The Difference Between a PRO and a CMO

I imagine as you’ve begun your journey on educating yourself on the nuances of music publishing, and specifically how to confirm that you are positioned to collect all of your royalties, you’ve become fatigued by all of the acronyms. We understand. They are seemingly never-ending, but hopefully, this will help provide some clarity on the types of organizations responsible for licensing, monitoring and collecting royalties on behalf of rights holders, aka you.

The first thing to understand is that a PRO, or performing rights organization, is just a type of CMO. 

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So, what exactly is a CMO? It’s a Collective Management Organization which enables copyright owners and administrators to efficiently and cost-effectively collect royalties generated by many types of use. The three distinguishable functions of a CMO are:

  1. To license the use of the rights they manage
  2. To monitor that use in order to enforce the conditions upon which the license has been granted
  3. To collect and distribute the royalties payable as a result of the licensed use

To put it frankly, the landscape of copyright licensing is vast, complex, and often times tedious. There are thousands and thousands of payment sources across hundreds of countries all with different copyright law. CMOs are in place all over the world to simplify the process to effectively connect copyright holders to their royalties.

So, what are the two most common types of CMOs? Those are PROs, or Performing Rights Organizations, and MROs, or Mechanical Rights Organizations.

What is a PRO2 (1)


You may be familiar with what a PRO is, especially if you’re in North America, as you are likely already a member of one - think ASCAP, BMI, PRS, SOCAN, BUMA, etc. If you’re not, click here to read why you should be. These collection societies are responsible for the licensing, monitoring and collection of performance royalties generated from categories such as public performance and broadcast, or more specifically, sources such as radio stations, TV networks, gyms, airports, bars, and live music venues. They also collect from digital services such as Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Pandora, YouTube, etc. for their use of music.

MROs consist of companies like The Harry Fox Agency, Music Reports, Media, CMMRA, SODRAC, MCPS, etc. Their sole focus is to manage the collection of mechanical royalties generated from physical releases, digital downloads (iTunes) and also digital services as the ones previously listed. Physical and digital mechanical royalties are often paid to CMOs via a mechanical license with label and distribution services, whereas about half of the publishing royalty of a stream is directed to an MRO.

It’s worth noting that in some countries, both functions of PROs and MROs can live under one roof as one CMO.

It is a common misconception of songwriters that once they are members of a collection society, they are fully covered for the collection of all their publishing royalties. Unfortunately, that is not true. Think of it like this - if there are roughly 195 countries in the world and each has at least one, if not a few collection societies that, if your music is being used in those territories, are collecting your royalties, then you’d essentially need to register your songs with each of those collection societies. Knowing that there are potentially over 195 collection societies is the first step, but imagine how much time and energy it would take for you to affiliate as a member and register your songs to each and every one of them. To ensure you’re completely covered in many or all of these societies, having a publisher or pub admin like Songtrust should be an important part of your business decisions.

As the landscape of music publishing continues to change, it is likely that there will be more services focusing on specific rights whether it be performance, mechanical, digital, print, sync, etc. Knowing that these CMO’s are in place to better your ability to collect is important but it is also pivotal to understand how they coexist amongst one another and your other partners such as a publisher.

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