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A Guide to Key Pay Sources in the United States: ASCAP, BMI, GMR, HFA, SESAC, THE MLC

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4 minute read

When it comes to collecting the royalties your songs earn, there are many types of pay sources in the U.S. 

Many songwriters are familiar with Performing Rights Organizations (PROs). The main focus of music PROs is tracking the performance royalties that are earned anytime a work is played publicly. That includes everything from a live concert to a satellite radio station or loudspeaker.  

PROs do not handle the mechanical royalties that are earned when your song is reproduced physically or digitally though. Mechanical Rights Organizations (MROs) do, whether that means a slab of colored vinyl or a popular streaming platform like Spotify.  

As for how international pay sources are typically collected and tracked, reciprocal agreements are often reached between collection societies in different territories. For instance, ASCAP in the U.S. might sign a contract stating they’ll collect royalties on behalf of PRS members from the U.K. In exchange, PRS would do the same thing for ASCAP. 

It’s important for songwriters to learn about global pay sources to ensure they’re properly registering, tracking, and collecting everything they’ve earned. Here's a quick overview of key organizations and music rights societies within the U.S.

ASCAP, The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers

Launched: 1914

Membership Size: More than 800,000 

Official site:

Socials: @ASCAP

Pay Source Type: PRO

Type of Royalties: Performance 

About: The only American PRO created and controlled by composers, writers, and music publishers. ASCAP’s board of directors is elected by its members. Along with BMI, it is another one of the largest PROs in the United States. It also collects performance royalties outside the U.S. via reciprocal agreements with foreign PROs.

BMI, Broadcast Music, Inc.

Launched: 1939

Membership Size: More than 1.1 million 

Official site:

Socials: @BMI

Pay Source Type: PRO

Type of Royalties: Performance

About: BMI is one of the biggest and most well-known PROs in the U.S. It was founded by radio executives to “serve as an advocate for the value of music” and “support its songwriters, composers, and publishers by taking care of an important aspect of their careers — getting paid.” They offer blanket music licenses to businesses and organizations that allow them to play more than 17 million musical works. A common example would be the blanket licenses that let radio stations play a wide range of music legally. Other common blanket license clients include TV networks, nightclubs, and film production companies. 

GMR, Global Music Rights 

Launched: 2013

Membership Size: Invitation-only, more than 56,000 licensed songs

Official site:

Socials: @gmro_pro

Pay Source Type: PRO

Type of Royalties: Performance 

About: Global Music Rights was founded by industry veteran Irving Azoff as an alternative to the traditional performance rights model. It prides itself on being the first new U.S. PRO in nearly 75 years — an active, progressive advocate for copyright holders in the current marketplace. They are committed to protecting the integrity of music rights and promoting the value of intellectual property on behalf of creators. GMR serves a select client base, creating customized solutions and personalized services for writers.

HFA, The Harry Fox Agency

Launched: 1927 

Membership Size: More than 100,000 catalogs 

Official site:

Socials: @harryfoxagency

Pay Source Type: MRO

Type of Royalties Collected: Mechanical 

About: The Harry Fox Agency meets the mechanical and digital licensing needs of nearly 50,000 affiliated publishers, more than 2,500 record labels, and several major Digital Service Providers (DSPs). HFA issues mechanical licenses and collects and distributes mechanical royalties on behalf of their affiliated publishers. This includes licensing for the recording and reproduction of CDs, ringtones, and digital downloads. HFA also conducts royalty examinations, negotiates new business opportunities, and pursues key piracy claims.

The MLC, The Mechanical Licensing Collective

Launched: 2019

Membership Size: n/a

Official site:

Socials: @MLC_US

Pay Source Type: MRO

Type of Royalties Collected: Mechanical 

About: The Mechanical Licensing Collective is a nonprofit organization created by the Music Modernization Act to administer blanket mechanical licenses to eligible streaming services in the U.S. and pay the resulting royalties to songwriters, composers, lyricists, and music publishers. It is designated by the U.S. Copyright Office and endorsed by the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA), the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), and the Songwriters of North America (SONA). If you’re signed up with Songtrust, we register your songs with The MLC on your behalf, along with pay sources in 215 countries and territories around the world.

MRI, Music Reports

Launched: 1995

Membership Size: More than 500 of the world’s largest copyright owners and users

Official site:

Socials: @MusicReportsInc

Pay Source Type: RAE

Type of Royalties Collected: Mechanical 

About: Music Reports was originally introduced as an alternative to the rigid blanket licensing structures of BMI and ASCAP. MRI developed an administration service that allows composers of television to license their works to local television stations directly. The company is now a leader in music rights clearances, licensing solutions, and mechanical royalty accounting for digital and background music services such as Amazon, Deezer, Flipagram, Pandora, iHeartMedia, SiriusXM, SoundCloud, and Tidal.

SESAC, Society of European Stage Authors and Composers

Launched: 1930

Membership Size: 30,000 

Official Site:

Socials: @SESAC

Pay Source Type: PRO

Type of Royalties Collected: Performance 

About: SESAC is a relatively small PRO that is open by invitation only. It focuses on film and television composers from such hit TV shows as Seinfeld, How I Met Your Mother, and Grey’s Anatomy, and major songwriters like Mariah Carey, Neil Diamond, Adele, and Bob Dylan. SESAC also owns and works alongside the Harry Fox Agency. 

Don’t Leave Your Royalties to Chance

While becoming a member with a local collection society is a crucial step in securing your rights as a songwriter, you shouldn’t stop there, as they only collect a portion of the royalties you earn when your songs are used.

Follow the steps below to ensure you’re collecting all the royalties your music generates when it is played around the world: 

  • Use a digital distributor such as CD Baby or DistroKid. They’ll make your music available on digital streaming and download platforms all over the world, and will collect and pay your recording royalties.

  • Affiliate with your local PRO. They will collect royalties in your local territory, and your affiliation ensures you are identified as a writer within the publishing industry, which makes it possible for global pay sources to allocate your royalties.

  • Register your songs with a publishing administrator like Songtrust, which registers your songs directly with performance and mechanical societies all over the world.

  • Register your songs with an organization that collects neighbouring rights or digital performance royalties generated by your recordings. If you’re in the U.S., SoundExchange is the primary organization that handles these royalties. 

If you have additional questions about pay sources in North America or music publishing in general, please reach out to our team.



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