Supporting the music community – an interview with Peter Leathem
As the industry starts to prepare for the gradual easing of lockdown measures one year on since the COVID-19 pandemic started to take effect in the UK, we speak to PPL Chief Executive Officer, Peter Leathem, about the vital role the company has played in supporting the music community over the last 12 months and what plans are in motion for helping the sector get back to business.
One year on since PPL closed its London HQ in response to COVID-19, how would you describe what the last year has been like for the company?
It is hard to believe that we have now been in lockdown – in varying degrees – for the last 12 months. I know, from speaking to colleagues across the industry, as well as PPL’s members, licensees and employees, that it has been a challenging time for so many. As such, we made it our priority, as an established organisation working at the core of the music business, to provide as much support and stability as possible. I am incredibly proud of how the whole company responded to the challenges posed by the pandemic and of what we achieved last year.
How has PPL supported its membership throughout the pandemic?
First and foremost, we continued to seek to ensure that our performer and recording rightsholder members got paid for the use of their recorded music. We paid out more than £240 million to our members in 2020; this included an advance payment in April of £23.9 million to more than 15,000 performers and recording rightsholders to help bridge the gap between the payments made in March and June each year. In the Quarter 4 payment in December, we paid more than 100,000 performers and recording rightsholders in that one single distribution. That was a first for PPL – and a huge achievement from a number of PPL teams working together, remotely, who made it happen. Of course, we haven’t just been helping our members financially. We have been hosting virtual events to ensure continued knowledge sharing and training, and we have been on hand to deal with thousands of queries and questions to help members get the most out of their PPL membership.
PPL has also contributed to a number of hardship funds in the past year, which have helped many members and non-members benefit from much-need funding. Can you tell us more about that?
Absolutely. PPL is at the heart of the music business – we are right in the centre of the ecosystem, working closely with labels, managers, performers, music licensees – including venues, and so many more. We felt a responsibility to all of these stakeholders and were committed to playing our part in ensuring the music community would survive.
We have now donated more than £1 million to a number of hardship funds administered by the Association of Independent Music (AIM), BPI, Help Musicians, the Music Managers Forum (MMF), and the Production Services Association (PSA). These funds have provided a lifeline for musicians, freelancers, managers, and live events crew. In addition, we donated to the Music Venue Trust to support their important work in maintaining live venues across the UK.
In terms of our support for music licensees, we – along with PRS for Music and PPL PRS Ltd – introduced a number of measures to ensure that businesses usually using music were not charged for TheMusicLicence during the period of closure. Speaking of PRS, we continued and, in fact, strengthened our collaboration with PRS Foundation supporting musicians in continuing to be creative and producing or marketing new music during lockdown.
Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention that PPL’s employees individually took part in a number of fundraising initiatives for the company’s charity of the year, The British Heart Foundation. Their generosity has been fantastic and, despite being unable to get out and about as usual, they still raised over £4,500 for the charity’s vital work.
You mentioned strengthening PPL’s relationship with PRS Foundation. How do the two organisations now work together?
PPL has just entered its fifth year of being a partner of PRS Foundation – which, as you know, is a funder of new music across the UK. In our first three years of working together, PPL funded both the Momentum Music Fund and the International Showcase Fund. Momentum aims to support UK based music acts seeking to break through to the next level of their careers, with grants of between £5,000 and £15,000 to develop, promote and tour new music in the UK; whilst the International Showcase Fund provides financial support for UK acts to perform at showcases and festivals outside of the UK.
In February 2020, PPL took its collaboration with the Foundation one step further by becoming the major funder of the renamed PPL Momentum Fund; throughout last year, we helped to fund 55 acts, across multiple genres and from all corners of the UK. This year, we extended our relationship to also support the Talent Development Partners Programme which allows us to further our engagement with organisations across the UK which work on the frontline of talent development. We are proud of our work with PRS Foundation and know that it is adding to the growth of the UK’s music infrastructure, the creation of new music, and the promotion of creative talent.
The industry knows PPL for primarily being a collective management organisation (CMO). Where does your commitment to charities and good causes fit into your core business?
PPL has been primarily focused on licensing the use of recorded music and delivering this revenue back to record companies initially, and, since 2006, performers that are its members or represented via the 100 international agreements PPL has in place with overseas CMOs – a role in which we have become very effective and efficient. Revenues have consistently grown, distributions have consistently grown, and our membership – both in the UK and internationally – has consistently grown. PPL is now one of the five largest companies in the UK music industry and, with growth, comes responsibility. Whilst we have been engaging with charities and good causes for many years now, this strand of work has become more of a focus for the company.
What’s next for PPL in terms of its charitable activities?
In recent years, we have supported a host of charities from Music for Youth, the Young Persons Concert Foundation and the English Schools’ Orchestra to The BRIT School, the Young Musicians’ Symphony Orchestra and the Midlands Youth Jazz Orchestra.
Moving forward, our focus will remain on and delve further into organisations and initiatives in one of three core areas: talent development, health and wellbeing, and equality, diversity and inclusion. With regard to talent development, our relationship with PRS Foundation will continue to grow, whilst we also explore other opportunities. I was recently appointed a Trustee of The Ivors Academy Trust and am engaged in ways to support songwriters and composers, many of whom are also PPL members.
In the field of health and wellbeing, I am very focused on my role as Chair of BAPAM (British Association for Performing Arts Medicine) and the work we can do jointly with charities like Help Musicians, Music Support and others to support the health of those working in music and the performing arts. Last year, with support from PPL and Help Musicians, BAPAM launched a bursary scheme to improve counselling and support for individuals from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities working in the UK music industry. The joint venture saw five bursaries made available for Black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals to undertake accredited training to become registered counsellors or psychotherapists. BAPAM’s research had shown that there were very few Black, Asian or minority ethnic therapists working with performing artists and so this project will seek to increase the capacity of culturally-competent therapists working in the sector.
It is important to note that our ambitions see us working with individuals and organisations across all four nations in the UK – not just within London where our office is based. We know that collaboration is vital for true change to emerge – we are proud to be working with so many passionate and committed organisations and look forward to working with new partners in the future.