'Going to the PPL AGM today', I said.
'What's the PPL?', they said. They are still asking me this question, in spite of all my banging on, all my boring-for-England at dinner parties, all my Facebooking and Tweeting and general annoyingness on behalf of my buddies at Number 1 Upper James Street. In spite of much valiant raising of awareness on the part of the good folk at PPL themselves, the vast majority of men and women in the street haven't got a clue who PPL are or what they do.
Since you ask.
Founded by the record companies EMI and Decca in 1934 as Phonographic Performance Ltd, this organisation was set up to make sure those who work at creating music are paid for the music they make. That they should be paid is a no-brainer to most of us who have ever worked in the music industry. Beyond this strange and perplexing world, however, too many appear to believe they should get music free.
'Perhaps it is our over-use of the words 'play' and 'playing', observes Fran Nevrkla OBE, Chairman of PPL. 'There is a widespread belief that musicians and songwriters don't actually 'work'. They 'play' at it. And because they appear to enjoy their 'play' and 'playing' so much, they are constantly expected to do it for nothing. This was particularly apparent, and disappointingly so, in the run-up to the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Artists were expected to contribute their performances free - and organisers seemed shocked by the notion that they ought to be paid. But why shouldn't they be?'
He is right.
Music, besides being a highly complex and imaginative art form, is also a product. It accounts for a huge proportion of UK GDP. I don't want to quote figures from memory, in case I get them wrong, but you could look them up. Suffice it to say that our recording artists and the music they make are among this country's most valuable exports. Look no further than the British artists topping the charts in America - Adele and One Direction to name but two - for proof.
I have sometimes heard PPL denounced as 'just another rip-off.' No, it isn't. The company does not make a profit. Once costs have been deducted, all revenue is paid directly to its members: songwriters, performers and record companies. Membership is free.
So if you play recorded music in your place of work, be it saddlery, sandwich shop, hair salon, car showroom, college or gym, you need to have a licence to play it. This is the equivalent of obtaining permission from the copyright owners of the music. Imagine having to go to every single recording artist in turn - from Elton to Macca to Sting to Jessie J to will.i.am., say - and having to ask their permission before you could play their recorded work. For this is what it amounts to. To have PPL doing it on all our behalf, collectively, from one central London office, makes sense for performers and consumers alike.
A great deal has changed since the 1930s, when PPL was born. The radio boom of the 1960s and 1970s saw its revenues surge. There were more copyright law changes in 1988. In 1996, performers were granted the right to receive 'equitable remuneration' where recordings of their performances were broadcast or played in public. PPL were now able to pay them royalties directly. From humble beginnings of £1 million over the first decade of its existence, PPL now collects, on behalf of its members, more than £150 million per year.
Bottom line, businesses use music to maximise their customer proposition. They must pay for the right to do so. Enough said.