Robert Ashcroft on the future of music

It is a privilege to join PRS for Music at such a pivotal point in its history. Despite the digital revolution wreaking havoc on established business models and despite our assumptions about the way the world works coming under continual challenge, huge opportunities lie ahead of us.

Having launched two pan-European digital music services in my time, I’m as familiar as anyone with the world of digital media streaming and downloads. But I’m also very conscious that the bulk of our members’ livelihoods derive from other areas. That said, the digital revolution is putting both our members and our licensees under increasing pressure and we have to respond by offering an ever more efficient service. The good news is that there is no collection society better placed to prosper in this challenging environment than PRS for Music, so despite the challenges I am confident that we have an exciting future.

I have spent most of my first month getting to know people within PRS for Music and in the wider music industry. I started my tenure as Chief Executive at music industry conference MIDEM and, perhaps fittingly, given the number of years I spent living in France, my first official PRS for Music meeting was with the CEO of French collection society SACEM. Since then I’ve met with other leading collection societies and, closer to home, with BASCA and the MPA. With the European Commission determined to reshape the landscape of European collection societies, it is vital that we work with our sister societies and industry partners to influence European thinking in the best interest of our members.

In learning how the business works, listening to our members and licensees and talking to our counterparts in other countries, I’m constantly thinking: ‘What does it mean, where is it going, what are the risks and opportunities?’ My priority is to formulate answers to these questions.

One principle will guide me in this and that is the vital need to protect the value of copyright. Creators should be fairly rewarded for the use of their work and this principle is under threat from free, illegal file sharing. How we combat this, with whom we forge alliances and how we encourage both European and UK governments to support legal online music businesses is key to our future. In this we must find common ground with the film and television industries, also hit by the spread of piracy, and ISPs too, who face a similar challenge with ever-decreasing, all-you-can-eat pricing.

On a positive note, PRS for Music continues to cement its position as a market leader in providing pan-European licenses to our online music providing customers. With the launch of our IMPEL initiative in January this year (a collective of independent publishers who have joined together to license their Anglo-American mechanical digital rights on a pan-European basis, see news story p.11) we now offer our European customers more repertoire than ever before. We’ll be looking to increase this repertoire and the number of customers using it throughout 2010.

I’m also pleased that our new copyright database ICE has gone live (see p.12). It now exists as a separate business entity with its headquarters in Sweden. PRS for Music will continue to work very closely with ICE and our partners at Swedish collection society STIM to ensure that the inevitable teething problems are ironed out and that members start to see the benefits of having their royalties processed by a world leading copyright database.

Our recently published year-end numbers have confirmed that 2009 was a very successful year for PRS for Music. Despite one of the toughest financial years on record, 2009 saw us yet again increase the amount of money that we distributed to our members – with a total of £553.6 million paid out, nearly £25 million ahead of our budget of £529 million. You can see a full breakdown of the results elsewhere in the magazine [p.13]. And while 2010 has started well, giving us a solid platform , we are not complacent about the challenges that may come our way as the year progresses.

It’s a key time for the music industry and for PRS for Music in particular. The decisions we make now are vital for our future and we need to consider carefully what is best for our members.

Whatever decisions are made you can be sure that we will continue to focus on our overall goal of providing the best possible service to our songwriter, composer and publisher members as well as all our music using customers.

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