Speech in debate on the importance of songwriters and composers to the UK

UK Songwriters and Composers
18th May 2022

Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and my membership of the Musicians’ Union and the Ivors Academy. I also take this opportunity to announce to the House that I was elected as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on music earlier today. I look forward very much to using that platform to campaign further for our great musicians and music industry.

I am delighted to have this opportunity, ahead of the 67th annual Ivor Novello awards tomorrow, to pay tribute to our world-renowned songwriters and composers. Hon. Members may have seen early-day motion 35, which I tabled this week to celebrate Ivors Week and the work of the Ivors Academy:

“That this House
notes that 16 to 20 May 2022 is Ivors Week, and joins the Ivors Academy in celebrating this country’s world-leading songwriters and composers, culminating in the Ivor Novello Awards which honour the best in British and Irish songwriting and composing;
further notes that the success of the UK music industry is founded upon the talent and creativity of world-leading composers and lyricists;
and calls on the UK music industry and the Government to ensure that a business and public policy framework exists to nurture future songwriting talent and to properly reward those whose creativity helps generate the £5.2 billion annual economic contribution that music makes to UK plc as well as furnishing people with the soundtracks of their lives.”

May I take this opportunity to thank all our songwriters and composers? I also thank the Ivors Academy’s chief executive Graham Davies, its chair Tom Gray, its former chair Crispin Hunt and all its members for their work championing our great songwriters and composers. I pay tribute to the chair of the Ivors Academy Trust, Cliff Fluet, whose work helps to support, educate and nurture the songwriters, composers and creators who need it most. The Ivors Academy is using this Ivors Week of celebration to launch TheWRD, a new further education diploma in creative entrepreneurship, to offer career-defining arts education, widen opportunity for young people and open access to a career in music and the creative industries.

I also want to highlight Credits Due, the Ivors Academy’s excellent joint initiative with the Music Rights Awareness Foundation, and give a mention to songwriter Fiona Bevan, who is helping to promote it. Its purpose is to increase knowledge of music rights through education and other forms of support. It can go some way towards recovering some of the estimated £500 million of annual missing income that is not paid to songwriters from global streaming revenues because of inaccurate or incomplete metadata attached to recordings.

As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, in these debates I always emphasise creativity’s value in and of itself, not just its economic value. We all understand that music is inherently good for us. Whether we sing tunelessly in the shower, belt out a chant at the football or tap our foot to the radio, music is our common human therapy.

Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)
I thank the hon. Gentleman for all he does for the music business. I congratulate him on being elected chair of the APPG— there is no better person than him for it. Does he agree that each region of this wondrous United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has so much to offer in cultural expression? Does he know that there are members of the world-class Ulster Orchestra who began their long learning journey in Orange halls across the Province of Northern Ireland? Together, all these cultural expressions make a wonderful musical symphony that makes us all very proud to be British.

Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West
I know that the hon. Gentleman is quite a keen musician himself. I agree that music is incredibly important in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland—all the countries of our United Kingdom. I also completely agree that music can bring people together in harmony. We should remember that power at all times.

Greg Knight Conservative, East Yorkshire
I declare an interest similar to the hon. Gentleman’s. Is he aware that the views that he is expressing are not unique to the Opposition, because many Government Members share his appreciation for composers and his passion for music?

Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West
Yes, I am, not least because I have written a couple of songs with the right hon. Gentleman that we have recorded down the years with our band MP4—legends in our own imagination. As we say in these groups, he is not only a drummer, but a musician: he has written songs himself, some of which have cult status on the internet.

UK Music’s recent “Power of Music” report sets out in clear terms the enormous and extensive benefits that music provides for health and wellbeing, with notable effectiveness in regulating and improving the mental health of so many people during the pandemic and in offering particular emotional respite for those with dementia. What is beneficial is not just playing and singing, but creating music. Organisations such as the Songwriting Charity empower young people and communities through the art and craft of songwriting to boost their confidence, self-esteem and mental health.

