Large numbers of small scale and grass roots festivals in the U.K. could close as a result of collecting society PRS For Music increasing its fees, according to the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF).
The London-based trade association warns that any move by PRS to increase the live tariff fees paid by members would have a "catastrophic effect" on grassroots events. At present, PRS charge 3 percent of the gross receipts for a music festival license, subject to a minimum charge of £38.00 ($50). A review of the tariff was launched last year with proposals expected to be sent out to members in the next few months.
Ahead of their publication, AIF is warning that any increase to live tariffs would potentially bankrupt and close many small capacity and grassroots festivals, "destroying a vital platform for artists and songwriters."
"It is remarkable and absurd that festivals and concerts sit under a single tariff," said Paul Reed, general manager of AIF, which represents over 50 U.K. festivals with a combined audience of over 600,000.
"With the global recorded industry in transition, independent festival promoters are taking risks on breaking artists and staging high-risk events on incredibly tight margins. PRS for Music’s plans to increase this already inflexible and damaging tariff could mean the bankruptcy of many events that provide a valuable platform for both emerging and established artists," continued Reed, saying that "there is a clear, unarguable need for a separate festival tariff" that is "fair, transparent and sustainable."
Reed goes on to claim that when conducting the live tariff review, PRS contacted just 32,000 of its 118,000 members as part of the consultation process and received under 50 responses.
To ensure their survival, the live music body is calling for a separate festival tariff that takes into account the "unique nature, tight margins and high-risk nature of staging festivals." It cites the multi-venue tariff that exists in Ireland as an example of how this separate festival license can work and protect "vital incubators for developing new artists."
According to AIF, around 80 percent of acts performing at grassroots festivals fall into the category of new artists. At the 50,000-capacity Bestival, held on the Isle of Wight, around 35 percent of artists performing can be termed as developing and emerging talent, claims the association, which counts Bestival founder Rob da Bank among its board members.
AIF also notes that many festivals in the U.K. are multi-arts events with some of its members having only 12 percent music content onsite. Despite this, they still have to pay over 25 percent of their music programming budget to PRS For Music under the terms of the existing live tariff, it claims.
"Songwriters therefore are not driving this process. Any increase would be a naked land grab by PRS, driven solely by their executives and some major music publishers," he surmised.
PRS disputes that claim and says that it approached almost 2,500 tariff licensees, including live music venues and concert and festival promoters, as well as over 30,000 members who have received royalty income from live events. The total number of responses was 111, it says, comprising of 48 from members, 54 from licenses and 9 from other respondents.
"Collectively these responses represent the majority by revenue of the UK live market, not least because many of the individual respondents replied on behalf of a broad range of either licensees or songwriters," a spokesperson for PRS told Billboard, calling the volume of participants "a satisfactory consultation response’.
"We want to ensure that our live music tariff -- last set in 1988 -- is brought up to date to reflect the dramatic changes in the sector," said PRS For Music in a statement.
"Our review process continues with us carrying out active discussions with the relevant parties, aiming to agree on a licensing approach that is fit for the purpose of licensing live popular music events going forward. The PRS membership has been kept informed and our songwriter community is fully supportive of the ongoing process."