We’ve covered some of the basics with mechanical royalties. Now let’s look at another area where songwriters and singer-songwriters can start seeing the checks roll in: performance licensing.
The copyright owner of a musical composition is also entitled to royalties from public performances of his or her song. This includes radio play, background music in restaurants, cafes, concerts, etc. In short, if a song is being played in a public space, the copyright owner can get paid for it.
It is ridiculous to think that you, as a composer, would be expected to go to every restaurant or public venue and ask for licensing royalties. Fortunately a few organizations in the music industry have taken it upon themselves to do that job for you. These entities are known as Performing Rights Organizations, or PRO’s. PRO’s approach radio stations, businesses, and different public space managers, collect blanket license fees, and then redistribute those payments to the composers and publishers based on airplay. Note that PRO’s can only pay songwriters and publishers if their songs are getting public play, either through radio, tv, or other public venues, so don’t expect to see checks in the mail as soon as you sign up. That being said, these PRO’s serve as a world of resource to musicians at any level of experience, exposure, and expertise, offering workshops and hosting conventions to help you network and learn about the industry. These artist resources are available upon membership.
To collect on these royalties, you, as a musician, must be affiliated with a PRO that will collect royalties on your behalf. In the United States, there are three major PRO’s: American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), and SESAC (which used to stand for something, but eventually just changed it’s name to SESAC). Anyone can register for ASCAP or BMI; SESAC is by invitation only. Furthermore, countries all over the world each have their own set of PRO’s, so if you want a share of the international public performance royalties, you will have to register with foreign PRO’s as well.
These organizations exist to make sure you, as a composer, publisher, or singer-songwriter, get paid for your work, and they have stacks of money in the coffer just waiting to be doled out to artists that are breaking their way into the public performance spectrum. But no matter how deserving a composer you may be, or how many times your song is played on the radio, none of that money is accessible unless you sign up with one of these PRO’s. In fact, you can’t even get paid for synchronization licensing unless you are signed up with one of these PRO’s, but more on that in the next section on synchronization licensing.
If you are a composer or singer-songwriter who has not signed with a publisher, then you are managing your own publishing. This important to note, because ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC not only pay songwriters for public performance, but also send royalty checks to the publisher. If you are a self-publishing singer-songwriter, you not only have to register with a PRO as a songwriter, but also must register as a publisher. Only then will you have access to both the songwriter and publisher shares of the royalties. If you are thinking of starting your own music publishing company so you can handle your own publishing, SIGN UP WITH A PRO FIRST, as they need to make sure the name of your publishing company will not be a duplicate.
After you have successfully become a member of a PRO, as a songwriter/publisher/both, you must register your songs with the PRO. After all, even if you are a member, if the PRO doesn’t know what music you have created, they still can’t determine how much YOU should be paid..
Once you have registered your name and your music, you can only continue to promote yourself and maintain your public presence. Signing up with a PRO is not the same as collecting royalties. After all, a Performing Rights Organization cannot collect royalties from public performances if your music is not being played publicly in the first place.
Written by Jin Park
“Why Signing Up with ASCAP or BMI Is Not Enough – DIY Musician Blog.” DIY Musician Blog; CDBaby. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Aug. 2014.
Passman, Donald S. All You Need to Know About the Music Business, Eighth Edition. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2012.
“How Music Royalties Work.” HowStuffWorks. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Aug. 2014.
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