Vortex board member Oliver Weindling has gone public on his Towerofjazz blog on a sudden cost increase now facing the small club, putting on music seven nights a week, with a capacity of just 90 people. A five star review in the Financial Times today…but no easy solution to a problem like this.
“Any thoughts?” he asks.
(Photo above, Omar Puente at the Vortex by Helena Dornellas)
Weindling writes as follows:
PRS has confirmed to the Vortex that its PRS payment has gone up, from the summer this year, from £8 a night to £32 a night (a quadrupling!) This, I understand, is the standard rate for all small venues.
We find this a shocking increase to us as a club which already operates on a knife-edge. On many nights the club itself, after payments to the band, hardly has enough to cover core costs, let alone an increased PRS payment. To cover it, we would require, on average, an increase in audiences by over 10%, if the full increase were to be met from the club’s share of door income.
So it certainly puts the club at risk, by now having to pay an additional £8000 a year, if we are going to be able to stay as a 7 night a week jazz venue, which is unfunded.
They have listened, but have been unwilling to react, to our plea about helping new composers and PRS members. They have put us in the same boat as any small venue. Even fully improvised music is subject to the same conditions.
The complaint is that a) the increase represents a quadrupling; and b) it is backdated.
PRS should be funding smaller venues like the Vortex where much of the content is original. PRS is supposed to protect the interests of composers, not steal from them!
Anonymous – I can't comment on PRS for Music and licensing issues, but the PRS for Music Foundation does fund the Vortex
It is a total travesty that a venue with the musical standing and reputation of the Vortex should be put under this kind of financial pressure. This venue has, without doubt, the most innovative and eclectic monthly programme of any Jazz venue in London and, most probably, in the UK.
The policy of scheduling new acts, improvised/free jazz, vocal jazz, contemporary music along with elements of folk, blues & african music, while holding prices down to between £8 & £12 per performance has to be commended (and admired, in the sense that it can still be done).
The Vortex manages to do this without significant funding thanks to the unpaid volunteers who work in the club each and every night. The Vortex does not make money – it manages to stay open and put on great music night after night. A valuable resource like this cannot be threatened by the apparently arbitrary approach of the PRS to the levying of performance copyright fees.
If any live jazz venue in London has to close, the Vortex should be the last name on such a terrible list (which would include that place in Soho).
Shame on you PRS.
So if PRS are funding the Vortex, why the sudden heavy handed financial penalty?
The Vortex has always show cased musicians who are mostly composing original material and many have gone on to become some of the major players on the UK Jazz scene. Pretty diabolical if you ask me..
This is obviously a somewhat complicated issue considering the funding PRS are providing, but it irritates me to no end to hear about performing rights organizations that operate like big business. It sounds like they need to choose whether to support the venue or not. The Vortex is one of the greatest performance spaces for interesting music in Europe. This is not where PRS should be looking to beef up their bottom line.
Is there a possibility of having musicians sign a release to play there? Something like: “I'm only playing my own original music and I'm waving my royalties for it at the Vortex.”
I've experienced that both in the US and Iceland. Except that STEF in Iceland has actually tried to go after some musicians to collect on the performance of their own music. Talk about twisted!
Having heard Mary Halvorson's only UK appearance of the year at the Vortex this Monday I certainly concur with Scott McLemore's neatly turned sentence:
“The Vortex is one of the greatest performance spaces for interesting music in Europe. This is not where PRS should be looking to beef up their bottom line.”
The PRS is a very large and influential fish indeed:
in 2007 it had top line revenues of £562m, and I was told earlier in the week that the as-yet-unpublished data for 2008 (why unpublished?) show an 8% increase to £608m. It's administrative and collection costs are 11% of this total. Big.
I have every sympathy with the Vortex' predicament and think they have been put in an appalling position by the PRS. However, no-one above appears to have commented on the fact that the Vortex are currently taking £32 nightly out of the musicians fees to cover the costs of their PRS license. This happened to us at our gig 2 weeks ago and I refused to pay. I also encourage every other musician to do the same. I consider this attempt to make musicians cover their license fee at least immoral and possibly illegal. The PRS license fee is the venue's responsibility – not the musicians', who hardly earn anything anyway and can not afford to pay the Vortex' bills. I am happy, as I imagine all other musicians will be, to help support the Vortex' fight with the PRS in any way we can, but not by paying the fee for them!
It amazes me how the Vortex is putting on music regularly that is artistically innovative but risky in terms of commercial viability, such as Mary Halvorson reviewed on this blog, or giving chances to hear new musicians or new projects, such as the Loop Collective festival previewed.
Especially as it is not doing this with a regular Arts Council grant or other subsidy.
It would also surprise me if the club is actually taking the money “away” from musicians by paying PRS.
By the way, aren't the above musicians also members of PRS themselves, so would presumably benefit from the club's PRS payments? Perhaps they could actually ask PRS for its position and where the money goes.
In the mean time, let us pray there is some individual out there who will help pick up the tab. What about a bit of those bonuses floating around the City at present? Don't any of them like jazz enough to help out?
To the anomymous of December 18th: I think Alison Rayner's point is that the responsibilities of the Vortex belong to the Vortex; passing on a core running cost to the person you're hiring is a strange way of running a business. By placing the charge on the musician, the Vortex is making the musicians pay themselves out of their own pockets – which is pointless.
I did a bit of thinking about the issue though, because it's never good to see venues struggle. My thinking may be off here, so I'm happy to be corrected but:
According to LP-2009-07 [the licence that the Vortex has, I assume], the club is playing “light and popular music”. It has a definition:
light or popular music means all copyright music and all copyright words or lyrics set to music and includes what is called “classical jazz” but does not include what is usually known as “classical” or “serious music”.
Does totally improvised music fall into the category of “classical jazz”? If those musicians were to argue that their music fell into the “serious music” category instead then the licence is 4.8% of the net admission charge – and assuming an audience of forty at £8 a head:
(40 · 8) · 4.8% = £15.36; £15.36 < £32 Would that work? Good luck.