Royalties can be freakin’ confusing sometimes.
And I think that’s why a lot of songwriters are not registered with a Publishing Rights Organization (aka a PRO). It’s overwhelming and hard to understand.
So in this post, I hope to clear things up a bit by asking the question, “What can a PRO do for you?”
I first wrote a version of this post for Audio Issues
What Is A Publishing Rights Organization?
A Publishing Rights Organization (PRO) is a thing that should be a part of every songwriter’s life.
A PRO is a company that rakes in the royalties owed to you from performances of your songs.
It has to be a “public performance,” and that can be when:
- You or another performer plays your song live
- A public place (like a brewery or restaurant) streams your song over the speakers
- You land a sync licensing deal and your song is on a TV show, commercial, or in a video game
- A radio station plays your song
The way a PRO gets its hands on all these royalties for you is by using something called cue sheets.
A cue sheet is a document that the user (restaurant, radio station, performer, etc) of a song fills out and sends to the PRO. It lists what songs they used, when they played it, how much of the song they played, and other info.
The two biggest PROs in the United States are BMI and ASCAP. If you’re a songwriter, it’s free to sign up with BMI and $50 to sign up with ASCAP. Neither has recurring membership fees.
What A PRO Doesn’t Do
Just to clear things up, a PRO is not any one of these things: record label, sync licensing company, or publisher.
And here are the types of money they will not collect for you:
- Mechanical royalties
- Sync licensing fees
- Digital performance royalties
Sync licensing fees are paid to you directly from an indie filmmaker or through whatever sync licensing company you might be working with.
You earn digital performance royalties when a webcaster like Pandora or SiriusXM streams your song, and those royalties are collected by a company called SoundExchange (the only company in the U.S. who collects these).
And you earn mechanical royalties when your music is played on places like Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube — these are different than streaming royalties, which are paid to you via your music distributor. Mechanical royalties are collected by a publisher, publishing admin, or a royalty collections company.
What A PRO Can Do For You
So what are the benefits of joining a PRO? Well, there are plenty.
Let’s look at BMI and ASCAP as examples of the pros of PROs.
Both of them split royalties 50/50 between songwriter and publisher. It many cases, an indie artist is both.
Both PROs pay 88% of collections to members, keeping the other 12% as their overhead (they have to make money too).
They both allow you to enter your performances online (what songs you played, when, where) and get paid for playing your own songs.
As for payment, it will take several months to get paid (about 6 months with ASCAP and about 5 months with BMI), and you can choose either direct deposit or physical check.
And neither of these companies charges recurring membership fees, which is pretty awesome for musicians on a tight budget (i.e. most of us).
Plus, they each have their own special member-only perks, like:
- Access to showcases, expos, and award shows
- Opportunities to participate in songwriting camps and workshops
- Songwriters Hall of Fame membership discount
- Discounts on hotels and rental cars, and music-related services like FanBridge and ArtistShare
- Discounts on health, dental, instrument, and life insurance
But honestly, the biggest perk of joining a PRO is to get the songwriting royalties you’ve earned.
These won’t just magically show up in your bank account — you’ve got to enlist a PRO to go get them for you.
Each time you or someone else performs your song live, you get money.
Whenever your song shows up in a TV commercial, TV show, or video game, you get money.
And if a radio station spins your song, you get paid.
But a PRO can only pay you those royalties if you sign up with one.
Alright, that was a lot of info. So what can you do now?
To make it simple, here’s a list of things I’d suggest doing:
- Join BMI or ASCAP, register your songs, and enter your recent performances
- Sign up with SoundExchange to start collecting your digital performance royalties
- Team up with either Songtrust or Sentric to collect your mechanical/publishing royalties
That’s a pretty easy to-do list.
So now it’s time to get out there and start getting all the royalties you’ve earned. Thank you, publishing rights organizations.