Robbing the Royalties

Celtic musicians are a struggling but passionate lot.  Most of them are not out to make millions of dollars; instead, they simply wish to do what they love to do – share their love of Celtic Music and entertain their fans. 

However, more and more it seems their ability to do just that has come under attack. 

Most recently, in the US and Canada, we have seen high profile cases of independent artists being taken for granted,  like those between Heather Dale and YouTube and Jonathon Coultan and Glee.  Nevertheless, this problem also extends over the pond to the traditional independent artists in Wales as well.

In Wales, the most recent problem is the contract issue between BBC Radio Cymru and Eos, the group representing more than 300 Welsh musicians, composers, authors, and publishers.  The problem derives from the radio station cutting licensing fees by upwards of 80-85%.  Where they were already getting less than their English language colleagues, this made it impossible for these Welsh artists to continue to make a living.  This was allowed to happen because in 2007 BBC Radio Cymru was reclassified as a local radio station by the PRS, Performing Rights Society (the group that collects the royalty payments), instead of a national station, which it qualifies as being; therefore, allowing them to pay a reduced rate to the artists.

In December, negotiations between the two groups quickly started to break down as BBC Radio Cymru refused to give in to any of the artists’ demands.  Consequently, in protest, Eos threatened to strike and pull the rights to their music which would create a huge void in the radio stations programming and would practically eliminate any Welsh language music from being publicly played over the radio. 

BBC Radio Cymru called their bluff and effective, January 1, 2013, BBC Radio Cymru lost the rights to play over 30,000 popular songs.  What this means is that the radio station had to cut their air time by two hours, ‘expand’ its daytime repertoire, and cut their new Welsh music program, C2, by an hour.  Not only does this kill the artists, but it also creates a huge cultural void for a language and a culture that is already threatened. 

Gwilym Morus, chairman of Eos, said to Mark Sweney for his December 31, 2012, article in The Guardian,, “The last thing we want to see is any more harm done to radio Cymru, our audience is the BBC audience. Unfortunately, I believe the BBC in London is showing a clear lack of respect towards their own staff in Wales and towards Welsh culture.”

All because they refuse to pay a fair price to artists.

So what can we do?  While we can’t solve the dispute between BBC Radio Cymru and Eos, we can do what we can to support all the independent Celtic musicians we know and love.  As Marc says at the end of his podcasts: buy their cds, don’t just burn them, buy their t-shirts and swag, go see their shows.  Every little bit helps them do what they love to do to, and lets us enjoy the results.

Stephen Mc Sweeney is a high school English/Drama teacher.  Besides writing for the Celtic MP3s Music Magazine, he enjoys acting, writing and playing Celtic music.  He can be seen as one of the members of the band Terrible Musicians, where he plays percussion and mandolin.

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