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Sounding Off: Performance Royalties For Producers

Andy East
By Andy East

The Chairman of the UK Music Producers' Guild argues that producers should be paid performance royalties for their studio contributions, even if they don't actually play.

Have you ever stopped to consider what constitutes a performance in the recording process? Should producers expect a share of the performance royalties for their contribution in the studio, even if they didn't physically play an instrument on the recording?

Music Producers' Guild UK logo.In the UK, recording artists have been paid a royalty known as 'needle time' or PPL (after Phonographic Performance Limited, the UK body that administers the payment) every time commercially released recordings featuring their performances are played on radio or television. However, this royalty hasn't traditionally been passed on to everyone involved in the recording process. Producers, for example, have never received any proportion of PPL payments as a matter of course, although occasionally, powerful producers have reached a 'points' agreement with the artist and are listed as musicians to sidestep this problem. Whether such producers actually play anything on the records in question is not for me to say, but let's just say there are a lot of percussionists in the industry...

One of the best examples of how the system usually worked until now is demonstrated by the case of Sir George Martin. Martin has long been considered the 'fifth Beatle', and I doubt if anyone would dispute the contribution he made to The Beatles' recordings. However, due to the absence during the '60s of any producer-royalty agreement like the one recently reached, Sir George has never received any performance income from any of the billions of Beatles records sold throughout the world.

The role of music producers has changed considerably over the years. At one time, producers were employees of record labels and closely involved in the A&R process. But in the 1960s, producers either became freelance or set up production companies, and in some cases, the producer was also the artist. Figures such as George Martin, Steve Rowland, and many others created the role of independent producers, while the likes of Phil Spector in the US and the legendary Joe Meek in this country created a signature sound in their work.

This has resulted in their recordings becoming more commonly attributed to them, as opposed to the named artist on the label. This evolution has continued through to the present day, where recordings are as well known by the producer's names as by those of the artists. In some cases, the production team are better known than some of their artists; Stock, Aitken and Waterman provide a good example from the UK music industry of the last 15 years.

In cases like these, producers arguably have the moral right to receive their fair share of PPL. It was to address such cases that the UK-based Music Producers' Guild, a professional body of UK producers of which I'm currently Chairman, took up the cause of ensuring that the issue of producers and PPL was recognised by the music industry. It's the MPG's belief that producers should receive a share of the PPL royalty, along with the recognition of their contribution to the recording. This was several years ago, and much negotiation with the relevant music industry organisations has now produced the formula that will enable studio producers to participate in PPL payments.

This agreement sets an important precedent: while it only covers the UK at present, we can expect it to result in changes in the music industry overseas, particularly in Europe. It also means that American producers may be at an advantage if they record in the UK, which could give British studios a welcome boost.

Many of you reading this will be wondering how the agreement will relate to you. Well, unless you have a recording that's being broadcast on television and radio, or is being played in a venue licensed by PPL, it won't. However, if you've been employed as a producer on a track that qualifies, you'll need to register with PPL (if you haven't already), although the appropriate claim forms aren't available just yet.

What you will need for the future is a concise list of all the recordings you've been involved in. If you were both producer and performer on the recording, it's a little more complicated, and may depend on the contract you have with your record company. You should be registered with PPL already as a performer, though.

But while agreement has been reached, there's still much to do; for example, dates for distribution of royalties and other issues have yet to be fixed. Mechanics of payment and percentages of PPL are also yet to be defined, and final agreement on back-dated payments on existing recordings has yet to be reached. This will be established shortly, and then payments can begin to be distributed. Meanwhile, the MPG will continue its work for acknowledgment of all those involved in creative input to the recording process.

About The Author

Andy East, a former engineer and session player, is currently Chairman of the MPG and manager of several recording artists via his management company, Hip-Hop Cow.

More information about the MPG and the latest on the recent PPL agreement can be found at www.mpg.org.uk.

Published June 2002