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Thoughts on change in the P.R.O. system

Posted by MrNatch3L on Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I was going to post this on banjoak's thread Copyright, PRO, and real CHANGE, but I couldn't distill it down to a reasonable length for a post, so I decided to blog it.

One major problem I see with the P.R.O.s is a lack of easily accessible information. It's extremely hard to find out whether or not a song or other musical work is managed by a given P.R.O., determine definitively what the license fee actually is so as to be able to plan budgets (I tried to determine this for a website client who wanted to take out a license for an online jukebox-like feature on an online music teaching site - it was so insane that the client abandoned the whole site project entirely). Also, it seems, from the information one can glean from P.R.O. sites, that there is no sliding fee schedule for live venues based on e.g. gross revenues or something similar so that small cafes and coffee houses with lower revenues aren't charged the same as huge-grossing high-traffic nightclubs. Maybe I've missed something somewhere, but the fact is if the info is out there, it's difficult to locate and understand. So now, to be certain they will not have legal problems, venues have to take out a license from all 3 major P.R.O.s just because those cannot or will not find some other way than a blanket, one-price-for-all license model.

In this day and age it seems to me the P.R.O.s are not operating optimally, for themselves, the writers and composers they represent, their fellow musicians, small business (alleged backbone of the US economy) and society in general. They have apparently not thought about how they might take advantage of the potential of the internet age to increase licensing revenues by facilitating and encouraging more licensed local live performance -to mention only one area where they are (imo) leaving money on the table. Like iTunes, they could potentially generate smaller dollar amount license sales in high volume, from sources they are getting zip from right now because they discourage and intimidate rather than facilitate them.

What about an internet-based P.R.O. clearinghouse and license delivery system, cooperatively developed and managed by all the P.R.O.s? The major, and toughest to develop component would be a comprehensive database of song titles whose rights the P.R.O.s manage, and which P.R.O. manages the rights to which songs. It would also contain a schedule of fees for various uses of the works, per P.R.O. Once the data are available, the P.R.O.s could market it in any number of profitable ways. One way could be targeted to live performance venues. These could establish online accounts with the clearinghouse site which would include a profile that could contain information so that the system could calculate appropriate license fees. When a venue books live music, they would require the performer to submit their song list, which they input into the system (they could save the song list of performers they book with regularly... the system could enable venues to grant performers limited access to the venue account so they can input their song list and update it). The system should be able to give the venue a license quote for any live performance based on the actual songs to be performed, checking this against the database to find which P.R.O. manages the rights, and assigning the fee for the particular usage. There could be a sliding scale of fees. Venues could take out a "one night stand" license - at say a somewhat higher rate - or other licenses up to and including an annual blanket license at a lower, discounted rate. Venues could then purchase the quoted license on line, which would be generated in a printable form like PDF and of course registered in the P.R.O. clearinghouse system. There could be different fee schedules for commercial businesses, non-profits, churches, etc.

With a system like this, the P.R.O.s could take more of a sales-oriented approach. They could probably get a lot of free coverage in various trade press so that fewer establishments would be ignorant of the need to license live music. If they do find someplace that isn't licensed, they can show them an easy, affordable solution that would bring them into legal compliance. With such a system, and a volume-oriented, revenue-based scale of fees, there's no reason for any venue not to take out a license. Venues could easily tell if they can afford a license. If they can't, they should not have live music until they can. With the ability to get quotes, venues could plan and budget for the cost of live music down the road if they can't afford it today. Musicians should also be able to get quotes based on their song list and the capacity of a venue so they could understand the venue's cost. Bands and artists could optionally build the cost of licensing into their fee so the venue doesn't need to mess with it - a convenience for their customer - and they come to the gig with a printout of the clearinghouse license for their performance. (I hesitate on this approach a bit - I see potential for venues to abuse performers here.)

Of course this is all just brainstorming - I don't pretend to be qualified to design such a solution or create such a business plan or workable pricing models. But certainly the so-called music industry could muster the necessary skills and resources for some kind of solution along these lines. None of this is "rocket science" in this day and age. More complicated systems are being done by even small businesses every day. Sony or Disney could underwrite the development cost and not blink.

These are my ideas, such as they are, for a possible direction of real change in the P.R.O. system.

1 comment on “Thoughts on change in the P.R.O. system”

Bill Rogers Says:
Saturday, July 3, 2010 @1:09:58 PM

All of those good ideas would take work with the mind and some actual thought. I suspect PRO bureaucrats are like most: they hate thinking; they don't like alternatives because that means work and thinking. So they just go along with the heavy-fist approach. The public and the venues are the last folks they care about helping, and they simply lack the intellect and imagination to develop the internet ideas you suggest.

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