If you’ve ever written and recorded a song, then you might want to consider registering with one of the Performance Rights Organizations (PROs).
Basically, PROs collect royalties from ‘performances’ of a written song and give those royalties to the songwriters, composers and publishers of that song. Think of performances as a public broadcast of a song played through many different sources including TV, movies, radio, apps, satellite radio, at a nightclub, concerts, at a restaurant or even your grocery store. The PROs track and collect every play, take a small fee for their work, then pass on the royalties to the rightful owners.
There’s a lot more details involved but here’s a simplified example:
Let’s say Rick James is still alive. Rick James likes women so he writes a song and names it “Give it to me baby.” Rick James also likes money so he registers that song with his PRO, The American Society of Composers, Authors And Publishers (ASCAP). Now every time “Give it to me baby” is played—even when it’s being performed live—Rick James gets paid. Those plays add up and every three months, Rick James gets a phatty check in the mail.
Rick James performing “Give it to me baby” live
What’s an ASCAP?
If you live in the United States, there are three major PROs to choose from: ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. They all do pretty much the same thing and you can only register with one, so take time and do some research. BMI is free to join whereas ASCAP charges a one-time fee of $35. Some people say the BMI collects more money, while others insists ASCAP pays more to the artists. SESAC is usually by invite only.
Deciding when to join a PRO is something you want to consider as well. If you’re a non-performing songwriter or composer, you may want to wait until you secure a publishing deal. On the other hand, if you’re actively performing your original songs live at music venues and trying to get any airplay possible, then get yourself registered.
Once you’re registered with a PRO, you can register your songs along with the details about them and the PRO can get busy tracking performance royalties for you.
Next thing to learn about is publishers. We’ll get to that another day.