Today we will be talking about the differences between the 2 biggest US Performing Rights Organizations: ASCAP and BMI. While they essentially do the same thing for songwriters and publishers, there are some key differences in how they work.
There are some other similar posts to this, but here we will give some experience-based opinions (while others are just facts). We will discuss not only differences "on paper" but also the differences in experiences that I have gathered from multiple composers and publishers. Bear in mind that this is written by someone who mainly does production music/sync licensing. Experiences may vary if you are a commercial artist.
What is a Performing Rights Organization?
For those who don't know, Performing Rights Organizations (PROs) are societies that collect royalties on behalf of composers and publishers. They then distribute royalties to those members based on their payment schedules. Royalties are earned from things such as performances of music on TV, streaming, live performance, music used in retail locations, radio, etc. Being a member of a PRO is essential for anyone who creates or publishes music.
Here are some general stats and information about each of the main PROs.
# of Members
Songwriter Membership Cost
Publisher Membership Cost
$150 (Individual), $250 (Company)
Shows Cue Sheets to Members?
Other General Information:
Both societies are non-profit
Both societies offer discounts on things like hotels, music instruments, etc.
Both societies offer other perks (events, workshops, awards)
ASCAP's Payment Schedule - Monthly (rotates between domestic songwriter, domestic publisher, and international)
BMI's Payment Schedule - Quarterly (includes all types of royalties)
Both ASCAP and BMI collect domestic royalties for TV, streaming, live performance, etc. They work with the same entities and obtain from the same revenue streams. One big difference with this is ASCAP's "Survey System".
ASCAP uses a "sample survey" for lots of sports channels and smaller cable networks. With this system, they take a 6 hour snapshot of multiple channels each quarter and pay composers who happened to be broadcast during that period. Those who didn't have music on the channel during that time are very likely to not be paid. Composers who hit the survey should receive very nice royalties, while others who had lots of music on those channels otherwise might be frustrated.
BMI pays out for every performance on such channels (assuming the information is filed properly). In their case, composers receive royalties from every placement on every paying network. Compared to ASCAP surveyed channels, these payments should be smaller, but much more consistent. So with BMI you get more regular royalties, and with ASCAP you occasionally hit the jackpot.
While there are lots of opinions and different circumstances out there, some composers seem to think that BMI on average pays better domestic royalties than ASCAP. It also appears that the big networks (CBS, NBC, CNN) pay similarly for placements through both PROs. BMI also seems to pay slightly quicker (1-2 quarters) for the same placements compared to ASCAP.
Both ASCAP and BMI collect international royalties from many countries around the world. ASCAP has agreements with "over 100 societies around the world" while BMI has agreements with "over 120". I explored their lists and they look very similar, with the exception of some small countries (Brunei, Burkina Faso).
Less is known to members about how these international royalties are distributed. I can say however, that the general consensus is that ASCAP pays higher and quicker international royalties than BMI. I base this on my own experiences with a co-writer of the opposite PRO affiliation, as well as feedback from other composers.
I know this is a lot of information, but we have covered the essential differences between ASCAP and BMI. I'd like to share my opinions on which society to join depending on your situation.
If you anticipate getting more international TV placements and whatnot, I would recommend ASCAP.
If you anticipate getting more smaller network domestic placements, then I would recommend BMI.
If you prefer a more standardized system for collecting American TV royalties, then I would recommend BMI.
If you want a more "high risk, high reward" survey system which will occasionally receive a random big payment, then I would recommend ASCAP.
I would also assume that if you are reading this, you are not already a member of one of these societies! In this case, you would have no way of knowing which types of placements you will be getting. You can curb your efforts towards international libraries and whatnot if you want more international placements. Similarly, you can work with large libraries in the US in order to get more domestic placements. Most libraries will have sub-publishers too, which will create a good effort to spread your music throughout the world and not just in one country.
I hope this information is helpful, and provides something that other similar posts did not! As always I wish all of you the best of luck and much success in this business.
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