PRO’s negotiate fees with entities for playing their members music, then distribute that money to the artists. Some examples of entities that must pay every time they play an artists song are:
Streaming Services (Pandora, Spotify, YouTube)
Television Shows and Movies
TV and Radio Commercials
And pretty much ANYWHERE else you hear music. If a business is playing an artists music, that business pays a licensing fee to one of the PRO’s for permission to play that music.
I promise, even though it sounds like the Mafia, it’s really not!
In America there are 3 Performance Rights Organizations:
ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) www.ASCAP.com
ASCAP is one of the most popular. I’m a member of ASCAP. They collect the most money for their artists, and is not for profit.
BMI (Broadcast Music Inc) www.BMI.com
BMI is the largest, and owned by Broadcasters (aka Radio Stations)
SESAC (Society of European Stage Authors and Composers) www.SESAC.com
SESAC is the smallest, but is the fastest growing, and has a more “personal” experience with it’s members.
So what happens is that the PRO’s go out to every restaurant, venue (etc) and says “hey, you have to pay us so much money for playing the music of our artists”. The PRO then monitors/tracks the songs that are played on TV/Radio/Venue. The entity pay’s the fee to the PRO every quarter. That money is then distributed out to the artists.
SO WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO DO?
In order to get your piece of the money that’s generated from performances of your songs, first you have to choose a PRO’s to affiliate yourself with, go to their website and sign up. You want to sign up as:
A Writer - This makes sure you get the proper monies your owed when songs you had a part in writing are played in any licensed venue
A Publisher - A publisher is someone who milks every last dime out of a song. When you create the words or music for a song, you’re automatically a publisher, until you designate someone else as the publisher of the song.
The Writer application will ask for your real name, any Pseudonyms you write under, and your Tax ID number (your SSN is fine). The Publisher application will ask for your name, the Publishing Businesses name, and your Tax ID number (again, your SSN is fine here too). For the publishing business name, make up something that sounds cool. You can take care of registering that business name with the state later.
In each of these applications, they will ask do you meet certain criteria for membership. Like have you ever sold your music? Or, have you ever had a song played on the radio, or in a restaurant or club? Respond yes to whatever applies to you. If none apply to you, choose whatever WILL apply to you in the near future.
THAT’S IT. (almost)
So when you write songs for yourself and other artists, the credits inside the liner notes of the CD will read (partially) as follows:
Written By: <Your Name> (ASCAP)
Published By: <Your Publishing Company Name> Publishing (ASCAP)
If you open up the booklet for any CD that you have, and look at the song credits, you’ll see this type of notation all over. Now you know what that is! It’s listing out the credit for anyone who had a hand in creating that song and what PRO they are affiliated with.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Once a song is complete, it would be Copyrighted, and then registered with the PRO. During the song registration process, the PRO will ask the registrant for the names and PRO affiliations (even if they are with different PRO’s) of everyone who has a stake in the song (and the percentage of that stake).
That’s it. So take the time to go to the PRO’s websites, read all about them, and then choose your favorite, and sign up with them. The fee is around $25 for a Writer application, and $25 for a Publisher application. This is a one time fee.
Once your applications are accepted, you should get your membership cards and materials in the mail within 6-8 weeks.