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What You Didn’t Know About Radio Royalties

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When you hear a song on the radio, who gets paid?

It’s probably not who you think. Today, we’re going to answer your questions and squash one of the most common misconceptions in the royalties/music publishing world.

Let’s start with an example: 

Remember Britney Spears “…Baby One More Time”, the international chart-topping smash hit from the late 90s? You know it as a Britney Spears song, but Britney did not actually write any of it.

When we talk about music publishing, we must always differentiate between songwriter and artist. As music publishers, we are focused on songwriters – protecting their rights and helping them collect royalties. For most of the Billboard Hot 100, the artist did not write the hit song on their own. They either used a team of songwriters or ‘cut’ (recorded) someone else’s composition entirely. In our example case, Britney wrote none of the song. It was written by one of the most important and successful songwriters of our generation, Max Martin.

So, for our example – 
Britney Spears
Songwriter: Max Martin

Royalties and Radio:


Radio airplay is considered a public performance. Public performances generate performance royalties for songwriters, which are collected by the PROs (ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC). In the US, terrestrial broadcasters (AM or FM stations) do not pay performers or sound recording copyright owners; they only pay the songwriters.

So, for every time “…Baby One More Time” plays on the radio – Max Martin and his publisher receive performance royalties from ASCAP (Max’s PRO). However, the performer Britney does not earn any royalties.

(Note: some other performance royalty sources, including internet radio, do pay performers and sound recording copyright owners. If you are a recording artist or copyright owner, you should register with SoundExchange to collect royalties from these sources.)


Performers/Artists do not earn any royalties each time a song is played on the radio – performance royalties are split among the songwriters.

Of course, oftentimes the performer/artist is also one of the songwriters. In those cases, they would earn their share of the songwriter royalties, depending on how much of the song they wrote.

Performers, artists, and record labels use broadcast radio as a promotional tool to expose their music to more fans and hopefully sell more records. Luckily, songwriters and publishers are able to earn performance royalties from radio airplay.

Author: Ken Consor


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21 thoughts on “What You Didn’t Know About Radio Royalties

  1. […] Consor from Songtrust wrote a great article called “What you didn’t know about radio royalties” in which he addresses one of the most commonly misunderstood aspects of music […]

  2. So if a rock musician writes their own songs they would get paid every time it plays on the radio?

    1. On the largest stations, yes. The smaller stations are surveyed regularly but won’t catch 100% of all songs. If you are in heavy rotation you’ll likely get picked up, but if you have the late night spot on college radio you have to get lucky.

  3. […] this subject because royalties should go to whoever created it, whether it’s photography, writing and of course music. Independent music is another example of the necessity of royalties. If smaller […]

  4. Are songwriters supposed to pay publishers to get songs played on the radio?

    1. Hi Marcia. No, radio stations pay blanket licenses to the PROs in order to use their music. The PROs then pay songwriters and their publishers.

  5. I think there needs to be a major re-think on the whole royalties issue. Every time a radio station plays a song it is a free advertisement for the artist, composer and/or publisher of the song. When people like the song, they will go out and buy the CD or pay for a download. So after the purchase all those who have the right to be paid will get paid. I don’t expect a radio station to advertise my product or service for free, so why should the music industry expect to receive free advertising. I think congress needs to re-address the whole issue. The small radio stations are the ones being hurt the most. What is next, will the owners of the rights to the songs try to charge me for listening to the radio? Since radio airplay is considered a “public performance”, are you going to charge me like going to a concert?

    1. The amount paid a singer/songwriter for having their song played is a fraction of a penny. Would you expect an actor on Mad Men or other T.V. shows to get absolutely nothing because it advertises their career for free? Under the new laws, with companies like Spotify out there, unless you are a performer as well and willing to tour, there really is no way for a songwriter to make enough money to live. People don’t buy albums or CDs anymore on a regular basis. They can get the music for free or almost free. To take away the meager radio rights’ payments would be just another stab in the heart of original music. Creativity should be rewarded with pay. They can’t continue doing this for nothing. A lot of talented people are being driven out of the business because of this. If you want new songs, you have to be willing to pay the creators. Right now is a very bad time to be a songwriter and you want to make it even worse by taking away the very small radio rights. I’m sure you just don’t understand what is happening rights now. I hope this helps.

      1. As a singer-songwriter, D. Nichols I would like to thank you for your comment! I couldn’t have said it better. For all of my hard work, I haven’t seen anything yet. I WILL CONTINUE TO KEEP THE FAITH!

  6. So here’s a question… let’s say I’m using an FM transmitter at home to listen to my own music I LEGALLY bought via some provider (Amazon Music, iTunes, etc.) on a radio station I legally can play on (one that does not interrupt regular stations)… do I then have to pay this royalty to the artists?

    1. Hi Ryan. The radio stations and digital service providers from which you’ve purchased/are streaming the music take care of paying royalties to the rights owners. If you’re listening to this music privately (as in, not playing it in a store, restaurant, or some other public place of business), then you don’t need to pay anything else.

  7. Hi there, Does this mean that you have to be a member of a PRO in order to get paid royalties from radio plays? As an indie artist I am still learning all of the red tape in the industry. I recently got one of my songs accepted to be played on a local radio station, but I am not yet a big time household name. My songs have not yet been played on other radio stations, this is a first time. Is it worth it to currently go and register with a PRO if I am not yet a big name?

    1. Hi Sebastian. Yes! You do need to be affiliated with a PRO in order to collect any performance royalties, including from radio play. It’s definitely worth it to affiliated with a PRO, even if you’re not earning a ton of royalties. They’ll collect anything you do earn in the meantime, and when your songs are generating more money, you’ll already be set up. Best of luck!

  8. who or what is. Pro is it a royalty collection company I’m looking into selling my music on line and I want the best protection for my creativity. Thank you keefer singer songwriter artist from England

    1. Hi Keefer. A Performing Rights Organization (PRO) licenses compositions on behalf of songwriters for their “public performance” such as on radio or television broadcasts, in bars and restaurants, live at venues, or via streaming, and pay songwriters/publishers for the use of their songs. Songtrust can help you affiliate with a PRO and collect both your performance and mechanical royalties worldwide. Best of luck!

  9. I am an Independent Singer/Songwriter. I recently released a CD from which a couple songs got picked up [sheer luck] by satellite radio. SoundExchange sent me a very substantial amount of money for singing the song [performing royalty] and releasing it as an independent [record company]. THIS was not a songwriting royalty. My performing rights organization who was supposed to cover my songwriting royaltis sent me nothing. Note they both covered the same time period. Does this mean a record company can release a song I wrote with one of their artists and collect thousands of dollars and I get nothing as a songwriter? Just saying cause it just happened to me.

    1. Hi Billy. As a songwriter, you should receive performance and mechanical royalties for your share of the composition. If a label released a song you wrote, they need to secure a mechanical license for their use and sales of the song.

  10. Hi Julia
    If I released it as an independent and all rights are mine including Mechanicals, shouldn’t I still get songwriting royalties from my PRO? It’s not about the money it’s about the reason why I received the performance royalties and not the songwriting royalties? Sorry to bother you!!

    1. Hi Billy. To clarify, “performance” royalties received from your PRO are not royalties earned by the performer, but royalties earned by the songwriter/publisher through the performance of their composition! As a songwriter, you are due performance royalties for the use of your compositions, and that is completely separate from royalties earned by sound recordings and performers. Take a look at our E-Book that goes into depth into the business of songwriting:

  11. Do songwriter/artists get paid for meetings with the media that are requested by your record company.

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