Nightclubs, Dance Parties: Paying Their Dues

Some of you may have heard the news that the Copyright Tribunal has substantially increased the rate of royalties that must be paid by nightclub owners and dance party organisers for the use of recorded music. It’s a big win for the recording companies and recording artists, but what will it mean for the nightclub and dance industry?

‘Who gives a rats,’ I might say because, frankly, I can’t stand nightclubs and I haven’t ever been to a dance party and don’t intend to start now. As a registered, card-carrying old fogey, I maintain an appropriate level of disdain for such things, prefering the traditional manner of consuming music, ie. by watching real live people play actual instruments and sing live in front of me.

That being said, I live in a burg big enough to sustain a few good venues and a brace of good original bands and need not get my musical fix from recordings filtered by some tool with a CD mixer, as would those in some culturally deprived rural enclaves. Still, the nightclubs here are full of young, inappropriately dressed (for the weather) people paying ridiculous prices for entry, coat check (maybe that’s why they don’t wear coats?), drinks and pills, shivering in long lines and (later) saving pubic lice from extinction.

At first I was concerned this ruling would also affect bars such as the Phoenix, which host live bands but also play recorded music. Not so. Nightclubs are defined as venues that have recorded music as the primary entertainment, have a dance floor and/or charge entry. Thank goodness. Quickly calculating the fees applicable, were the Phoenix affected, approximately $35 000 would have been knocked off their annual bottom line. Ouch! Figures are based on a capacity of 94, open every night of the year.

Next door to the Phoenix is Shooters, a two storey nightclub of outstanding hideousness that is packed to the gills on Friday and Saturday nights. Assuming they are registered with the Phonographic Performance Company of Australia (PPCA), till now Shooters has been paying 7.48 cents per customer per night for their recorded music. Customer numbers are calculated on legal capacity multiplied by nights of operation, regardless of actual attendance. The new fee is $1.05 per customer, a nearly 15 fold increase.

(Incidentally, local musicians with a CD recording who think they may get some radio or television airplay should hit the link and sign up to the PPCA. APRA collects royalties from broadcasts for the copyright holder of the song, ie. the writer. The PPCA collects royalties for the copyright holder of the recording, being the performers and the record company if one is involved.)

The nightclubs, through the AHA and Clubs Australia, and some individually, made presentations to the enquiry that preceded the ruling, and were unanimous in their protestions that things are bad in the industry and that the impost would be unsustainable. Undoubtedly some badly run clubs will go down, some may reorganise their activities to avoid classification as a nightclub, some may only open on peak nights, but I have no doubt the fee can be absorbed by most clubs, whose financial affairs are often as fictitious as the Howard Government’s claims to financial rectitude.

The good news, for those that prefer live music, is that live venues just became that bit more competitive. Bear in mind that live venues pay live performance royalties to APRA, which go to the songwriters rather than the recording copyright holders.

Nightclub owners and dance party organisers must acknowledge that, without the presence of copyright recordings, their business would cease to exist. Setting a value on that contribution to their livelihood will always be contentious, but nightclubs have a vested interest in encouraging a vital and productive contemporary music scene in Australia and should support initiatives that encourage new original music to prosper.

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