DISCLAIMER: Before you consider resigning from a pay source or collection society, such as a Performing Rights Organization (PRO), please know this is a major decision. It may have adverse effects on your royalty payments for years to come.
First and foremost, it’s important for every music creator to be affiliated with a Performing Rights Organization (PRO), which will track and collect performance royalties for your works when they are publicly broadcast, for instance on TV or radio, in clubs, or when performed live. A PRO collects fees from these establishments, and then distributes the owed amounts to registered songwriters and publishers. In the US, the major PROs are ASCAP, BMI, GMR, and SESAC, and in Canada, SOCAN. In Europe, you may be affiliated with organizations such as AKM (Austria), KODA (Denmark), SACEM (France), or PRS (UK).
No matter which society you’re with now, if you’re thinking about switching to a new PRO, it’s important to know that it may affect your flow of royalties and you could end up losing income in the short or long term. Be sure to plan ahead, especially if you rely on your PRO royalty payments as regular income.
How a PRO Switch Can Affect Your Royalties
When a songwriter considers changing PROs, they’re likely doing so because they anticipate that a change will have a positive impact on their royalty collections - whether because the new PRO seems easier to work with, or because they seem to collect more effectively. The different PRO options have varying advantages; but bear in mind that switching your PRO may lead to some unexpected changes in your royalty collections:
- Your new PRO may have different collection protocols for royalties earned when your song is used in a streaming or broadcast television show, or when it’s played on broadcast radio. If you rely heavily on this type of revenue, make sure you’re clear on how your prospective new partner collects.
- Music Supervisors often use PRO databases as their first port of call for researching who controls what compositions, and if there is a lag in your new affiliation becoming public, you could potentially miss out on a sync request in the interim. Another sync-related outcome: if a producer you’ve worked with in the past submits a cue sheet of your usage containing old PRO information, you will not see that revenue until you discover and resolve the error.
- Because there will naturally be a transition period between your previous PRO and your new one, you may see significant delay in receiving performance royalties as your new affiliation is confirmed and registered, your compositions are re-registered, and licensees update their payee information for your songs to your new PRO.
Other Things To Consider When Switching PROs
- Membership Terms: When you affiliated with your PRO, you agreed to their membership terms, which likely included a minimum term - usually 1-5 years - before you can switch to another society. This minimum term may depend on the number of songs you’ve registered with them, when you registered the songs, and how much money those songs are making. Even if your contractual term has ended, your PRO may only allow you to leave during a specific time window every year.
- Delays In Updating Song Registrations: While you may be able to switch your society affiliation relatively quickly, your old society may continue to license the songs you’ve already registered with them for a period of time before they can switch those songs over to your new society.
- Membership Fees: Some PROs charge a membership fee, which you will have to pay to affiliate with a new society.
- International Collection: Payments from societies outside your home territory take longer to collect than domestic earnings. Once you are released from your current PRO, the new PRO will have to register you with the international database immediately, and even so, it’s likely that some international payments will be sent to your old PRO in the meantime.
Factors That Might Mean You Cannot Make the Switch Right Now
- If you received an advance* from your PRO, you will need to wait until you’ve recouped and/or your term is up.
- If you have an unrecouped adjustment (i.e. if you were overpaid royalties in error by your current PRO, and you are in the midst of repaying this out of incoming royalty earnings), you may not be able to leave until it is recouped.
- Switching your works over is much easier if you are in control of your own publishing. It may be more complicated to remove works if you are in a co-publishing agreement with another company.
*Advances from collection societies are very rare. To learn more about advances, head here.
Making The Decision To Resign From Your PRO
If you’ve given it thought, understand what might happen, and have made the decision to leave your performing rights organization, prepare yourself to do some work. Use the guide below to help you get started:
- Familiarize Yourself: Go to your PRO’s website and familiarize yourself with their rules for resignation. Each PRO differs in their approach. For instance, in the USA, you can request to resign from ASCAP on their platform, but only within a certain time window, while BMI asks for a certified letter mailed to them within a specific notice period. In the UK, PRS asks for a hand-signed letter, and in France SACEM requires 3 months’ notice.
- Confirmation: Get in contact with your current PRO and confirm the resignation process before initiating the request. Find their contact information and talk to their office to make sure you have all the information you need.
- Have a plan: Make sure you know which PRO you want to move to, and how you might pay your bills in the meantime. Be prepared in the event of an unexpected delay.
- Get in touch with your publisher: Discuss the options with them and alert them of your upcoming change. If you are a Songtrust client, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org, or fill out our Support Form, to let our team know. The sooner you alert our team, the sooner we can get the process moving and reduce delay in your royalty payments.
The decision to change PROs shouldn’t be made lightly, as it can be a tricky and sometimes lengthy process. Make sure you have all the information you need, talk with a representative at the organization you’re leaving and at the organization you intend to join, and put a concrete plan in place.
A Quick Note About Music Publishing
It is a common misconception that if you are registered with a PRO, you don’t need to have music publishing. In reality, it’s important for music creators to have both. Music publishing income has many different revenue avenues and, while crucial, a PRO will only collect your performance royalties, and tend to primarily focus collections within your home territory. Each territory has their own organization that is responsible for collecting royalties, and a publisher or publishing administrator (such as Songtrust) works with these organizations directly to collect your international royalties, as well as additional revenue such as mechanical royalties and micro-sync royalties.