Some Members may not be aware—although you may be, Mr Deputy Speaker, given your origins—that Ivor Novello, the Welsh songwriter, playwright, composer and actor, was born on Cowbridge Road East in my constituency in 1893. Christened David Ivor Davies, he took the name Novello from his mother, Clara Novello Davies. I was particularly pleased when, three years ago, the former British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors—BASCA—rebranded itself as the Ivors Academy in his memory, and in acknowledgment of the world-famous Ivor Novello Awards, which it runs.

In economic terms, songwriters and composers contribute substantially to the value of our music, performing and visual arts ecosystem, which generates an enormous £10 billion domestically, with music exports constituting £2.9 billion in value to the UK economy. UK Music points out that one in 10 songs streamed globally were produced here in the UK. That is a lot of globally popular UK songs and music.

This past week—and I know that you were watching, Mr Deputy Speaker— exemplified the joy and excitement that songs can create, with the immense talents of a diverse range of musicians and composers from across Europe and beyond brought under the Eurovision roof in Turin. Congratulations, of course, to Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra, the deserved winners on the night, but also to the UK’s Sam Ryder, who came second. Writing great songs is a Great British tradition, from Ivor Novello’s “Keep the Home Fires Burning”, through Lennon and McCartney’s “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” and Joan Armatrading’s “Love and Affection”, to Adele and Dan Wilson’s “Someone Like You”; but we must not take it for granted that that will go on forever.

I am happy to inform those who are not aware of it that the UK’s Eurovision song, “Space Man”, was co-written by the incredibly talented former student of Cardiff’s Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama and Radio Wales presenter, Amy Wadge. Many had assumed that Britain’s recent lack of success in Eurovision was political, but it turns out that what is needed—as well as a talented artist, good presentation and good production—is, above all, a great song. I am old enough to recall a time when Eurovision was known as the Eurovision Song Contest, and the writers were featured on camera to take a bow for their part in the creation of the music. There is no singer without the song and no song without songwriters, so perhaps that recognition should be resurrected. When I was growing up with vinyl records, which are now popular again, I used to study the labels intently to see who had written the songs. I want people to do that again, so that the art of songwriting is once again given its proper due rather than being hidden away somewhere deep in the metadata.

Esther McVey Conservative, Tatton
The hon. Gentleman is a great champion for the music industry, and he has done much to secure a better deal for musicians, particularly from music streaming. He has also worked with the former chair of the Ivors Academy, Crispin Hunt. It is true that we need great songwriters, but we must ensure that they receive a fair share from the music that they have written and performed. I should like to know what more we can do, on both sides of the House, to ensure that musicians receive that better payment.

Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West
The right hon. Lady is absolutely right. She has been a tremendous advocate on behalf of songwriters and composers, and although we sit on opposite sides of the House and may differ on many subjects, this is a subject on which she has been a passionate advocate for creators to get their just rewards. Later in my speech I will refer to some of the issues that she has mentioned, all of which featured in the private Member’s Bill of which she was a sponsor and which I introduced in the last Session. Ongoing work on parts of the Bill will, I hope, bear fruit in the near future.

We need to improve the wealth of research and development opportunities available to British creatives. Talent pipelines have been left to fracture and decay over the last decade, with cuts in education and local authorities’ services under consecutive Conservative Governments. It is vital that meaningful opportunities exist for the songwriters and composers of the future from all backgrounds, regardless of their genre and of their means and connections. This must be a key test for the DCMS, and particularly for the Secretary of State in the context of her professed desire to level up in her role.

I draw the House’s attention to this week’s very welcome announcement from the Welsh Labour Government in Cardiff of the trebling of funding for music education and the launch of Wales’s new national music service, which will ensure that all pupils between three and 16 years of age can access and borrow musical instruments through a national instrument library. It will also expand creative opportunities to pupils of all backgrounds through the offer of half a term’s tuition for free.

The challenge for UK Government Ministers is clear. In a survey conducted on behalf of the Ivors Academy’s TheWRD—the further education diploma that I mentioned earlier—it was found that:

“70% felt that starting a career in music would be difficult, citing barriers such as not having contacts, being too much of a financial risk, lack of opportunities, and the industry not being open to people from their background. When asked about the barriers young people faced in accessing further education, almost 50% of those surveyed felt they were unable to afford it, and 1 in 4 said they do not have access to courses near where they live.”

