Tuesday, 24 February 2015

PRS ProDub License

There has been a new license requirement. PRS ProDub, which although appears primarily aimed at DJ's, could also affect other professions such as singers, bands and fitness instructors.

Firstly, don't panic, if you buy all your music in digital format, and play directly from this you do not require a license. The license allows you to legally copy music you have purchased from one format to another, and transfer music files form one machine to another. I'm guessing there's an air of confusion regarding this statement, and understandably so. 

Copying music from one format to another (e.g. ripping a CD to play back on your laptop or MP3 player) is known as format shifting. When a copy is created in a new format (and the original purchased disc or purchased file isn't used in the playback machine) then the license becomes necessary. This applies even if you purchase MP3's onto your main PC and then transfer them to another playback machine (laptop, MP3 player, external hard drive etc.). The license only relates to music that is used for public performance.

As you can imagine, the implementation of the license isn't going down well, especially for those DJ's and Karaoke DJ's who have copied all their genuine CD's, vinyl or CDG tracks onto their players with the primary objective of making things far easier to transport and utilising the many programs that can access files far quicker than a CD player. For some bizarre reason the licensing tariff begins with the minimum option of 1-5000 tracks. So essentially the license costs the same if you only have 12 tracks that require transferring as it does for 5000 tracks. As with many things related to music licensing the information available is lacking in clarity so if you feel that this license may be necessary for you, further information can be obtained from the PRS website.

Karaoke Backing Tracks

Acceptable standards regarding the use of karaoke backing tracks (cdg etc.).

Once the purpose of the singing becomes earning related and of a more professional nature, the expectations of an agent, concert secretary and pub manager become somewhat higher. As such, the quality and nature of your music becomes an essential factor in determining your success and earnings potential. Venues are well aware that they can usually book a karaoke night for less cost than a professional singer. This is no disrespect to those who run a karaoke show or to karaoke D.J.'s. There are many that work tirelessly and are equally as professional as others in the music industry, however the harsh reality for a singer is that the venue expects things to be more polished both vocally and musically. A karaoke night can turn out to be a brilliant night, irrespective of the quality of vocals and music, as audience participation is the most essential factor for an entertaining evening. As a professional vocalist you have ultimate control over the music selection and praise or criticism is directed at you alone, so it really does pay to make wise choices.

The type of recording that wasn't intended to be used as a professional backing track - the fade-out.
Having spoken to many clubs/pub licensees and concert secretaries over the years, a common complaint we hear is one that relates to paid artists use of karaoke tracks (specifically fade-out tracks), rather than professional backing tracks. The concept of fading out a track is primarily used by the DJ industry and radio stations. A radio station uses this technique to maintain a flow, and will introduce something before the fade ends e.g. the DJ may begin talking or another track may fade-in. Let's consider a karaoke track that fades-out. The whole purpose of this is to enable the karaoke operator to speak once the singer has stopped singing, and to do this whilst the track is still fading out - exactly the same as a radio DJ. As such, a track that fades out provides no benefit to a solo singer. There is a temptation to use a track like this because it's a song you like, and one that you cannot obtain with a complete ending. however if it could affect potentially affect the chance of a re-booking it's probably not worth the risk.

Licensing: legal requirements for performing with karaoke backing tracks and audio backing tracks.
Tracks may be used for public performance on the proviso that the tracks have been purchased by the user. The reason for this is because part of the price you pay for the music (in any format) includes a royalty payment paid on your behalf by the seller to the licensing agent. The licensing agent then forwards the payment to the relevant copyright owner. In its simplest form, when you buy a backing track from us we are required to send a percentage of the money to the person who wrote the song.
The licensing/copyright laws are complex; however I'll try to explain how they generally apply to a performing vocalist. If a track has been downloaded from the internet without any form of payment, any public performance using that track is against the law in the UK (and many other international countries). The same applies to any tracks duplicated from karaoke/backing track discs (original or copies) for which you cannot provide proof of ownership. All music contained within digital media falls into this same category (MP3's, USB sticks, CD, minidisc etc.). The easiest way to check if you are working legally is to ask yourself the question 'upon request can I provide proof of purchase for my music or music downloads'? If the answer is 'no' then the right for you to use the track for public performance has automatically been refused by the copyright holder.

The easiest way to avoid any problems is to purchase from the correct sources.
By sourcing your tracks from a reputable producer/supplier you don't need to worry about track licensing. This is handled by the producer/supplier.
Tracks will be supplied at the bit-rate advertised. Tracks sourced from file-sharing sites and YouTube etc. are invariably poor quality, and you have no way of knowing how many times the MP3 track has been manipulated before it was uploaded to the internet (thus decreasing the quality further). If a track indicates it is 128kbps (which is already less than your PA system deserves) there's a good chance the recording is only a 96kbps track and has been labelled as 128kbps, 256kbps could really be 128kbps, etc.
Tracks purchased from the same production company should all have a fairly consistent level to them, thus avoiding the need to keep adjusting the mixer volume/gain levels.