How it works: “Publishing Revenue Streams Percentages and Amounts”


A one minute play on BBC1 at prime time (between 6pm and 12pm) triggers a payment of £55.57 and at any other time triggers a payment of £33.34 (Lee Thompson)

Performance Income

In the UK, the Performing Right Society Limited (“PRS”) has a virtual monopoly in relation to performance income i.e. the income generated by the public performance of musical works (whether on radio or television or in discotheques, restaurants or other places of entertainment or in shops or any other public place). The PRS collects substantial licence fees and after payment of its administration costs divides up whatever is available for distribution between its various members. Unless the writer is a member of PRS he cannot participate in this income and in order to be accepted as a member the writer has to assign to the PRS the performance right in all of his musical works. The PRS will then pay six twelfths of any performance income attributable to the writer’s songs direct to the writer (the PRS still thinks in terms of twelfths rather than decimals) and will pay the remaining six twelfths to the publisher.

If the writer does not have a publisher then the entirety of the performance income will be paid direct to him. The manner in which the PRS calculates performance income for distribution to its members is complicated but there are some specifics. At the time of writing a one minute play on Radio 1 triggers a payment of £17.68 whereas a one minute play on Capital FM triggers a payment of only £1.31. A one minute play on BBC1 at prime time (between 6pm and 12pm) triggers a payment of £55.57 and at any other time triggers a payment of £33.34. These fees may appear small but a successful single which enjoys considerable airplay will generate substantial performance income.

Mechanical Royalties

In order to manufacture records the record company requires a licence (called a mechanical licence) from the owner of the song. Under the terms of the licence mechanical royalties are payable at the statutory rate (for records manufactured in the UK) of 8.5% of the dealer price. What is the 8.5% mechanical royalty worth? In the case of a full price CD the dealer price may be say £8.89 excluding VAT so that the 8.5% royalty is worth 75p. In the case of a record which features more than one musical composition this mechanical royalty liability will be divided between those compositions (so that the more songs are featured the less income is generated per song). Generally, the mechanical royalties are collected by the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society Limited (MCPS) on behalf of its publisher members. The MCPS deducts commission at the rate of 6.25% in the case of mechanical royalties payable by the major record companies and those other record companies operating under what the MCPS refers to as its AP1 Scheme (which is intended for record companies with a proven track record) and 12.5% in all other cases.

Synchronisation Fees

The consent of the copyright owner is required for the use of a piece of music in a film. The consent is given in the form of what is called a synchronisation licence and the fees payable under the terms of that licence are referred to as synchronisation fees. Hence, a synchronisation fee is payable by an advertising agency for the use of a piece of music in a television advertisement and is payable by a television company for the use of music to be broadcast on television and is payable by a film company for the use of any music incorporated in a film. Unlike performance income or mechanical royalty income (in relation to which neither the writer nor his or her publisher has any control over the method of calculation) synchronisation fees are freely negotiable so that the writer will rely upon his or her publisher to secure the best possible fee for each use. Even then, some uses are covered by what are known as “blanket” licence agreements including for example any background music used on television which will be covered by the general licences granted periodically by the PRS/MCPS to the broadcasters.

Print Income

The most traditional form of music publishing is the printing of sheet music. Before records were available publishers made their money by printing sheet music (for which there was then a great demand). There has been a resurgence of sheet music sales (more for song book compilations than single sheet music) and for some writers this is a material source of income.


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