I hope that the Government will follow the Welsh Government’s initiative when they review their national music plan, and also that they will support the Ivors Academy’s TheWRD initiative that was announced this week.

At this point, I remind the House of the vital role that our public institutions play in nurturing songwriting talent. The BBC sometimes comes under criticism in this House, but I remind hon. Members of the vital role that it plays in underpinning, promoting and paying our musicians, songwriters and composers. BBC Introducing is an excellent example of research and development from our national public service broadcaster. It has supported almost 300,000 artists on its platform and gone on to achieve 23 UK No. 1 hit singles and 146 Brit award nominations. Every day, music is playing somewhere on the BBC. When music is playing, musicians should be getting paid. On the BBC, they are. It is generating royalties for musicians, songwriters and composers. There is, I am afraid, an increasing trend in the new digital media to try to avoid paying composers, and insisting on taking from them what Parliament intended they should have—that is, royalties when their music is used. The BBC has been a helpful bulwark against that trend, and changes in the way in which programmes are now commissioned at arm’s length must not be used to deny composers their full remuneration.

There has rightly been a lot of coverage recently of the cost of living crisis, and sadly, for too many talented and successful musicians, songwriters and composers, getting by on their meagre royalties has been a struggle for years. When we held our Select Committee inquiry, one of our witnesses was a Mercury prize-nominated artist who was struggling to pay their rent because of problems resulting from the pandemic and the lack of reward from streaming.

The Minister will recall that a major provision in my private Member’s Bill, which was sponsored by Members in the House and introduced in the last Session, placed a transparency obligation on those who have had rights transferred or licensed to them, requiring them to supply timely and comprehensive information to the songwriter, composer or artist about where and how their music is being played, so that they can be sure that they are being paid what they are due. The Select Committee recommended this after hearing evidence during its inquiry into the economics of music streaming, which found that it is often difficult for artists and songwriters to gain any clarity or to audit their works. We heard about money that should have been paid disappearing into what are known in the industry as black boxes. It is clear that songwriters suffer particularly because of poor data standards.

On the subject of the value of streaming to songwriters, the Committee expressed concern about how the big three record labels also own large parts of the music publishing business, and about how that might influence the way in which revenue from streaming is distributed. If the big three make more profit from their rights in the recording than they do from their rights in the publishing, there is a disincentive for them to pay songwriters a competitive share of the streaming revenue. The publishing right ought to be competing for more value against the recording, but it appears to be stifled by that problem of joint ownership. I praised the Government at the time for noting the concerns, expressed in the Committee's report, about the impact of monopoly power and cross-ownership in the music industry and for referring the matter to the Competition and Markets Authority for a study of potential market failure. I keenly await its conclusions.

The issue of streaming remuneration has not gone away. There is a real danger, particularly in the current economic context, that we will make no progress on recovering the artists lost to the industry during the pandemic if more is not done to support our songwriters and composers. Last November’s survey by the Help Musicians charity found that 80% of professional musicians had been unable to return to full-time work since the pandemic struck.

The live industry, as one of the sectors forced to shut for the longest period during multiple lockdowns, has also faced an uphill battle in its recovery from the pandemic. The VAT reduction on ticket sales introduced in July 2020 was a vital lifeline for struggling venues and events across the country, and it recognised the sector’s high up-front costs and significant preparatory time. Abandoning the reduction too soon prevented a further £765 million of investment over a three-year period and held back the sector’s post-pandemic recovery. These are the venues and events upon which the creative ecosystem relies. Songwriters get paid by PRS for Music when their compositions are played live, so I ask the Minister to use this Ivors Week to remember that the vibrancy and success of the UK’s music industry are built on the creative activities of songwriters and composers, and that it is not achieved in a vacuum. The pandemic compounded the everyday struggles of our talented artists and exposed the cracks in the industry’s infrastructure.

In classrooms, music venues, festivals and, of course, the money that musicians should be paid, the need for reform and investment is evident. A career in music can be viable, but there is work to be done to ensure that those who have the talent, from whatever background, have a chance at success.

Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)
I was privileged to go to the Royal Academy of Music a couple of times recently. I saw some of the composers and songwriters there, so I know the next generation of songwriters and composers will do us proud.

Julia Lopez Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office), Minister of State

I thank Kevin Brennan for securing this debate and for superbly highlighting the enduring talent and ingenuity of Britain’s songwriters and composers, the value of their creativity in and of itself, and the cultural and economic capital they generate for our nation. I also congratulate him on his election to be the new chair of the all-party parliamentary group on music.

I am also grateful to the hon. Gentleman for highlighting the incredible night on Saturday, when we had the most perfect result we might have hoped for at Eurovision. I congratulate Sam Ryder on his performance and on restoring our reputation for Eurovision mightiness.

If the hon. Gentleman has noticed a modest uptick in his Spotify stats this week, it is because I researched this debate to the mournful strums of “The Wrecker of Wick” and “The Clown & The Cigarette Girl,” two of his great contributions to the British catalogue of compositions. Should his bandmate, my right hon. Friend Sir Greg Knight, one day retire, I stand ready to dust off my drumsticks to fill the gap in his magnificent band, MP3/MP4.

From the Beatles to Kate Bush, and from Ed Sheeran to Sam Ryder, the work of UK songwriters and composers is a prized national asset that resonates with audiences all over the world, giving us tremendous soft power globally. I suspect we will shortly see that talent showcased at the platinum jubilee concert. Their skills are vital not only to the music industry but to the creative industries as a whole, including advertising, film and television. The hon. Gentleman cited the role of the BBC, and I recently met its head of pop music to discuss how the BBC nurtures creative talent.

I also thank the hon. Gentleman for highlighting the importance of music, musicians and composers to wellbeing during the pandemic, when many people found solace in music. At this juncture, I would like to thank an important charity in my constituency, Singing for the Brain, which does fantastic musical work with dementia sufferers.

As the hon. Gentleman highlighted, Monday marked the start of Ivors Week, a celebration of UK songwriters and composers hosted by the Ivors Academy. I am very excited to attend the Ivor Novello awards tomorrow alongside the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. I was pleased to hear about the Ivors Academy’s new diploma. That ceremony will place a spotlight on the economic value of music to the UK economy. As UK Music has calculated, the sector employs more people than the steel and fishery industries combined. However, it does face challenges, partly as a result of the pandemic and because of how technology is changing the economic model in the sector.

The hon. Gentleman has been a powerful voice in this House about the ways in which the rise of digital technology is bringing about dramatic changes to the UK music landscape. The advent of streaming has undoubtedly revolutionised the way in which we consume and engage with music, but it has also had a profound impact on the industry. That shift has significantly altered how creators earn an income, as royalties from streaming largely replace music sales as the dominant source of that income. That shift has called into question the business models operated by platforms. I am aware that campaigns such as #brokenrecord, which is led by the Ivors Academy and the Musicians’ Union, highlight concerns about the distribution of streaming royalties. The Government want the UK music industry, including songwriters and composers, to be able to flourish in the digital age. In response to concerns raised by his Committee, the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, in its inquiry on streaming, we are undertaking a wide-ranging programme of work to delve into the evidence and find solutions to the issues highlighted by the inquiry.

I have recently met key stakeholders, such as the British Phonographic Industry, UK Music and Warner Music Group, to discuss the music streaming debate and how creators can be further supported. The Secretary of State has also engaged closely on these issues. The major record labels play an important role in helping artists, including emerging talent, so that they can connect with audiences and thrive in the streaming era. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, they have now each announced that they will disregard unrecouped advances from pre-2000 contracts and pay more to more artists for streaming, which was one of the recommendations from the Select Committee’s inquiry. I know that that was greeted positively by artist representatives.

We think that those kinds of industry initiatives are a step in the right direction to make sure that the streaming market is fairer, but we are looking at what else we can do and whether further action will be necessary. Similarly, although we agree with many of the issues raised by the Committee in its inquiry, we want to ensure that any action is based on the best available evidence. The Minister for science, research and innovation, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend George Freeman, and I have written to the Select Committee this week with an update on the work under way. In advance of the hon. Gentleman receiving that letter, let me update him by saying that the Intellectual Property Office is now working alongside industry experts to develop solutions to issues around contract transparency and music metadata, one of the issues he highlighted today. That will have an impact on the way in which songwriters and composers are remunerated for their work on streaming. We have also commissioned independent research on the impact of potential legislative interventions aimed at improving creator remuneration.

