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The long-read: Who are PPL & how do I get paid?

Ahead of Industry Takeover 2023, we revisit one of our most read features, as Chantelle Fiddy goes head-to-head with our event supporter, PPL, in an exclusive long-read, packed with essential information for record label owners, performers, managers and creators… 

For anyone dabbling in the UK music business, PPL is a name you definitely need to familiarise yourself with. Do you self-release your music? Have your vocals or instrument-playing ever featured on a single? Are you performing your music? If you’ve answered yes to any of these, you’re reading the right blog. 

From emerging grassroots artists through to established session musicians and globally renowned stars, PPL ensures revenue flows back to its members (in 2020 alone, PPL collected £225.7million for distribution). Committed to working towards a more diverse, equitable and inclusive music landscape, if you’re coming to our Industry Takeover All Dayer event on September 4th, PPL will be there too, curating a selected group of experts to share their knowledge and experience. 

Providing you with advance knowledge to whet your Industry Takeover appetite, this long-read gives invaluable insight into how to become a PPL member and get paid. We also look to understand the work of PPL and how the last 18 months have impacted the music industry and the future… 

You have a long-standing working relationship with UD, what makes UD’s work stand out to PPL?

UD is very close to its community and works hard to champion and develop young Black talent, spotting potential and empowering them to build a career in the creative industries.  PPL is proud to support this work, helping to deliver educational sessions, workshops and 121s that build career pathways into the industry for UD’s community.

Let’s take it back a bit; how and when did PPL start? What’s the history? 

PPL was established in 1934, following a test case that was brought by a record label against a café that was playing one of the label’s records to entertain its customers. The argument was that copyright of a recording includes the “performance” of it (i.e. it being played), not just its copying. This case was successful and established the idea of a “performance right” in the UK and around the world. PPL was set up shortly after to administer the licensing and royalty collection for these rights. 

The performance rights for recordings are more specifically referred to as “neighbouring rights”. Today over 80 countries recognise neighbouring rights, and it began with PPL.   

Can you explain Neighbouring Rights to someone who’s never heard of it? 

Sound recordings are protected by copyright. In many countries, a sound recording generates royalties when it is played on radio or TV, in an online broadcast, or in a public place. If you own a sound recording (a recording rightsholder) or have performed on one, you may be eligible to receive these royalties. Neighbouring rights is the term used to describe such royalties. These are generally licensed collectively, such as by PPL in the UK. Neighbouring rights also covers other rights such as Private Copying, Rental and Lending.

I often meet artists who don’t understand the difference between PRS and PPL, can you explain this please? 

PPL collects and distributes money for the use of recorded music. We do this on behalf of the performers on a recording (such as a guitarist or a singer) and the recording rightsholder (often a record label or a self-releasing artist).

PRS for Music collects and distributes money for the use of compositions. It does this on behalf of authors (songwriters, composers, lyricists) and publishers for the use of musical compositions and lyrics.

It is possible to be a songwriter, performer and recording rightsholder at the same time, and so be a member of both PPL and PRS for Music and collect royalties from each respectively.

Why is it so important to be a PPL member? How much does it cost? 

If you have performed on a recording and/or control the rights for when it is broadcast and played in public, you may be entitled to a share of the royalties collected by PPL. In 2020 we collected a total of £225.7 million for performers and recording rightsholders. Our members receive a fair share of these collections where their recordings are broadcast or used in public in the UK and in various territories around the world. Whether you are a session musician, a festival headliner, a small independent label or a major record company, you can join PPL for free. 

How do you get paid?

As a performer, once you have registered with PPL, you can then make claims against the recordings on which you have performed. As a recording rightsholder once you have registered your recordings with PPL, payments will begin if the tracks are broadcast or played in public.

Payments for use of music in the UK are made twice a year, in June and December. For members who have authorised us to represent them internationally, payments for use of music outside of the UK are made quarterly, in March, June, September and December. 

When you go to join PPL, there are two different account types, can you explain the difference (I meet a lot of people who have signed up as performers but not as rightsholders so are therefore missing out on potential income)?

We collect and distribute money on behalf of the performers on a recording (such as a guitarist or a singer – anyone that has made an audible contribution) and the recording rightsholder (often a record label or a self-releasing artist). PPL members therefore choose to register as either a performer or a recording rightsholder. If they are a performer and recording rightsholder they can register for both accounts, via one registration process. 

Producers may also become members of PPL as their contributions can sometimes be treated as a “performance”. This applies where a studio producer conducts or provides a similar musical direction to another performer’s live performance as it is being recorded, or if they have audibly performed on the record. Claims for such performances can be made using the Eligible Studio Producer form, a document which outlines the contributions made by the producer and is signed by both the featured artist(s) on the track and producer. This allows the producer to earn royalties from their contributions and prevents disputes at a later date that can delay payment.

If you’re self-releasing your music and are signing up as a rightsholder/ label, what information do you need to register the catalogue?

