I am always surprised at how many musicians I talk with that really have no idea what a Performance Rights Organization is, or what it does for artists. I’m not just talking about indie musicians either. Some well-known national acts are in the same boat and could learn some things from this post. Let me explain how you can become a pro by joining a P.R.O.
A Performance Rights Organization, or P.R.O., is there to represent an artist in the collection of royalties. These would be writing or publishing royalties. In order to collect both types, you will need to register as both a writer and a publisher.
A songwriter is any person who creates the song by writing the music or the lyrics. If there are multiple writers then it is up to them to decide what the split for the royalties are. In the music industry, a music publisher (or publishing company) is responsible for ensuring the songwriters and composers receive payment when their compositions are used commercially. … They also secure commissions for music and promote existing compositions to recording artists, film and television. Most indie musicians are their own publisher.
The USA has three main P.R.O.s that include ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. Each P.R.O. has unique benefits. It is best to check out the features to each one before you join one to make sure your P.R.O. will meet your needs. ASCAP and BMI offer discounts on certain services and products for instance. If you don’t find any value in that then you might look into what other benefits each offer. Some people see what P.R.O. their favorite artists are under and decide to join that one because of that alone. Joining a P.R.O. is one of the best things an original artist can do to be a professional musician.
For a more detailed comparison of PROs then check out this article from Digital Music News.
Get more money from your live gigs
One of the best things about a P.R.O. is that they collect royalties for every time you perform an original composition live. You could have been making performance royalties from live shows all this time and never collected the money! The P.R.O.s are out there collecting your share, so don’t forget to get it from them. You will need to submit a setlist of what songs you performed for each show. Then after a few months, the P.R.O. will send you a royalty for that performance. ASCAP calls this OnStage, and BMI calls it LIVE.
I find that lots of artists have no idea about this feature of their P.R.O. I have seen artists that were established in the 80s, who have performed on MTV, that have never heard of this. I also know bands that make a living on the road playing 200 gigs a year that have never submitted their set lists. They could be getting extra money at every show. Even if it is an extra $5, that band playing 200 shows would see an extra $1000 a year.
This only works if you are performing original music. The reason behind this is because you are collecting live performance royalties of your music. When I submitted setlists I would also include any cover songs my band performed that night. That way those writers of the cover songs got their fair share. Cover songs do nothing for your bottom line, but make sure to help out your fellow artists when you use their songs during your show.
Venues are required to pay a fee to the P.R.O.s every year in order to host live music. Their fee covers them in order for your P.R.O. to pay you royalties when live music is performed. Some venues don’t do this so you might have a hard time seeing money from those gigs. If you submit a setlist, your P.R.O. will go to that venue asking for your share of the royalties. That is their job, and they are there to represent you. Venues might complain about the cost of the fee and that’s why they refuse to pay. I like to think of it as a cost of becoming a live music venue, and it should be paid. I will bet you that venues pay a fee to serve beer and liquor. They don’t see anything wrong with that. So why is live music any different? It is technically the law and they should be following it. If you want to be nice to the venue and not submit a setlist then I would ask for more money up front. Tell them that you will trade the back end royalties for an upfront raise in pay.
List all of your songs on your P.R.O. Even if you haven’t recorded them yet. My band, Mojo Radio, had a few original songs that were played live and never officially released on an album. Registering them with our P.R.O. made it possible to collect live performance royalties and also help protect our music. Being registered made it more official even though it wasn’t copyrighted at that point.
Royalties live on past your death
Once you are registered, you have more rights and can pass along your royalties to your heirs. This is something that ultimately should be discussed with a lawyer. It is good to plan on where you want your royalties to go when you die, however. You can enjoy your royalties now, and your beneficiary can enjoy them later when you are gone.
Both ASCAP and BMI wrote articles about this…
You can join as an individual publisher and/or as a publishing group. I am actually a publisher as both myself and part of a group. My band chose to form a group publishing entity for our songs. That way those songs payout to us as a whole instead of each person separately. I was already an individual publisher, but the other guys were not signed up yet. The cost to do all four of us was the same as when I did it for just me. So if you only care about publishing as a group then this group publishing entity can potentially save some money. I would recommend getting an individual account at some point, however. If you ever do your own songs separate from the band then you will want to use that individual publisher account.
You can only sign up for one P.R.O. This is why choosing the right one for you is so important. Joining two P.R.O.s can result in double royalty collection which is in turn fraud. You also need to join the same P.R.O. as both writer and publisher. You can’t be a writer on one and a publisher on another.
Once you are a member it might take a lot to change to another PRO. There are certain circumstances where you find your current P.R.O. is not the best for you and want to change. You will need to submit a statement to your P.R.O. for approval to leave. Then you wait to be released. At that point, you can join the new one.
It costs money to join. BMI is free for a writer but costs $150 for a publisher. ASCAP is $50 for a writer and $50 for a publisher account.
Royalties pay out several months after a royalty is generated. You can expect to wait up to six months or more to see payouts from things you do today. Be patient. You’re still getting paid in the end.
I feel like a professional
One of the coolest parts of joining a P.R.O. is the feeling that you are doing what professionals do. It might be your first step towards being a LEGIT MUSICIAN. This is nothing to take for granted. That feeling makes you keep doing the things needed to continue on your path to being a professional musician. Now go sign up for a P.R.O. and start telling everybody that you are a pro.
Don’t forget to leave me a comment if you found some “a-ha” moments here. You can also find more helpful tips in my FREE eBook.