A Guide To PRS For DJs

TThe majority of DJs write their own music these days, but how many of them consider themselves “songwriters”? In electronic music, an artist is nearly always referred to as a DJ and a producer, but rarely a songwriter.

Editor’s note: The post is written by Terry Church, a co-founder of JustGo Music, and originally published on the JustGo Music Blog.

The issue is much bigger than just a question of industry vernacular. It goes to the very heart of DJ culture. It is about DJ self-image: electronic music producers scarcely think of themselves as songwriters because they have been indoctrinated to believe that dance music is not real music.


What caused this encroachment? Perhaps it came about because electronic music does not come from traditional instruments or classical music theory. Or quite simply, it might have been an imbued sense of music snobbery that first drove electronic music producers to refer to their completed works as “tracks” and not “songs”.

Indeed, even musique concrète’s godfather Pierre Schaeffer famously announced his growing disillusionment for his groundbreaking work in a 1967 essay entitled, “Music Concrète: What Do I Know?” (His style of avante-garde composition in the 1940s and 1950s is often cited as a precursor to electronic music).

At the time he wrote, “I felt extremely guilty… it’s not that I disown everything I did – it was a lot of hard work. But each time I was to experience the disappointment of not arriving at music. I couldn’t get to music – what I call music.”

Fast forward several decades, past 1980’s acid house raves, beyond the emergence of Ibiza as dance music’s Mecca, past superclubs, superstar DJs, and enormous dance music festivals in Europe, through to today’s consumer friendly American “EDM” pop culture, and electronic music artists are culturally in a very different place.

Electronic music is now played in clubs, bars and in the elevators of trendy hotels the world over. Dance music is played on the radio and on TV. It’s used in films and commercials. DJs open the Olympic Games. Dance music artists win Grammys – they have finally been given the respect they deserve.

And yet, electronic music producers still don’t think of themselves as “songwriters”. Why is that a problem? Because only songwriters can join a copyright collection society like PRS for Music in the UK. And that is costing dance music a huge amount of money in unpaid royalties: in just the UK alone last year, £25m worth of potential royalties for electronic music artists went unpaid. They would have got that money had they joined PRS for Music.

So how do DJ producers get their hands on that money? To help us understand the rather complicated world of copyright collection, we interviewed Mark Lawrence, Director of Membership for PRS for Music.


PRS for Music logo

How does PRS for Music work for DJs and producers?

We collect reporting wherever the song is used, whether that is online, clubs, TV, radio or overseas, to make sure we can pay the people whose music is played. It works in exactly the same way for electronic music artists, as it does for jazz or any other genre.

All an electronic music writer has to do is join PRS for Music and register their songs. It takes just a few minutes! We also issue music licenses to venues and nightclubs for music use which we match to writers so we can pay royalties. The success of this system hinges on artists becoming part of the process in the first place and registering what they have written.

What’s the benefit of an electronic music producer joining PRS for Music?

First and foremost, money. I think artists should think of PRS for Music as like a pension scheme in a way: it is the gift that keeps on giving. Every play earns you money. Your DJ career might only last a few years, however 10 years after you’ve written a track you could still be receiving royalty payments for it. It all adds up. Joining PRS for Music should be part of the portfolio of things that artists do to look after themselves in the long term.

You said every play earns money. What plays count exactly?

Tracks on CD, downloads, streams, and radio and television plays are all easily tracked so every play will get registered. The live environment is harder to track, and of course this is primarily where dance music is being played.

There are hundreds of nightclubs in the UK alone, and thousands of songs are played every night, so it would be impractical to send people to every venue to collect every track every night. Not to mention that expense would wipe out any royalties generated.

How it works currently is, every year we send out a company to make 500 random visits to venues across the UK. They compile every track that is played during those visits into one giant set list and if your song appears more than three times in that list, we will pay you royalties.

We are currently working on a technology solution with a number of hardware and fingerprinting organisations. There is something of an arms race on at the moment to try and achieve that nirvana position of being able to report in real-time from every nightclub the music that is played. That will happen at some point, and much sooner than we might think.

How much money does a single play of a track in a club generate for a producer?

We calculated that the average gig generates £8.40 per event. If 50 tracks are played over an event, that’s roughly 17p per track.

That doesn’t sound like much now, however when you think about every gig across the country, that will soon add up.

Radio plays generate a lot more money: a play on BBC Radio 1 generates £13.94 a minute. So if you are lucky enough to have a radio plugger get your track to Annie Mac and she plays your track on her show once a week for four weeks, then that could bring you in some decent money.

If you get your track onto the C, B or A list at a radio station, that can generate a lot more money.

By Terry Church, a co-founder of JustGo Music. Read the rest of the post at the JustGo Music Blog.