The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation is progressing work on the effects of algorithms on music consumption and the potential impacts on music creators. It is also exploring how streaming services can better communicate with creators and mitigate against potential harms for those groups. The hon. Gentleman cited the Competition and Markets Authority. It is undertaking a market study into music streaming, which will add value to and complement the Government’s programme of work, and could help inform any future intervention. That CMA market study was launched in January 2022, as he will know. An update is due in July, with the study scheduled to conclude in January 2023. We are encouraged by the progress of the programme of work so far, with industry stakeholders engaging constructively and taking the issues seriously.

Another key income stream for our composers and musicians comes from live music. As the hon. Gentleman highlighted, the live music scene is undergoing a period of recovery, in the wake of a very difficult experience during the pandemic, and we are working hard to support it. I am glad to reflect on where we stand today compared with the grim situation that faced us over the Christmas period with omicron, when the team and I were talking through the needs of the live music sector in emergency support meetings. I am glad that some of the worst fears highlighted at that time have not come to pass and that we have been able to open up the economy, which has been crucial in getting that income flowing into venues again. But we also want to build on existing schemes to continue to support the live music sector. Since the national lottery project grant’s “Supporting Grassroots Live Music” scheme launched in 2019, the Arts Council has made 253 awards, and invested £4.7million in venues and promoters through that fund. That has supported everything from upgrading equipment and offering free rehearsal spaces and mentoring, to refurbishing bathrooms and staging family-friendly gigs. That is separate to a lot of the support that we put in during the pandemic and via the cultural recovery fund. I am pleased to say that the Arts Council has confirmed that the fund has been extended until 31 March 2023. That will, thanks to national lottery players, provide a £1.5 million ringfenced fund that will support the grassroots live music sector.

Not only are we seeing domestic recovery from the pandemic, but we are a major presence on the international music scene. We are the largest exporter of music in the world after the USA, with around one in 10 of all tracks streamed globally being by a British artist. That is incredible. The sector’s high export capacity and its ability to access international audiences will continue to elevate the UK on the global stage, forge new international relationships and enable us to promote British values around the world.

Alongside the work I have outlined, we continue to provide export support for the UK’s creative industries through a range of export-support programmes, including the international showcase fund and the successful music export growth scheme, which provides grants to music companies to help them with marketing campaigns when they look to introduce successful UK music projects overseas.

We are looking at what more we can do as part of the wider creative sector vision—to be published in the summer —on support for UK creative talent. As part of that sector vision, we are working with the industry to build a more resilient workforce, and we have co-funded research from the Creative Industries Policy & Evidence Centre to look into the job quality and working practices of the creative industries. That will help us to better understand some of the really tricky issues that affect the workforce in the creative sector, including in respect of freelancers and creators, and particularly when it comes to job security, remuneration, professional development and wellbeing. As I say, the sector vision is due to be published this summer. We hope to use the document as the basis of a longer-term strategy that takes us up to 2030.

The hon. Gentleman made an important point about investing in the future of music makers to make sure that our music success story continues. We want to make sure that all young people engage with music, and we plan to do so through the implementation of a national plan for music education. The NPME strategy sets out our vision for all children and young people to learn to sing, play an instrument and create music together, and to have the opportunity to progress their musical interests and talents, including professionally. We are confident that such initiatives will help to provide the next generation of aspiring creators with the tools and knowledge they need to achieve their full potential. I hope to make further announcements on the subject when we have finished that piece of work.

I think everyone present would agree that the work of songwriters and composers is not only crucial to the success of our music industry but hugely beneficial to the UK’s culture and economy. That is why we will continue to work alongside the industry to seek solutions and make a tangible difference. We will also continue to celebrate and commend the work of UK songwriters and composers. I wish the Ivors Academy and every participant in the awards tomorrow the very best of luck.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.