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While broadcast and online revenues reached record levels in 2021, royalties from public usage and resultant income for artists have yet to recover from the pandemic.

Revenue from music played in public venues remains down on 2019 levels.

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Royalty revenue from the playing of music in public venues remains down on pre-pandemic levels, according to data published by music licensing company PPL.

PPL, which collects and distributes money on behalf of performers and record companies for the use of their recorded music, said revenue from music played in public venues including pubs, clubs, shops and offices grew by £14.6m (25.4%) in 2021 to £72.1m. However, the figure remains 27.2% below the pre-pandemic total of £99.6m for 2019. 

Other areas of the industry experienced unexpected growth due to shifting patterns of music and media consumption during the pandemic.


The company’s total revenue from neighbouring rights royalties – collected when recorded music is used publicly in the UK and internationally – grew 12% year-on-year to £252.6m in 2021, its second-highest annual total, down £18.7m (7.3%) from 2019.

It was “a strong year” overall, said PPL’s Chief Executive Officer Peter Leathem. “We achieved our second highest annual revenue total and saw our best ever year for both international revenue and broadcast and online revenue.”

But public performance revenues continued to suffer from the widespread closures caused by the pandemic.

“Our 2019 collections on public performance were the highest we’d got to and then in 2020 we had quite a sharp decline,” he said. He added that the recovery seen in 2021 as venues began to reopen is accelerating this year and predicted that royalties will “probably be back to a 2019 positioning during the course of next year."

Continuing radio boom

In part spurred by an increase in commercial radio listeners during the pandemic, broadcast and online licensing revenue reached a record annual total of £86.7m, up £4.4m (5.3%) from 2020. 

PPL licences a percentage of the overall net broadcasting revenue from commercial radio, most of which comes from advertising. After a sharp drop off in the second quarter of 2020, commercial radio has attracted “some of the highest average listener hours of the last 10 years", leading to "its highest revenue ever for us", he said.

Despite the lifting of lockdown restrictions during 2021, radio continued to increase its revenue, he added. “At the moment, we're not anticipating that we're going to see that particular decline.”

Revenue from television wasn’t impacted as strongly by the pandemic due to PPL's reliance on longer-term deals, he said. This makes it harder to predict whether revenue will decline as pandemic restrictions lift and people spend more time enjoying entertainment outside their homes.

Delayed international impact

The company’s international revenues reached £94m in 2021, the highest amount since collections started in 2006 and up £8.1m (9.4%) year-on-year. 

But Leathem said that a delay in collecting international payments means that the impact of the pandemic won’t be seen until next year.

The 2021 total stems from royalties collected during 2019 and early 2020 but many countries experienced significant lockdowns in 2021 and 2022.

“From next year there will be a big impact on our international collections because of Covid,” he said.

Less money, more payments

The pandemic’s impact on 2020 revenue collection caused PPL's distributions to decrease by 15.2% to £228.7m in 2021. But 147,000 performers and recording rightsholders received at least one payment, a record number and an increase of 31.3% year-on-year.

“PPL now pays more than three times as many performers and recording rightsholders than ten years ago when I became CEO and is collecting nearly double the revenue,” Leathem said.

He added that 75% of the music industry is made up of freelancers who rely on multiple income streams, including royalties, to make a living. 

“You’ve really always had to monetise all the rights you have, in music. Clearly this is an important income stream to help sustain a lot of people working in a very high-risk industry,” he said.

PPL adds an average of 45,000 new recording details to its database each week, meaning that the number of performers and record companies receiving royalties from the company is projected to continue growing, he said, particularly as the process for international collections becomes more streamlined.