The well-worn cliché that the years pass so much more quickly the older you get is never far from my thoughts at this time of year. They say that you're getting older when policemen look younger and younger. What about school teachers? I was at a secondary school last week and the teachers were pretty much indistinguishable from the pupils - whatever happened to tweeds, twinsets and elbow patches for goodness sake? See, another sign of old age: low-level pointless rants about nothing of any real significance.... I need to get a grip.
Looking back on the year, the Musicians' Union and our friends in the music industry can feel moderately pleased with what we achieved.
What did we achieve in 2015? Well:
- We gave the Government a bloody nose when they tried to introduce a private copying exception with no fair compensation. We told them it wouldn't stand up in court, we told them that if they did it we would take them to a judicial review and we told them that if we went to a judicial review we would win. Right on all three counts.
- On the live music venue front, concerted lobbying and campaigning over several years brought about a further extension in the exemption from the licensing act for music venues, increasing the audience capacity from 200 to 500; representing another important step towards creating an environment more favourable to our precious live music venues.
- The Union was shocked when the house band was removed from the West End production of War Horse and replaced with a recording. We immediately launched a legal action against the producers and, as a result, secured a substantial out of court settlement for the five musicians.
- Apple scrapped its plans to waive payments to rights owners during the three month trial period of its new Apple Music service. OK, so maybe Ms. Swift can take most of the credit for this one but we all played our part.
So what about 2016, what do we want to achieve this year? This is my list:
- Top of the list has to be fairer royalties for performers from digital services. The Fair Internet campaign launched last year has got to continue to lobby and push for a change in the way that the revenue received from streaming and download services is paid out by the record companies. There needs to be a recognition that streaming services are simply a new version of radio, and as such, performers should receive a share of streaming revenue commensurate with that that they receive from radio play. Listen up Brussels, this must happen in 2016.
- The UK has some of the finest orchestras in the world yet our Government has run them into the ground with successive funding cuts over the last five years. The musicians in these orchestras who have spent most of their childhood and all of their adult life achieving a level of ability that is world class are being paid a wage that does not in any way reflect the talent and dedication that the standard of these orchestras require. Fund the orchestras properly and pay the musicians what they are really worth. If this doesn't happen soon then the talent will be lost and our place on the orchestral world stage will be permanently damaged.
- The Union is heavily involved in the 'Let It Beeb' campaign to highlight the need to protect the BBC and ensure that it is properly funded going forward. This Government appears to be blind to the value of so many of the cultural treasures that we have all grown up with and are the fabric of our lives; the BBC is undoubtedly one of them. Sometimes I think that the very best way to appreciate the BBC is to leave the country. Not only are almost all of the TV networks in other European countries falling far short of the quality of broadcasting that we enjoy over here but it also seems that the biggest fans of the BBC are the people who don't live here. Visit other countries and talk to the people you meet about the BBC and you will find that they are universally full of envy and admiration for our BBC. In many cases the reason for this is simply that they don't trust the news channels in their own countries but they trust the BBC. This is even more evident when you spend some time in the USA; take your pick of the TV channels stateside, I guarantee you will be disappointed. Protecting the BBC is a no-brainer.
- The UK's live music venues are having a really hard time of it. There's no doubt that competing forms of entertainment and leisure activities are taking their toll but there is something much more pernicious threatening live music venues in the UK. The relaxation of planning laws has meant that property developers have been snapping up vacant inner-city office blocks and turning them into dwellings. The result of this is that the inner-city live music venues that previously had no worries about noise complaints - because everyone in the vicinity went home at six o'clock - are now receiving noise abatement notices from the local authority following complaints from the newly arrived residents. There is a very simple and appropriate solution for this problem and it's called the 'agent of change principle'. This principle requires the person who has brought about the change that has resulted in noise complaints to take all necessary measures to put things right. In other words, it would be the property developer's responsibility to pay for and ensure that there was sufficient sound-proofing and not the venue owners. This principle works both ways inasmuch as it would be the venue owner's responsibility to do the same in the event that a venue opened up in a residential area resulting in noise complaints from the local residents. Its fair all round, so come on Government, do it.
How much of the above will we achieve in 2016? Who knows, but you can rest assured that we will give it a bloody good go.