PLEASE NOTE: 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 that will likely have adverse effects on your royalty payments and your global registrations for years to come.
Every songwriter should be affiliated with their local Performing Rights Organization (PRO) or a Collective Management Organization (CMO), which will track and collect performance royalties when songs are publicly broadcast, for instance on TV or radio, in clubs, or when performed live. A PRO or CMO 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, 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).
Deciding which PRO or CMO you affiliate with as a songwriter is very important, and a decision that is not to be made lightly. One of the reasons it is so important to consider your options is that switching societies, while possible, is arduous and can have a major negative impact on your flow of royalties for years after you make the change.
How a PRO/CMO Switch Can Affect Your Royalties
When a songwriter considers changing societies, they’re likely doing so because they believe the new society will help them make more money - maybe they seem easier to work with, or to collect more effectively. When considering this, remember that making the switch will cause significant royalty delays and potentially, revenue lost entirely in the shuffle.
Your new society 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. Some societies pay on actual usage data, some use polling, and some only payout over a certain streaming or play threshold. This could affect you if you rely heavily on this type of revenue.
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. Another sync-related outcome: if a producer you’ve worked within the past submits a cue sheet of your usage containing old PRO information, you will not receive the performance revenue from the usage unless you discover and resolve the error yourself.
You will also see a significant delay in receiving all performance royalties as your new society will have to re-register your compositions, and licensees update their payee information for your songs. Because most of these organizations operate on a quarterly basis, it could be a year or more before everything is updated, and meanwhile, your royalties are at best going to be held - and at worst, lost entirely.
Other Factors to Consider
Membership Terms: When you affiliated with your PRO/CMO, you agreed to their membership terms, which likely included a minimum term 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, you may only be allowed 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 will continue to license the songs you’ve already registered with them for a period of time before they can switch over the registrations.
Membership Fees: Some PRO/CMOs charge a membership fee, and affiliating with a new society means paying their fees.
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.
Advances & Adjustments
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.
*Advances from collection societies are rare. To learn more about advances, head here.
Making The Decision To Resign From Your PRO/CMO
If, even after realizing you will face royalty delays and lost revenue, you have made the decision to leave your PRO/CMO, you’ll need to do some work.
Go to your PRO’s website and familiarize yourself with their rules for resignation. Each PRO differs in its 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.
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.
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, fill out our Support Form to let our team know immediately. 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, and we cannot urge you strongly enough to do your research before making this change.
If you have questions about music publishing, Songtrust, or specifically about your PRO, reach out to our team or check out our help center.