You’re indie. You’re authentic. You’re DIY. But you still want to get paid for your music. Who doesn’t? Admitting that is a crucial first step to a long career as a musician. And affiliating with a Performing Rights Organization, or “PRO,” is the second.
As per the Songtrust music publishing glossary, PROs are “societies responsible for collecting income on behalf of songwriters and music publishers when a song is publicly broadcast.” That means PROs track down cash for you when your music is played on television and AM/FM airwaves, through internet radio services like Pandora, at a club, inside a restaurant, at a concert, or publicly broadcast in some other fashion. These places and stations pay fees to PROs, who in turn pay their registered songwriters, most of whom are owed more money than they know.
ASCAP, The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers
Official site: ASCAP.com
Location: New York, London, Miami, Puerto Rico, Los Angeles, Nashville, Atlanta
Vitals: With a 470,000-strong membership of composers, songwriters, lyricists, and music publishers, this non-profit is, according to its website, the only American PRO created and controlled by composers, writers, and music publishers—its Board of Directors is elected by its members. “A music creator is like a small business,” reads ASCAP’s website, “and we exist to ensure that ASCAP members are paid promptly and fairly when their compositions are performed publicly.”
Notable affiliates: Justin Timberlake, Vampire Weekend, Duke Ellington, Dave Matthews, George Gershwin, Stevie Wonder, Beyonce, Marc Anthony, Henry Mancini
Fee: One-time fee of $50 as a writer (free when you sign up through Songtrust) and $50 as a publisher.
Publishing Companies: In order to collect your publisher’s share of royalties as an ASCAP member, you need to have an ASCAP publishing company (Becoming a Songtrust member will also allow you to collect your publisher’s share).
Pay Schedule: Click here for ASCAP’s writer and publisher pay schedules.
BMI, Broadcast Music, Inc.
Official site: BMI.com
Location:Nashville, New York, Los Angeles, London, Atlanta, Miami, Puerto Rico
Vitals: Founded by radio executives as a non-profit, BMI now boasts more than 600,000 members. According to its website, “BMI is the bridge between songwriters and the businesses and organizations that play their music publicly…BMI serves as an advocate for the value of music, representing 7.5 million musical works created and owned by more than 600,000 songwriters, composers and music publishers.”
Notable affiliates: Mariah Carey, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Eminem, Rhianna, Maroon 5, Sam Cooke, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton
Fee: Free for songwriters, $250 as a publisher
Publishing Companies: You do not need a publishing company to collect your publisher’s share of royalties at BMI.
Pay Schedule: BMI pays royalties quarterly. Click here for more info.
Official site: SESAC.com
Location: New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Miami, London, Nashville
Vitals: SESAC is the only PRO in the U.S. that is not open to all songwriters; instead, you must receive an invitation to join. As the smallest PRO in the U.S., SESAC has has a selective affiliation process and seeks to signs writers who are professional and serious about their writing career, which they say allows for “personal relationships” between affiliates and the SESAC staff. “With an international reach and a vast repertory that spans virtually every genre of music, SESAC is the fastest growing and most technologically adept of the nation’s performing rights companies,” reads the SESAC site. Note: the SESAC abbreviation is, today, meaningless; the organization was originally founded to serve European composers underrepresented in America before branching out to become a full service PRO.
Notable affiliates: Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, Cassandra Wilson, Rush, MGMT, Mumford and Sons (via PRS).
Fee: None (invitation only to join).
Pay Schedule: Click here for SESAC’s royalty distribution schedule.