audiences will want to hear, not always what record companies want to push.
It's certainly also true that by giving tracks and performers exposure, they also help sell CDs and downloads, and make people want to go and see artists playing live - live performances now being one of the most significant areas of revenue with continued growth.
But without the material in the first place, music radio stations would have be able to attract audiences to their services at all. Most radio stations are under no illusions that they need music to survive, and it's their presentation of that music that makes them successful. It's notable that in the early days of BBC Radio and particularly the Third Programme (now Radio 3), there were limits to "needle time" - the amount of time that could be given over to pre-recorded records. Much airtime had to be given over to expensive live performances. But over time those requirement dissipated, and your average commercial ILR will play minimal live music, relying almost entirely on CD recordings.
The idea of paying both the songwriters and performers has been adopted throughout most of the world.
But, somehow, in US this has never been the case. Songwriters get paid, but performers don't.
Over the years various attempts have been made to give performers the right to benefit from radio airplay. But this has never come to pass. Hence there is now musicFIRST.
At first this might seem not to affect the UK, but of course British artists don't get paid. And surprisingly, US artists seemingly don't benefit from UK airplay since there's no reciprocal arrangement. I must admit, I suspect, but don't know for sure, that many acts do benefit, with localised setups ensuring that they do well. For example, The Killers are published by Universal in the UK. While I have no direct knowledge of how they're set-up I would be amazed if European performance rights aren't tied into a European domiciled company. I rather suspect that the artists that are missing out are those that are only published in the US and are played as import records in the UK. In this instance, it's likely to be smaller artists rather than bigger ones that are losing out (If anyone would care to correct me on this, I'd pleased to do so).
A cynic might argue that this concerted effort is only happening now because record companies are seeing losses and diminishing CD sales are not being replaced by download revenues. To a large extent this is probably their own fault, but that's not relevant. It is an iniquitous situation.
Now I am aware that this campaign is led by SoundExchange, the organisation that's responsible for one of the most ridiculous charging regimes for internet broadcasters in the world, and something seems to be doing its level best to snuff out the industry altogether. But I do believe that copyright owners and performers do deserve fair payments for use of their material. The key word there is "fair."
The bottom line is that radio stations need performances for them to suceed. Similarly, artists need radio stations to promote their records. But it's probably not an equal balance. Paying for the right to play music seems equitable to me.