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Despite pub massacre, British songwriter revenue nudges up

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Performance royalties for British artists increased last year, driven by international agreements. Paid music use overseas was up almost 20 per cent to £166.9m, a healthy part of the £623m recorded by PRS For Music for 2009.

Britain is one of only three music exporters in the world - in other words, UK talent brings in more income from overseas sales and performance than we pay out to overseas acts*. PRS for Music collects performance revenue on compositions on behalf of composers and songwriters from radio, TV and venues such as shopping malls and hairdressers. It also collects mechanical royalties, which is the songwriters' (small) cut of a record sale. The PPL collects the other royalty, on the sound recording itself.

Digital revenues remain a small part of the picture - a mere £30m, but for the first time they grew faster than CD revenues declined. Deals saw songwriters benefit from MySpace, YouTube and Spotify.

"We are yet to see whether this sector is on the right trajectory to compensate creators for the loss of traditional CD and DVD royalties," the PRS notes.

Radio proved a tough market, since payments are related to advertising.

Historical anomaly: the mighty radio lobby always had far more clout than the fledgling record business. Politicians genuinely feared the nation's crystal sets booming out disparaging material, so when Big Radio asked them to jump, their only question was how high. Politicians don't really fear bloggers or tweeters in the same way.

Attempts by PRS For Music and the PPL to put the screws on offices have proved controversial, but snagged songwriters an extra £2.2m last year, according to PRS figures. It partly compensated for the desperate pub scene - 39 close each week, and pretty much each one paid its annual fee. Overall pub and club revenues fell 5.3 per cent.

Ominously, the PRS notes that "More sales are shifting into the fourth quarter each year as CDs become a 'gift purchase'".

Last year we noted how long the CD was taking to die. Maybe it's the new woolly jumper. ®

* Abba-riffic Sweden is the third net exporter. You can guess the other.

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