Negotiating needletime: the Musicians' Union, the BBC and the record companies, c. 1920-1990

Cloonan, M. (2016) Negotiating needletime: the Musicians' Union, the BBC and the record companies, c. 1920-1990. Social History, 41(4), pp. 353-374. (doi: 10.1080/03071022.2016.1215098)

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This article examines an important, but hitherto largely overlooked, licensing system which operated in the UK between the late 1920s and late 1980s and limited the amount of recorded music that broadcasters could use in radio progammes. Known as ‘needletime’ the system was formalized in the 1930s when the BBC reached a collective agreement with the UK’s record companies – here acting via the copyright licensing society Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL) – about the amount of records that it could play. Drawing on previously unused materials, the article provides a revisionist account of the development of needletime, focusing on the actions of a third party, the Musicians’ Union (MU). As is shown, the MU was able to exercise influence on both camps and thus to have a profound impact on the development of music radio and the wider music industries in the UK. Previous accounts of needletime are critiqued and it is suggested that, while it was accused of operating ‘restrictive practices’, the MU’s role can be seen more as an attempt to ensure that the suitably remunerated employment of musicians was as widespread as possible. Needletime emerges as perhaps the key agreement thus far within the UK’s music industries’ industrial relations.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Cloonan, Professor Martin
Authors: Cloonan, M.
College/School:College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts > Music
Journal Name:Social History
Publisher:Taylor and Francis
ISSN (Online):1470-1200
Published Online:11 October 2016
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2016 The Author
First Published:First published in Social History 41(4): 353-374
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
566971The Musicians' Union: A Social HistoryMartin CloonanArts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)AH/I027215/1CCA - MUSIC