Learning the language of music publishing and how it works can be daunting. As a musician and songwriter, it’s important to take advantage of all revenue streams available to you.
Here we’ll talk about what a Performing Rights Organization (P.R.O.) is, what they do, and how they can help you collect royalties for your music.
What is a Performing Rights Organization?
A Performing Rights Organization (P.R.O.) helps songwriters and publishers get paid for the use of their music by collecting public performance royalties. Public performance Royalties are paid out to songwriters, composers and lyricists whenever their music is performed on radio stations (terrestrial, streaming, satellite), on TV shows or commercials, or played in live venues or businesses. They do not collect mechanical royalties, sync fees or digital performance royalties associated with the master recording.
How do P.R.O.’s get paid?
Any commercial premises that plays music publicly must obtain a license from a P.R.O. to do so. Restaurants, music venues (bars, amphitheaters, performance halls, etc.), sports arenas, stores, shopping malls, amusement parks, airports, hospitals and any other public place that plays music will likely require a license from a P.R.O. in order to play that music.
Which is the best P.R.O. for me?
Although there are many worldwide P.R.O.’s, in the U.S. you can choose from ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC.
There is no right or wrong choice, but you should know that you can only be affiliated with one P.R.O. at a time. Many artists base their decision on the P.R.O. of their favorite artists or recommendations from their musician friends. Below we’ve provided a little background information about ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC which will hopefully help with your decision.
Official site: ASCAP.com
Location: New York, London, Miami, Puerto Rico, Los Angeles, Nashville, Atlanta
Home to over 585,000 composers, songwriters, lyricists, and music publishers, ASCAP is a non-profit that is “the only performing rights organization in the US owned and governed by songwriters, composers and music publishers. Our Board of Directors is made up entirely of writers and publishers elected from and by the membership every two years.” (ASCAP.com)
Fee: One-time fee of $50 as a writer, $50 as a publisher.
Publishing Companies: In order to collect your publisher’s share of royalties as an ASCAP member, you must have an ASCAP publishing company.
Official site: BMI.com
Location: Nashville, New York, Los Angeles, London, Atlanta, Miami, Puerto Rico
Founded by radio executives as a non-profit, BMI now boasts more than 700,000 members. According to its website, “BMI is the bridge between songwriters and the businesses and organizations that play their music publicly…BMI serves as an advocate for the value of music, representing nearly 12 million musical works created and owned by more than 700,000 songwriters, composers and music publishers.”
Fee: Free for songwriters, $150 as a publisher
Publishing Companies: You do not need a publishing company to collect your publisher’s share of royalties at BMI.
Official site: SESAC.com
Location: New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Miami, London, Nashville
According to its website, “SESAC is the only U.S.–based Music Rights Organization that administers public performance, mechanical, synchronization and other rights.” SESAC represents over 400,000 songs on behalf of its 30,000 affiliated songwriters, composers, and music publishers. However, is not open to all songwriters; instead, you must receive an invitation to join. Additionally, SESAC pays royalties on a monthly basis, rather than quarterly. Its site reads, “With an international reach and a vast repertory that spans virtually every genre of music, SESAC is the most innovative and most technologically adept of the nation’s performing rights organizations.”
Fee: None (join by invitation only).
Don’t leave money on the table!
While considering which P.R.O. to join, make sure to collect all money owing to you. P.R.O.’s divide the licensing money for a song into two parts, the writer’s share and the publisher’s share. This means that out of each dollar your song earns in performance royalties, 50¢ goes to the writer(s) and 50¢ goes to the publishers. If you have a publisher they will want to collect their share and will likely register your songs with a P.R.O. themselves.
If there is no publisher listed for your songs then P.R.O.’s keep the publisher’s share and you will only be collecting half of the royalties available to you. Working with a publisher can have its benefits, especially if you don’t have the resources or support to effectively promote your songs. A good publisher can get your songs performed or recorded by other bands and may earn you more licensing fees. If you do choose to self-publish, make sure to register yourself as a publisher with your P.R.O. so you can collect both the writer’s share and the publisher’s share.