[with apologies to Martin for missing the start of his session]
From the late 1920s until the late 1980s the amount of records the BBC could play on its radio stations was severely limited by a system known as ‘needletime’. Officially this was an arrangement between the BBC and Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL), acting on behalf of the major record companies. However it was also subject to scrutiny and intense lobbying by the Musicians Union (MU) which was dedicated to restricting the amount of records played on the radio as part of its determined campaign to ‘keep music live’. Based on a series of previously unseen documents, this paper examines the history of the needletime agreements, their scope and the controversies which emerged between the contending parties. It suggests that an understanding of the needletime agreements sheds further light on the historically complex nature of the UK’s music industries and on the interactions between those representing music makers, music publishers and music users.
Researching the British Musicians’ Union – Bridging Troubled Waters?
Martin Cloonan; John Williamson (University of Glasgow, UK)
This paper reports our findings one year in to a four year funded research project on the history of the UK’s Musicians Union (MU). Tracing its roots back to the formation of the Amalgamated Musicians Union (AMU) in 1893, the Musicians Union was formed in 1921 by an amalgamation of the AMU with the London Orchestral Union of Professional Musicians. Since this time the MU has played a key – but largely under- researched – role in British and international musical life. The research will result in a history of the MU and its work in key areas such as copyright, broadcasting, changing technology and labour market policy. Here we will highlight some of the problems which beset a union which sought to unite musicians across musical genres while dealing with a workforce which was often spread across numerous employers. Drawing on a number of case studies this paper will suggest that a better understanding of musicians’ collective organisations and their problems in organising popular musicians can provide many insights in the music industries more broadly and that the lessons of the past resonate today.
Martin begins by outlining the paper, which is delivered in the early stages of a 4 year AHRC/ASRC project, ending in 2016 with an exhibition. Methodologically they are working historically from MU archives, other archives (e.g. BBC) and broadcast/interview sources.