Joining a Performing Rights Organization (PRO) as a Musician
Updated: Nov 24, 2021
If you are a musician and you write and perform your own music, it is important to be a part of a PRO. A PRO is a Performing Rights Organization that collects "backend royalties" and distributes them to you. For example, if your music is used on TV, radio, streaming services, etc. you will receive performance royalties. You can also receive performance royalties from playing your own songs at a live venue and claiming them.
Most countries have one or more Performing Rights Organization. In the US we have ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. This post isn't meant to be biased towards any particular organization, so do your own research to see which one would be best to join. Many of the PRO's in the world work with each other, this is how you can get royalties from performance of your music in other countries. For example, if you are in the US and have music placed on TV in the UK, The UK performing rights organization (PRS) will collect the royalties and pay them to your PRO, who will pay you.
Below are some of the types of uses that will earn you royalties from your PRO.
- Usage of your music on cable TV
- Plays of your music on streaming services (Spotify, Apple Music, etc.)
- Live performances at venues
- Terrestrial radio
- Satellite radio
- TV streaming services (Netflix, Hulu, etc.)
- Usage of your music in hotels, bars, malls, sporting events, etc.
- Usage of your music in advertising, promos
Upon registering with a PRO, you will be assigned a CAE/IPI number. This number is a unique code that identifies a songwriter or publisher across all PROs throughout the world. It is important to be familiar with this number, because when cue sheets are filled out, this number is used to help you get paid. Music libraries that collect backend royalties will always ask for this number, and you should feel comfortable giving it to them.
Depending which PRO you are with, you may also need to sign up with a publishing account. In order to collect the publishing share for tracks that you own 100% of, you will need to be identifiable as a publisher. Some PROs include publishing payments to your main account, while others (like ASCAP) need you to have both types of accounts. If you have a separate account for publishing, you will be assigned a separate CAE/IPI number. With a publishing account, you also have the ability to publish other songwriters' music in the future.
Registering Your Music
After you join a PRO, you will want to register your music with them. PRO's have their own online portals where you can submit the name of your song or track, details, songwriter(s), publisher(s), split percentages and other info. Any song that you plan to publish should first be registered with your PRO. If you are into sync licensing, exclusive music libraries will almost always register the music for you. If you are self-publishing your music, you should register it yourself. If you have co-writers for your songs, you can include them in the submission by entering their "CAE/IPI" number.
After you have registered your music with your PRO and have had some success getting your music getting out there, you will get paid! Most of the time you will have to wait 9+ months to receive the royalties from your uses. International royalties take even longer because of the different pay schedules. Be patient, and watch the royalties slowly increase as you become more established.
How much should you expect to get paid?
The dollar amounts vary greatly in this business. A single TV placement can get you anything from $0 to several hundred dollars. There are many factors considered including length of use, time of day, TV channel, vocal vs instrumental, etc. Basically you don't know until you get it, which can be frustrating. Streaming services like Spotify, pay very little (fractions of pennies per play). Live performances can pay a decent amount if you are playing large venues. Generally speaking, advertisements pay the best, since they air frequently. If you happen to be getting a lot of placements on TV, the numbers will add up!
Miscellaneous Information and Tips
- Always read every contract you sign in this business. Hire a lawyer if you need to. There are plenty of horror stories out there from musicians who signed away their rights without knowing.
- A song copyright consists of 2 halves: 50% writer's share, and 50% publisher's share. The royalties collected from a track will be distributed evenly to the songwriter and publisher. If your PRO has different types of accounts for songwriter and publisher, you should sign up for one of each. This will ensure that you get all of the royalties owed to you, and won't have money lingering in the system.
- Beware of any company that wants you to not be a member of a PRO! This kind of deal is nothing but predatory, as they will likely register your tracks by themselves so that they get the royalties instead of you. You have every right to collect the royalties from the music that you created.
- Don't ever give someone else writing credit for a track that they did not write! This is another predatory act that some companies are trying to do these days. Don't give in, there is no reason for such a deal.
Keep writing great music and earn the royalties you deserve!
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