When it comes to launching a career in songwriting, most creators are laser-focused on the creative details of their work. But to monetize their art, it's critical that artists keep the business of music in mind—which includes tracking and collecting royalties. That’s where Collecting Societies come in (which include PROs, CMOs, and Mechanical Rights Organizations. These groups ensure songwriters and artists reap the financial rewards of their work-making sure the performing and mechanical royalties that streams generate are collected on a songwriter's behalf.
For help in the U.K., more than 160,000 songwriters, composers, and publishers have turned to PRS (Performing Right Society) for Music, which tracks the 30 million works registered with the group. The organization works with Spotify via a third party licensing hub called ICE to collect and match platform data against the copyright database so that artists can get paid. And after ICE communicates its findings, PRS for Music steps back in, translating listening into payments to its members.
But for many creators, however, the road to success is paved with more than paychecks. That’s why PRS for Music ensures that songwriters not only get paid, but get the education and support necessary to progress their careers. That includes proactively reaching out to emerging artists, fostering creative collaborations big and small, and providing financial support to writers who are experiencing financial hardship through the group’s nonprofit the PRS Foundation. The organization has previously partnered with Spotify to launch a multi-day songwriting camp that brought together creatives and industry members at London’s iconic RAK Studios. Spotify is also the exclusive digital partner for PRS Foundation's Hitmaker Fund, which supports behind-the-scenes songwriters and producers.
Spotify spoke with Martin Maguire, Head of Publisher Support and Relationships at PRS for Music, to learn more about the organization and get his advice for songwriters starting their careers.
What are some ways PRS for Music makes sure songwriters are prepared to get their foot in the door and get paid?
While a creative person may have an abundance of talent within songwriting or performance, quite often they don't have an interest in the business element of it. So our first port of call is to educate them as to what it is we will do on their behalf and what is required of them, like registering their works. We also proactively license all of their works for them. Effectively anywhere your music is used, we are out there trying to license for you, obtain that data, match it, and then accurately pay it out. The real support that we are giving is that we have economies of scale. We are licensing on behalf of a broad spectrum of members and affiliates because we have reciprocal agreements with over 100 different societies across the world. That's the real key. That's the magic that we do.
When joining PRS for Music, songwriters have a few choices. They can join the PRS (Performing Right Society) and/or the Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society (MCPS), both of which pay royalties depending on how a creative work is used. Do you have any suggestions on how to navigate this choice?
PRS deals with the performing royalties. MCPS deals with the mechanical royalties. For every play of a work, whether it be on Spotify or on BBC One or on Netflix, it generates both kinds of royalties. If you are an emerging songwriter and you are unpublished, I would say it is within your benefit to join PRS and MCPS because it’ll make sure that you are maximizing the revenue that is attributable to you. However if you are published, you don't need to be an MCPS member because the publisher will do the mechanical collection and licensing on your behalf.
Do you often find songwriters aren't always aware of all the ways to capitalize on their work?
One thing I've learned is to never assume that people understand how the industry operates, no matter how far ahead in their career they are. We talk to established writers who still don't grasp how it works. The information is out there if you want to find it, but some people don't know that they need to find it. Sometimes, a songwriter might be quite far along in their journey before someone mentions they should join PRS or MCPS. That’s why we have a keen focus on education and outreach, and really trying to nurture those relationships early on to give songwriters that knowledge and expertise that they'll need for the rest of their careers.
Is there something specific that creators should do to make sure that they're maximizing their royalties?
When a songwriter or composer affiliates with PRS, we take them through a journey of how to maximize their PRS account. The starting point is always the registration of the work. Once you become a member of a PRO (Performance Rights Organization) and you're assigning your rights to a PRO, they will license those rights for you. But the first thing we need to know is what are we licensing? What works are you attributing to our network? It's the accurate registration of those works that's key. The more data we can get from the songwriters, and the more accurate they can be with their registrations, the simpler the process becomes for all parties.
Finally, what are three tips you give songwriters to help them find their footing in the industry?
Number one, join PRS. Number two, register your works. And number three, I think probably the key, is network. As cheesy as it sounds and as often as these sorts of things are referenced, your network is your net worth. If people don't hear your work, you will always be operating in a vacuum. You need to get out there and network with people, collaborate with people, because that's how your journey starts. It can be online as well and can take place via social media, but you need to get yourself heard. The onus is on you. If you've got a team around you, brilliant, but if you don't, network.