Do you know what a PRO (Performing Rights Organization) is?  A PRO is an agency that ensures songwriters and publishers are paid for the use of their music by collecting royalties on behalf of the rights owner. PRO’s collect public performance royalties. When it comes to the U.S. there are three different PRO’s  The first one is called ASCAP (Association For Composers, Authors, & Publishers.) This PRO is the one that is run by creatives’ (artists).  The second PRO is called BMI (Broadcast Music Inc.).The third PRO is called SESAC (Society of European Stage Authors and Composers) . This particular organization is an invite only collection agency. SESAC is the smallest of the three U.S. based PRO’s There are also PRO’s in each  international territory that collect on behalf of their members.

If you have a question on which one to join in regards to ASCAP, BMI or SESAC here’s a couple different factors:

    1. Cost: (ASCAP) You must register and apply separately to join as a writer and a publisher. The cost is $50 for each application.
      (BMI)     It is free to join as a writer, however in order to register a publishing company there are 2 associated costs: $150 to register a publishing company that is owned by an individual, and $250 to register a company for a publishing company that is a partnership, corporation (including sole stockholder corporations) and/or limited liability company. The fee is due when the publishing company is initially set up, and it is neither refundable nor deductible from future earnings. (SESAC) It is free to join as a writer and as a publisher. (Remember that you must be invited to become an affiliate of SESAC.
    2. Minimum Payment & Timeframe Of Deposit: Timeframe (ASCAP) Payments for royalties usually take about six and a half months after the end of the quarter in which the song was publicly performed. (BMI) BMI payments usually take about five and half months after the end of each quarter. (SESAC) SESAC takes in contrast from the others around 90 days  to deposit money after each quarter. Minimum Payment: (ASCAP ) is $1 for a direct deposit or $100 if a member wants to be paid my check. (BMI) is $2 for a direct deposit or $250 to be paid via check if it’s the last ongoing quarter of the year. (SESAC) is $1 for a direct deposit and $50 to be paid via check.
    3. Percentage System  (Registering Musical Works) Think of a song as a “pie” and the pie being divided in half. One half of the pie is the writers share and the other half is the publishers share. (ASCAP) works on a 100% system, this means they recognize the true half and half (50% writers share & 50% publishers share) that makes up the whole song. (BMI) works on a 200% system, this means that they recognize the songs as the publishers  being 100% of their half share and the writers share being 100% of their half share.
    4. Standard Agreement Terms (ASCAP) ASCAP requires its members to agree to a one year standard contract agreement that automatically gets renewed. (BMI) BMI requires its members to agree to a standard two -year deal for writers and a standard 5-year contract deal for publishers. (SESAC) requires its affiliates to agree to a 3 year contract deal for both writers and publishers that automatically get renewed.
      I know that this all may sound confusing but check out this video from The Indie Music Academy that further explains the differences between ASCAP vs, BMI. (click here.)
      If you want to see a walk through of how to register a musical work on ASCAP (click here) BMI (click here). (*Info on numbers 2 & 4 gathered from the article ASCAP vs.BMI vs. SESAC-How To Get Your Royalties) written by Mary Woodcock of Music Gateway.

A  PRO can collect on a couple  different types of royalties for artists, songwriters, producers, and publishers. The first  type of royalty that is collected is called a “public performance”.  A public performance royalty is collected when a song is performed in a publicly recognized location. These locations can vary from bars, clubs, grocery stores, etc.  When it comes to artists performing their song live they must alert their PRO so that they can collect a royalty from that venue since they obviously won’t know that you are performing there. ASCAP’s platform for registering live performances is called “ASCAP On Stage”. BMI’s platform for registering live performances is called “BMI Live”. For SESAC affiliates, they are required to register their sets via their publishing account. When it comes to registering live performances with SESAC as an affiliate you must be prepared to list the following: venue name, address, size of venue and dates of the performance. Affiliates must also include the SESAC registered songs. Public performance royalties are also collected for terrestrial radio play (AM/FM). The U.S.A. is one of five countries that don’t pay on the sound recording side of the copyright. The only entities who get paid a royalty is the songwriter and who ever owns the publishing for that song. The second type of royalty that a PRO will collect on behalf of its members is a synchronization (sync) royalty. A sync occurs  when recorded audio is synced with a moving image. The term sync in regards to the PRO collections has to do with the writers, and publishers (if you aren’t signed to a publishing company, you are your own publisher and can collect on both sides) (composers and producers are also considered writers) ,and the sound recording (master).  A master use fee will be paid to the owner of the master (sound recording, if you are signed to a label they would receive this fee) when applicable, and the back end public performance royalties will be collected once the tv show, film, commercial, video game, mobile app has broadcasted live and continues to re-air. As you probably can imagine from reading the info presented above, PRO’s play an extremely significant role in your career and business.

If you desire to have a long career as an artist/songwriter/composer (producer) you must understand the very important role that your PRO organization plays in making sure you can continue to get the residual income known in the industry as “mailbox” money and can afford you the lifestyle that you desire in an industry where it can be extremely difficult to do so.

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