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The Great Welsh Songwriters Strike

From yesterday (Monday, 19 December), and for 3 days, the airwaves of Radio Cymru, the BBC’s Welsh language channel, may well be music free.

Music usually makes up 48% of the channel’s output, but from 19 December the bulk of Welsh language songwriters, around 750 artists, including myself, have politely asked BBC Radio Cymru not to play their music.

PRS royalty payment rates for Welsh language songs have been slashed by 85% in recent times. Any other industry facing such a cut would, I’m sure, be striking as well.

Here are some more statistics…

The rate that the BBC pays songwriters for a three minute song has been reduced to;

£1.65 on Radio Cymru.

Then the PRS (the organisation that collect airplay royalties in the UK) that works out an analogy payment, in this case £4.10 which takes it to a total of £5.75.

According to RAJAR figures, Radio Cymru has 138,000 listeners. BBC Wales the English language channel for Wales has 479,000 listeners. English being the majority language in Wales, by roughly four to one.

It makes sense therefore that the royalty payments should be at least three times bigger. They are:

The BBC pay £2.85 for a three minute song, however the PRS analogy increases it by £145.00 to £147.85.

I’m no mathematician but you’d think that based on this figure, a Radio Cymru play would be worth around £50 pounds – or roughly a third of a Radio Wales payment.

Like I was saying, I’m not a mathematician, I’m a songwriter, I grew up enthralled with Anglo American pop culture, and Punk Rock in any language. I never liked traditional harp music, and I make a living for the most part as a writer of English language songs. The English language being as crucial to Wales as the Welsh language itself.

For many songwriters who have been raised speaking Welsh however, it would be baffling not to write in Welsh. It’s the most natural thing in the world to want to communicate using your first language, your mother tongue.

I’m a freak therefore, singing in my second language much as Ace Of Bass from Sweden, 2 Unlimited from Holland, or Transylvania’s Cheeky Girls (but less successful, obviously).

I didn’t sing in English untill I was 25, prior to that I released three Welsh language albums in Welsh with my band Ffa Coffi Pawb (translation: Fuck Off Everyone), and made enough money to buy some instruments, but not to pay the bills.

It’s never really been an option to be a full time songwriter or performer in the Welsh Language. Bryn Fôn, one of the most popular, possessing of a kind of Springsteenesque/Boss like stature, has been recently quoted in the Guardian as earning between £10,000 and £18,000 a year from royalties, much of which went into funding his own self released recordings, and supplementing earnings he made outside of music. Obviously the average songwriter therefore is earning significantly less than this benchmark.

This year he has earned £750, a huge drop. Musicians singing in Welsh like their counterparts worldwide, do so for the most part out of passion and not for the money, however if the PRS do not re-consider their payment structure many musicians may not have the means to sustain releasing records.

It’s possible that the PRS have no understanding of the cultural damage that their new policies are causing.

Neither do I know the realities of the fun world of administration, but there may be a case for, as the Welsh Language Society (Cymdeithas Yr Iaith Gymraeg) have suggested, creating a new devolved royalty body in Wales, that could possibly have a broader, more sympathetic understanding of a multi-lingual society.

Recording and singing in the Welsh language will always be a labour of love, and not a career choice, but it seems an unnecessary burden to be penalized for doing so.

And as a very fragile minority language, surely it’s popular culture should be encouraged, not forced out of existence.

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