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The Importance of Setlists

Picture of Liane Bonin Starr
2 minute read

While many setlists have been (and undoubtedly will continue to be) hastily scribbled on napkins and scraps of paper, that doesn't mean they're not valuable. After all, a handwritten Nirvana setlist — complete with what’s presumed to be Kurt Cobain’s dirty footprint — sold for nearly $10,000 in 2014. 

A setlist doesn't have to be a collectible item or concert souvenir for it to have worth, however. In fact, songwriters can earn performance royalties whenever their songs are performed live in public, and submitting a setlist is key to collecting them.

Many performing artists who are also songwriters are unaware that their setlist, whether it's handwritten or printed, can earn them royalties in addition to their gig. That goes for whether it’s part of a whirlwind tour or a humble open mic night, so long as you own the rights to each song and submit your setlist to your collection society. 

Getting that setlist into the right hands can be a daunting task for any artist. Here’s how to ensure you’re not leaving any money on the table. 

What Do I Need to Submit my Setlist?

The information needed to submit a setlist depends on the collection society, but you generally need the venue name, date of performance, and list of songs performed. You can navigate to your PRO/CMO portal to see what information you'll need and to directly submit your setlist.

Setlist Submission Timelines

Deadlines vary, but you are generally required to submit a setlist within six months of your performance. We encourage all creators to submit their setlists as soon as possible.

Outside the U.S., you can submit a setlist either before or after the show has taken place. If it's a major concert, the revenues linked to the specific event will typically be triggered for distribution once a setlist is received. Otherwise, the foreign society will hold onto these royalties until they receive setlists from an authoritative source (e.g., a concert promoter, artist, manager, venue, or the foreign PROs of members whose works were performed).

There are some instances where the distributing society will get multiple setlists for a concert, all from authoritative sources. The society will most likely have already distributed the royalties based on the setlist of the first authoritative source they received. But if subsequent setlists are submitted that contradict the first, the collection society will most likely investigate further and adjust the first distribution, if necessary.

For smaller shows in bars, clubs, and coffee shops, the above rules may not apply. Different foreign collection societies have different distribution rules when it comes to smaller events. Smaller, less developed foreign collection societies may not always accept and payout on setlists for small gigs/shows, but this should not stop you from submitting anyways.

Who Can Submit My Setlist?

Like much of publishing, this depends on the collection society. Generally speaking in the U.S., only the performer can submit their setlist to the collection society. Meaning you would directly submit on, say, ASCAP’s website. Internationally, some societies allow publishers and managers to submit on behalf of the creator. 

Whether you’re just learning about setlist submission or being reminded that you need to submit last week’s show, knowing what you need to submit that setlist is important.


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