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'In an ideal world leave out the music and let us talk at the pub'

The Bar Man, by Jeff Hoyle, Friday, July 5, 2019

I have never been a fan of recorded music in pubs.

True, we may have wasted a few pence at university now and again to put Jolene on the jukebox to annoy people, and there was the occasional pub with a great selection to choose from, the Curfew in Bath comes to mind.

In the digital age, the box can hold every song that has ever been in the charts, so even if you can find, say, Container Drivers by The Fall, the next person might well go for Shakin’ Stevens.

The Bar Man, by Jeff Hoyle (13433415)
The Bar Man, by Jeff Hoyle (13433415)

So, in an ideal world leave out the music and let us talk, or possibly hunch over our phones and entertain ourselves with cute kittens or football gaffes.

Pubs might be thinking along those lines as well, as they have to pay to play the music and the price is going up. The body responsible, Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL), are introducing a tariff on recorded music from the beginning of July.

The Specially Featured Entertainment (SFE) charge applies to recorded music played at public events such as discos and DJ nights and applies to nightclubs, pubs, bars, cafes, restaurants and hotels.

The tariff will be banded in groups of 25 people, so that you will pay more if you have a larger audience. Initially it will work out at around 4p per person per hour, but this is set to rise over the next five years to 9p per hour, plus annual indexation linked to inflation.

The trade body UK Hospitality calculate this may result in a collective bill of around £49 million for the industry and suggest this may be the final straw that drives some venues out of business, and, along with the British Beer and Pub Association, they are mounting a legal challenge.

It is interesting that when taxes such as corporation tax and higher levels of income tax are considered, the Laffer curve is often invoked. This suggests there is an optimum level for tax rates. Below this, any increase will bring in more income. Above this, people will decide there is not enough incentive to work and cut back or give up, resulting in lower tax revenue.

I can see parallels here. Put up the rate too much and venues will close or give up with the music and tax take will fall. Add in the cost of calculating the hours of music and audience levels, plus policing the figures submitted to ensure that they are accurate, and it seems that much of the income will be absorbed in administration.

When the fees are collected the PPL then have to share them out and decide how much Simply Red receive for Money’s Too Tight to Mention or Dire Straits for Money for Nothing. Someone has to calculate how often these tracks have been played and then divide the takings up between the thousands of artists on the list.

I am not sure how much of my 4p will be left for The Fall if I happen to listen to one of their tracks at the disco.

I am all for the artist being rewarded for their product, but perhaps an exemption could be made for small venues with, say, less than 100 punters.

Even if this is not possible, an affordable flat fee may be an option. Failing that, why not let the customer take back control?

If there is a tune on that I don’t like, allow me to wear ear plugs and refund me my 4p per hour. No taxation without aural engagement.

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