powered by FreeFind


Music in Theatres

Information reprinted from a booklet published by P.R.S.

Music seems to be freely available but it is not free. Music is created and owned by somebody and that somebody - be it a composer, songwriter, lyricist or music publisher - has a right to receive payment for its use.

PRS is the non-profit making UK association of composers, songwriters and music publishers which exists to administer the performing right on behalf of its members and those of affiliated societies world-wide.

The term 'performing right' means the right to:

  • perform a work in public
  • broadcast a work or to include it in a cable programme service
  • authorise others to do so.
What music use in theatres does PRS license without the need for special clearances?

PRS offers an annual licence for performances of Overture, Entr'acte and Exit Music. Weekly and seasonal rates are also available. No prior clearance of individual works is necessary.

'Incidental' or 'curtain' music to stage plays which is music heard by the theatre audience as an accompaniment to the play - where the music is not performed by. or intended to be audible to, any of the characters in the play - is licensed by PRS (see flow chart 2).

Except for complete concert performances of dramatico-musical works (which are licensed by the individual copyright owner), a PRS licence is needed for all concerts at which copyright music is performed. Of course a PRS licence is not only needed for performances in theatre auditoria but also for background or featured music in areas such as foyers, bars or restaurants.

What about "songs from the shows"?

Musical excerpts from dramatico-musical works (including operas, operettas, musical plays, revues and pantomimes whose music is specially written for them) are sometimes interpolated into other productions. PRS controls this music when performed 'non dramatically' (see flow chart 2)

PRS does not control this music when it is 'dramatically' performed. A performance is viewed as being "dramatic" if:-

  • through any accompanying dramatic action - whether acted, danced or mimed and/or
  • through the use of costume, scenery or other visual effects

there is given a visual impression or other portrayal of the writer's original conception of the work from which the excerpt was taken.

What about interpolated music?

Interpolated music is defined as "music not specially written for a theatrical production which is performed by or intended to be audible to a character or characters in that production". This can range from a single short item in the course of a straight play to a considerable number of songs or other musical works in a 'compilation show' or similar production.

What procedures must be followed to ensure that proper clearances are sought for interpolated music?

At least 30 days before the date of the proposed performance PRS should be informed of the full details of the work or works to be performed, the manner and the duration of the performance, the name of the production and the dates and venue of the performances.

Not more than 30 days after it receives notice, PRS will notify the licensee or applicant which of the works are to be covered by its licence or permit and the applicable royalty rate.

The 30 day rule is to ensure that PRS can consult the original copyright owners to ascertain whether it can license the work(s) before the performances take place. If less than 30 days notice is given PRS will always try to get this clearance before the show opens but cannot guarantee to do so.

Until PRS has notified the applicant, and the applicant has undertaken to pay royalties at the stated rate, any performances of interpolated works under PRS' control will be unlicensed and constitute an infringement which may result in legal action.

Where the right to license the performance of interpolated works lies with the composer, publisher or other copyright owner (see the flowchart), PRS will inform the applicant, and it will then be the responsibility of the applicant to obtain the necessary licence for the proposed performances.

PRS may relinquish its right to license the public performance of interpolated music in favour of a copyright owner under Article 7 (f) of its Article of Association (see flow chart).

What music use in theatres is not controlled by PRS?

The rights administered by PRS normally exclude what are usually referred to as 'grand rights' e.g. performances of ballets, or dramatico-musical works whose music is specially written for them, namely: opera, operetta, musical play, revue, pantomime. Except if it is performed by means of a film (made for exhibition in cinemas) or 'in public' by means of a radio or television set, or included in a cable programme service, PRS normally never controls the performance of a complete dramatico - musical work, nor does it usually control other music written specially for a theatrical production (e.g. incidental music specially written for a play) when performed during that production.

How does a PRS licence work?

Under the PRS Licence-contract royalties are generally paid annually on account at the beginning of the licence year. The charges are calculated under the appropriate tariff based on estimated music usage for the year or the actual usage from the past year, and are adjusted for actual use when payment for the following year is due. You should inform PRS however, of any performances of interpolated works according to the 30 day rule described on page 3. PRS may grant occasional licence-permits to music users for occasional events or limited seasons at theatres not already or not adequately covered by an annual licence.

Who needs a PRS licence for music in theatres?

Both theatre managers and theatre producers need to be aware of their obligations. A theatre manager cannot avoid his obligation to PRS by getting an indemnity from the producer.

Who should I contact for advice on using music in theatres?

If you are at all unsure about any aspect of licensing for music in theatres, please contact PRS Theatres Officer at your local office (see address page for details)