‘The Modern Role of Collection Agencies’ was a heated debate on what the collection agencies are doing to collect and manage their data accurately, and how to simplify the processes of applying and maintaining correct accounts for artists.
Granted, the societies have to deal with huge numbers but simple and secure systems should be in place, and the data should be automated from there to the respective departments. One unfavourable point that was raised, and was the cause of much criticism throughout, was that of escalating admin costs for the societies - a valid point when they deduct their admin fees from members’ royalties and operate as a non-profit organisation.
Steve Lawson offered a constructive and educated view, raising both that there is “little sense of you [the PPL / PRS] working on our behalf” and that “accountability and transparency are key critical points now and moving forward”. Again, the issue of expenditure was raised, with reportedly 200,000GBP spent on the PPL website without members’ consent. The PPL say that they sent every one of their 38,000 performers a letter inviting them to attend and contribute to the annual performers meeting, and it was also web-streamed, to which one long-term member said that he received no letter or email invite, and the fact that the PPL were using the postal service and were reliant on pieces of paper to communicate in 2009 was crazy.
The discussion almost ended in a bit of a Stalemate, with PPL and PRS representatives feeling that they are doing enough to move the payment and communications systems and admin fees forward and downward respectively. There were a number of fiery interjections debating about the efficiency of the organisations, and many audience members have varying contact, unsolved payments problems and were ultimately dissatisfied with some of the societies’ answers.
I managed to throw in the last query, which was a change of topic, welcomed by the moderator at that point(!), being: In developing nations, i.e. India, Thailand etc. there are millions of mobile phones / devices are being sold, and therefore there will be millions of music downloads and streams as a result. How do you plan to retrieve data and ultimately collect royalties in these new emerging markets? The PRS rep was keen to point out that they would be limited by the respective parties in those countries, where many associations exist but laws are often vague, rarely followed, and never enforced. Every foreign agency, the PPL has a reciprocal agreement with to collect foreign royalties, and the PPL guy will be travelling to numerous places in Africa and the Caribbean and starting to develop relationships with various artists and organisations, by starting at a grass roots performing level and hoping to build from there.
I think that some of the best comments came from the audience in this section of the conference, and the key point that stuck with me was that people’s perception is an obstacle for the companies to overcome so that more performers feel that they should join them. Attending events such as Unconvention and listening to audience feedback may be one way that they can move forward in this respect.