To register a new recording, log into your myPPL account and click ‘Register Repertoire’. You will need to provide the following data:

  • ISRC – a unique code that identifies a recording. Each recording rightsholder is assigned an ISRC “stem” when registering, which is then used to create a full ISRC for each recording registered. You can find more information about ISRC codes here: https://www.ppluk.com/membership/more-information/isrc/
  • Recording Title
  • Band/Artist name
  • Content type
  • (P)Date – the year the track is/was released
  • (P)Name – the name of the recording rightsholder that released the track
  • Country of recording – where the track was recorded
  • Country of commissioning – likely to be the home country of the self-releasing artist
  • A full performer line-up – everyone that played on the record
  • The countries where the recording rights are owned – likely to be all countries if self-releasing
  • The start date of these rights – typically from when the track was released if self-releasing

Another thing I don’t think is well understood and would benefit from some insider expertise is the importance of data; according to how the performer is listed in PPL determines how much they will earn from their performance. Can you explain this pls? 

The most important thing a performer can do is to ensure they have claimed for all of their performances on recordings in our database. We recommend our members regularly audit their myPPL profile to ensure the performance data contained in our database is up to date and correct. This will help them receive all royalties due to them as well as reduce the chance of any delays in payment.  

To ensure they receive the correct royalties, performers must also identify whether they are a featured or non-featured artist. This is because royalties earnt by a recording are split 50/50 between the recording rightsholder and the performers on the recording.  The performer half is then further split, with featured performers evenly sharing 65% of the performer half, and non-featured performers evenly sharing the remaining 35%. It is therefore crucial to have a comprehensive and accurate list of the performers on a recording to ensure these splits are correct. 

A featured performer is typically the named artist, or artists, on the recording, or a member of the named band. A non-featured performer is anyone that is not a featured performer, such as a session musician.

Do you offer any one-to-one help in setting up accounts and logging data? 

We run regular ‘In Session’ events which are available to all members and, where relevant, prospective members. These explain the main elements of what PPL does and also show how to use myPPL. We also attend a variety of in-person (when allowed) and virtual events around the country, offering 1-1 advice sessions for those looking to learn more about PPL.

We also have a comprehensive FAQ section on our website that helps you manage your membership through myPPL, our member portal, and you can call our dedicated Member Services team on 020 8068 1054 who will be able to help.

A lot of people don’t realise they have up to six years from a release date to get their PPL account in order. If I released my EP five years ago and haven’t registered as a rights holder or performer what would you recommend I do next? 

PPL does have six “open years” – the period in which money accrued by a recording can be claimed. However, a recording must be registered for royalties to start being collected. If a recording is not registered with us then we do not have the right to license it and collect the subsequent royalties. In the example given, PPL would not have been licensing the recordings on the EP for five years, and so no royalties would have been allocated to it. Our recommendation is always to register recordings with us as soon as soon as possible – even before release – so that royalties can start to be collected immediately.    

How are royalties actually collected? 

PPL has three main revenue streams: 

  • Broadcast and online

PPL licenses UK broadcasters to use recorded music on the radio, on TV and in certain types of online services that play music in a linear, non-interactive fashion, such as online radio. The licence fee we collect from these music users is then used to pay the performers and rightsholders of the recordings played.

  • Public performance

Through PPL PRS Ltd, our joint venture with PRS for Music, PPL licenses businesses and organisations that play music. PPL PRS Ltd licenses hundreds of thousands of shops, bars, nightclubs, offices and other users of recorded music in public, with the licence fee collected then paid to the performers and recording rightsholders of the recordings played.

  • International

Performers and recording rightsholders are entitled to royalties when their recordings are played outside of the UK. PPL has over 100 agreements with collection societies in other countries through which we are able to collect royalties for overseas recording usage. To receive these royalties, members simply need to authorise us to represent them worldwide.

Looking at today and the future, how has the work PPL do changed/ moved on? 

Between 2009 and 2019, PPL’s annual revenue more than doubled, from £129.6 million to £271.8 million. Before COVID-19 our collections were increasing year-on-year, and we expect royalty income to keep growing once we return to pre-pandemic revenue levels, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, PPL PRS Ltd, the public performance licensing joint venture between PPL and PRS for Music, is only 3 years old, and we still believe there is plenty of room to grow UK public performance licensing revenue. The use of music by businesses is more popular than ever, and TheMusicLicence offered by PPL PRS Ltd has made it easier for businesses to get their music licensing completed in one transaction with one company (PPL PRS Ltd), rather than the two (PPL and PRS for Music), as it used to be. 

Around the world, new markets in Africa, Asia and Latin America continue to grow and PPL regularly establishes new agreements with collection societies that help us represent our members’ rights in these markets and collect royalties for them. We currently have 105 agreements with collection societies overseas.

