Whenever your song is played on the radio or TV, streamed online, or performed live, you are owed performance royalties. These royalties are paid as license fees to a Performance Rights Organization (PRO), which then distributes the payments to its member songwriters, composers, and publishers. If you are actively involved in releasing music to the public, you are eligible to join these organizations. Joining one of these PRO's in today's music environment is so simple that it almost doesn't make sense to join one.
Which Performance Rights Organization Should I Join?
The major three (I say major because there are a few growing) are the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), and the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC). Whether you are a member of ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC, all three accept songwriters, composers, and publishers. However, these organizations have different fees and methods of joining so understanding this is essential to making your decision as to which to join (you can only join one of them for the most part - we go into this below).
ASCAP and BMI vs SESAC
ASCAP and BMI have easy online applications with one-time, nonrefundable fees. ASCAP charges $50 per application, with separate applications required for writers and publishers. BMI application fees are $150 for individual publishers and $250 for groups (partnerships, corporations, or LLCs). BMI has no fees for songwriter applications.
SESAC differs from the others by being smaller and more exclusive. There are no applications; instead, artists are invited in by a member of their Creative Services Department. There are also no fees involved in SESAC’s process. And while the temptation of no fees does sound appealing, as an independent artist starting out, you probably will not be given the option to join SESAC and will probably be left to choose between ASCAP and BMI.
Writer and Publisher
For all three PROs, if you are an independent musician, you should join as both a writer and publisher to ensure you get the most of your performance royalties. And while publishers may be affiliated with multiple PROs through the different memberships of their artists, writers may only belong to one.
ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC have the same role but emphasize different aspects of the artist-PRO relationship. Some quick differences: ASCAP and BMI are non-profit organizations, while SESAC is for-profit. ASCAP is member-owned and -run, while BMI is corporate-run. All three PROs offer workshops, hold showcases, and help you get paid as a music artist.
There are many factors that weigh into which PRO you should affiliate yourself with and what makes sense for one artist will be the complete opposite for another. Because of this, each situation must be analyzed on a case-by-case basis and it is recommended that you discuss your options with an experienced entertainment lawyer. Choosing which PRO to join is an important decision, contact us today for advice so that you can be sure to make your choice with confidence.
Julian Cordero is an Attorney, Business Strategist, and Music Producer. Oh and he blogs too! Julian is licensed to practice law in New York and is the Managing Attorney of Cordero Law LLC, a New York City based law firm focusing on Business Law, Entertainment Law, and Intellectual Property Law.