Quick Note: This is a guest post from Ryan Pressman, a musician who has a degree in Music Industry Studies and knows a lot about the ins and outs of the music business. Take it away Ryan!
WHAT IN THE HECK IS A PRO?
The short answer: Performing Rights Organization
The answer that requires less Googling: If you’re a songwriter, a music publisher, or both, then PROs are basically your bros. So, let’s all get on the big canoe of music industry knowledge and start at the beginning of the musical performance revenue stream!
If you own the copyright to a musical work and said work is performed publicly, you are, in most cases, entitled to a performance royalty. When a public performance occurs, PROs are responsible for collecting this type of royalty from the performer and distributing it to the songwriter and publisher.
WHO NEEDS A PRO?
Music publishers, composers, lyricists, and songwriters. If you own original music, you need a PRO.
However, it is important to understand that PROs exist to collect royalties owed on music that is being performed or exploited. So, if your music isn’t getting any play, then it is probably too early in the game for you to join up with one. However, you may want to join up with one in preparation for the day when your music finally does start generating some performance royalties.
WHAT COUNTS AS A PUBLIC PERFORMANCE OF MY MUSIC?
A lot of things! But, here are the main ones:
-Usage in TV shows
-Usage in commercials
-Usage in movies
-Usage in podcasts, ringtones, and ringbarks
-Radio play (terrestrial, internet, and satellite) – songwriting ONLY, no sound recording
-Play at a sports event
-Play on a jukebox
-Play at live concerts
-Play in restaurants, bars, nightclubs, hotels, elevators, etc. (you get the idea)
I GET PAID JUST BECAUSE SOMEONE PLAYED MY MUSIC? NEAT-O! DOES THAT MEAN I CAN RETIRE AND BUY A PRIVATE ISLAND/JET/TIBETAN MASTIFF?
Slow down there, bud. As far as performance royalties go, there’s a complicated set of calculations that need to be made. On top of that, the calculations differ between PROs. Since I think we’d both prefer that this article doesn’t triple in size, here are some handy links to how the big 3 PROs calculate their performance royalty payouts:
i. SESAC Radio: http://www.sesac.com/WritersPublishers/HowWePay/Radio.aspx
SO, WHAT ABOUT THE REST OF MY MONEY?
The operative words in PRO are performing rights. It’s not up to the PROs to collect your sync fee, mechanical royalties, or digital performance royalties associated with the creation of a master recording.*
*digital performance royalties associated with the creation of a master recording are taken care of by a different kind of PRO that handles sound recording rights rather than writing and publishing rights. An example of one of these sound recording PROs is SoundExchange.
ARE THERE INSTANCES IN WHICH SOMEONE CAN PERFORM MY MUSIC WHERE I DON’T GET PAID?
Unfortunately for you, yes!
Here are some instances in which you are not entitled to a performance royalty on your work and whether or not you are entitled to another type of royalty:
-Usage in video games
-Streaming music (mechanical royalties, or royalties you get from a mechanical rendering of your work, e.g. music downloads, CD/vinyl sales, etc.)
WHICH ONE DO I JOIN?
This is a personal choice that songwriters/publishers are meant to decide for themselves. Your choice will depend on factors like what features of a PRO you are interested in, each PROs member benefits, the history of each PRO, your geographical location, role in the industry (publisher, songwriter, lyricist, or composer). That in mind, here’s a little info about each PRO to help facilitate your decision-making process. These are the most prominent ones and are all located in the U.S.
1. ASCAP – American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (the one I use):
-Founded by a composer
-Approx. 500,000 members
-Makes its own pay schedule (about monthly, depending on whether domestic or international royalties are being distributed)
-Requires that songwriters have an ASCAP publishing company or become a Songtrust member to collect the publisher’s share of royalties
-Members elect Board of Directors
-Membership fee: one-time fee of $50 as a writer (free through Songtrust) and $50 as a publisher
-Office locations: New York (HQ), London, Miami, Puerto Rico, Los Angeles, Nashville, Atlanta
ASCAP lists their member benefits right here on their site: http://www.ascap.com/benefits/
2. BMI – Broadcast Music, Inc.
-Founded by radio executives
-Approx. 650,000 members
-Quarterly pay schedule
-Songwriters are not required to have a publishing company to collect the publisher’s share of royalties
-Membership fee: free for songwriters, $150 as a publisher
-Office locations: Nashville (HQ), New York, Los Angeles, London, Atlanta, Miami, Puerto Rico
You can find out about BMI’s many benefits right here: http://www.bmi.com/benefits
3. SESAC – Society of European Stage Authors and Composers [acronym no longer applies] (I interned here for a semester, good people)
-Founded by a German immigrant to the U.S. who sought representation for European authors and composers for their American performance royalties
-Approx. 30,000 members
-No membership fee
-Must be approved to join
-Retains an undisclosed amount of performance royalty income
-Quarterly pay scheduled
-Office locations: Nashville (HQ), New York, Los Angeles, London, Atlanta, and Miami
SESAC has a bunch. Check them all out by following this link: http://www.sesac.com/WritersPublishers/affiliatebenefits.aspx
WHAT IF I JOIN ONE, BUT DECIDE I DON’T LIKE IT? CAN I TRANSFER?
Yes. Typically, transfers get processed at the end of each quarter.
ARE THERE PROs IN OTHER COUNTRIES? DO I NEED TO JOIN ONE IN EVERY SINGLE COUNTRY TO GET MY MONEY?
Yes there are and no you don’t. If you are in the U.S., the big three PROs here have deals in place with many foreign PROs to collect royalties overseas. Same goes the other way around for non-U.S. composers and authors, in most cases.
COOL, I’M GOING TO GO JOIN ONE RIGHT NOW!
Ryan Pressman is a professional musician and composer in the Los Angeles area. He is a graduate of the Music Industry Studies Program at Cal State Northridge and is a member of ASCAP. In addition, Ryan has interned at SESAC and has studied the ins and outs of PROs.