Make Money, Get Paid: a Guide to Performing Rights Organizations (PROs)

Connor McCoy, Spire Contributor | February 7, 2019

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Have you ever wondered how songwriters get paid for music played in a public place? And who keeps track of the restaurants, stores, and concerts that play it? This is the job PROs. PROs, short for Performing Rights Organizations, collect and distribute royalties for the public performance of musical works in the US.

Which one is for me?

All songwriters should register with a PRO to get paid for the full use of their music when performed in a public setting. To ensure you’re covering all of your bases you need both composition royalties (ASCAP/BMI/SESAC) and sound recording royalties (SoundExchange), as both are different. To help you decide which PRO is right for you, let’s go through some of the key players.

Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI)

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BMI, or Broadcast Music, Inc. is a not-for-profit organization that represents over 12 million musical works from over 800,000 artists. Membership is free for songwriters, but for publishers, there’s a $150 fee. Benefits include:

Discounted Registration for Billboard Latin Conference Offered to BMI Affiliates

LARAS Offers Membership Discount to BMI Affiliates

NXNE Offers Special Discount to BMI Affiliates

Video Games Live Offers Special Discount to BMI Affiliates for LA Show

Billboard Touring Conference and Awards Offers Discounted Registration to BMI Affiliates

ArtistShare for Songwriters, FanBridge, Musician’s Atlas, Muzlink, Songwriters Hall of Fame, The Production Marketplace

American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP)

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ASCAP, American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers is a not-for-profit organization that represents over 10 million from over 600,000 artists. Launched in 1914, ASCAP is the oldest of the three major companies by over 16 years. Membership is $50 for songwriters and publishers.

Discount on membership to the Songwriters Hall of Fame

Membership in the US Alliance Federal Credit Union

Discounts on health, dental, instrument and life insurance via its MusicPro program

Discount on ASCAP Web Tools, a set of internet-based marketing and sales tools developed by Nimbit, Inc. for ASCAP members

Discounts on music-related retail products and services

Hotel and rental car discounts

Annual ASCAP "I Create Music" Expo

Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC)

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SESAC, Society of European Stage Authors and Composers, is the only for-profit company among the three major organizations. Based out of Nashville, SESAC represents over 400,000 musical works from over 30,000 affiliated writers. However, SESAC is not available to just anyone. To gain membership, you have to be invited, and thus, there’s no fee to join. If you get yourself the golden ticket invite, you’ll get access to all sorts of discounts and benefits.

Discounted rate on CMA’s Sterling Individual membership

Free 3-month Musician’s Atlas online account

Discount subscriptions for Billboard Publications

NSAI and Frost Specialty Insurance Copyright Infringement Policy

Discount at Avis Rental Cars, Sprint, Berkleemusic.com, SONGTRUST, American Songwriter Magazine, MusicPro Insurance, Legacy Learning Systems,

Additional Discounts at Brickhouse Direct, Ameriprise Financial, COPYCATS, Disc Makers CD Manufacturing, Song U, Get It Guru, MasterWriter, Music Connection

SoundExchange

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SoundExchange is a performance rights organization in the United States responsible for collecting and redistributing digital public performance royalties. This includes music service providers like SiriusXM and Pandora, or cable providers who offer music channels. You can learn more about SoundExchange here.

Don’t wait to join a PRO

Depending on what an artist needs from their PRO, any of these three are great options.

The costs are roughly the same, but keep in mind that in addition to membership fees, all PROs also take an estimated 10-14% fee from collected royalties to cover administrative costs and expenses. So it usually comes down to customer service, side benefits, and personal preference.

Even if you don’t have much music released yet, it’s a really smart move for you to sign up for a PRO as soon as you can in preparation for your releases. You’re going to have to do it eventually, so why not take the first step now?