The best part of the digital age of music production is access. You can upload your music to a number of sites and have it be available to be heard around the world instantly. If you want to get paid, things can get a little complicated. That’s where performance rights organizations (PROs) come in.
Every time your music is played on the radio (an Internet streaming service, in a club, on TV, in a restaurant or any other public setting) you are technically entitled to royalties. The problem is knowing if a club across the world plays your music. Also, if you don’t know about what’s owed to you, how can expect to collect it?
PROs can be defined as “societies responsible for collecting income on behalf of songwriters and music publishers when a song is publicly broadcast.” The way they work is that clubs, restaurants, streaming services and anyone else who publicly plays music pays them a fee. Then the PROs distribute the royalties from those fees to their registered artists (minus a small cut, of course).
In addition to collecting and distributing your royalties, PROs often retain the right to sue on your behalf in order to protect your copyright. They can also handle the licensing of your music to other parties. Additionally, each PRO offers it’s own set of unique benefits, like workshops, networking events, travel discounts and health insurance plans.
While there are obvious benefits to joining a PRO–many major acts do, by the way–you should always read the fine print. As some artists have discovered the hard way, some PROs ask for exclusive control over the licensing of your music.
Typically, royalties are divvied up between two parties: the composer (or songwriter) and the publisher. If you’re self-published this often means that you would register as each.
In the U.S., there are three PROs: American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Broadcast Music, Inc (BMI) and Society of European Stage Authors & Composers (SESAC). ASCAP and BMI are by far the larger of the two, probably due to the fact that SESAC membership is by invitation only.
Joining a PRO can lead to extra income from your music as well as opportunities to engage with other professional music producers. Royalty collection and payout are often grouped into one service. So, if you’re interested in becoming a member of one, we recommend looking into some of the extra benefits each has to offer and going the one that best serves all your needs.