The collection and distribution of these royalties is underpinned by technology. Over the last decade PPL has been a pioneer of recording data management, collecting metadata for thousands of new tracks each week. It now holds metadata on over 19 million recordings in one of the most comprehensive databases in the world. We continue to be at the forefront of a series of data initiatives that maximise royalties for our members and improve the quality and accuracy of recording metadata as well as the efficiency with which it is shared around the world: 

  • In 2020, Repertoire Data Exchange (RDx), a centralised industry data exchange service launched by IFPI and WIN and built and run by PPL, became operational. Providing a single point where recording rightsholders and rightsholder collection societies can submit and access accurate recording data, RDx has worked with Universal Music, Sony Music and Beggars Group to successfully add their sound recording data to the service. 
  • PPL is also playing a leading role in developing the Virtual Recordings Database (VRDB), an ambitious project to deliver a more efficient way to exchange recording and performer data between performer CMOs.     

After 18 or so months without live music and entertainment, artists are due to suffer furthermore as we see performance royalty income decrease. How bad does it look statistically speaking from a PPL point of view? 

In 2020 we collected £225.7 million for performers and recording rightsholders in 2020; a decrease of £46.1 million (17%) from 2019. However, this is still PPL’s third highest annual collections total and, as COVID-19 restrictions further ease in the UK, we expect our domestic revenues will begin to recover this year, although not yet returning to pre-COVID levels. 

Over the longer term, we remain very positive about this sector’s growth prospects and the income it will create for our members. Between 2009 and 2019, PPL’s annual revenue more than doubled, from £129.6 million to £271.8 million, and we are confident the sector will continue to grow strongly once we have moved beyond the impact of COVID-19.

As we face greater challenges in access to music education and on-going uncertainty around the survival of venues, financial viability for artists, touring and so forth, what is PPL focusing on at current time, in relation to a pandemic response, Brexit (if applicable), and generally speaking…

Our quarterly distributions became even more important as many of our members saw their incomes severely impacted by lockdown as a result of the closure of recording studios and live music venues. In response, just a few weeks into the first national lockdown, we made an advance payment of £23.9 million to more than 15,000 of our members to bridge the gap between our regular March and June distributions. In total, across 2020 we paid out £260 million with nearly 135,000 performers and recording rightsholders receiving at least one payment.

In 2020 we also contributed £1.4 million to a number of hardship funds to support musicians, singers, freelancers, music managers, live events staff and other music professionals whose livelihoods had been severely impacted by the pandemic. Donations were made to hardship funds administered via AIM, BPI, Help Musicians, the Music Managers Forum, the Musicians’ Union and Stagehand.

In 2020 and 2021 we also expanded our support of PRS Foundation, the UK’s leading charitable funder of new music and talent development. We became a primary funder of the PPL Momentum Fund in early 2020. The fund offers career-boosting grants of £5,000 – £15,000 to UK-based artists and bands at a pivotal point in their development and has helped the careers of some of the UK’s brightest talents, including Years & Years, Kate Tempest, Ms Banks, Sam Fender, Anna Calvi, Novelist and Moses Boyd. In 2020 55 artists received support from the fund. We also support the regional-specific PPL Momentum Accelerator Fund, which established a Yorkshire programme in 2020 and has supported six artists to date. We are a long-term supporter of PRS Foundation’s International Showcase Fund, which helps artists invited to play showcases overseas cover the costs of such shows. The fund pivoted to support virtual performances during 2020. In early 2021 we also became supporters of PRS Foundation’s Talent Development Partners, a network of organisations that support the development of new talent. Our support helped expand the network to 55 organisations. The network includes UD as well as organisations like Jazz re:freshed, Oh Yeah Music Centre, Sage Gateshead, Wide Days and Opera North.

Each year we also donate funds or sponsor a number of charities and projects in the music industry. For example, Peter Leathem, our CEO, is Chair of the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine (BAPAM), which provides medical advice to people working and studying in the performing arts. In 2020 PPL and Help Musicians jointly funded a new bursary scheme to improve counselling support for Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities working in the UK music industry. We are also long-standing supporters of Nordoff Robbins, the UK’s largest music therapy charity. It uses the power of music through its therapy services and music and health projects to enrich the lives of children and adults with life-limiting illnesses, disabilities or feelings of isolation. 

Finally, this past year we have also recognised that we could do more and do better with regards to equity, diversity and inclusion at PPL, and in the wider music industry. Blackout Tuesday served as a wake-up call and an opportunity to consider what more we could do to make real and meaningful change, and since that day we have proactively introduced a number of policies and initiatives. It is just the start, but we believe we have made progress. 

We launched an internal Diversity Forum with a remit to push forward ideas, deliver feedback and provide wider support to bring about positive change across PPL. The Forum’s formation was part of a five-point pledge drawn up by PPL and which served as our response to the Black Music Coalition’s call to action for the UK music industry. We also signed up to the UK Music Diversity Taskforce’s Ten Point Plan, which aligns evidence and metrics to strategic action to help increase diversity and inclusion among UK Music’s member organisations, including PPL. Finally, we have increased diversity on both the PPL Board and the Performer Board and will continue to go further.


To learn more about the inner workings of the music industry, sign up for the Down To Business rights panel at #IT2023 at UDTickets.com.

All events from March 27th – April 2nd are free! 1 House. 7 Days. 20+ events. Are you ready to Takeover?

This article was originally published in 2021.

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