What is a P.R.O. or PRO?
- Pronounced as separate letters i.e. P - R - O, a PRO helps songwriters and publishers get paid for the usage of their music by collecting public performance royalties i.e. money earned by songwriters, composers and lyricists, whenever their music is played on radio stations [terrestrial, streaming, satellite], used on TV shows/commercials, or performed in live venues.
- They DO NOT collect mechanical royalties, sync fees, or digital performance royalties associated with master recordings.
How do PRO's get paid?
- Any outlet that plays music publicly must be licensed to do so. Restaurants, music venues, bars, amphitheaters, performance halls, sports arenas, stores, shopping malls, bowling alleys, golf courses, amusement parks, airports, hospitals, and any other public place that plays music must purchase a license from the PROs in order to play music. That licensing fee is paid out by the PRO as a performance royalty to songwriters and rights holders.
Which is the best PRO?
You can only affiliate with one PR.O. at a time. Although there are many PRO’s worldwide, in the U.S. you can choose from ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC.
Official site: ASCAP.com
Location: New York, London, Miami, Puerto Rico, Los Angeles, Nashville, Atlanta
Vitals: With a 500,000-strong membership of composers, songwriters, lyricists, and music publishers, this non-profit is, according to its website, the only American PRO created and controlled by composers, writers, and music publishers—its Board of Directors is elected by its members. “A music creator is like a small business,” reads ASCAP’s website, “and we exist to ensure that ASCAP members are paid promptly and fairly when their compositions are performed publicly.”
Fee: One-time fee of $50 as a writer and $50 as a publisher.
Publishing Companies: In order to collect your publisher’s share of royalties as an ASCAP member, you need to have an ASCAP publishing company (Becoming a Songtrust member will also allow you to collect your publisher’s share).
Official site: BMI.com
Location: Nashville, New York, Los Angeles, London, Atlanta, Miami, Puerto Rico
Vitals: Founded by radio executives as a non-profit, BMI now boasts more than 650,000 members. According to its website, “BMI is the bridge between songwriters and the businesses and organizations that play their music publicly…BMI serves as an advocate for the value of music, representing 8.5 million musical works created and owned by more than 650,000 songwriters, composers and music publishers.”
Fee: Free for songwriters, $150 as a publisher
Publishing Companies: You do not need a publishing company to collect your publisher’s share of royalties at BMI.
Official site: SESAC.com
Location: New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Miami, London, Nashville
Vitals: SESAC is the only PRO in the U.S. that is not open to all songwriters; instead, you must call and talk to a representative to receive an invitation. SESAC represents over 400,000 songs on behalf of its 30,000 affiliated writers. “With an international reach and a vast repertory that spans virtually every genre of music, SESAC is the fastest growing and most technologically adept of the nation’s performing rights companies,” reads the SESAC site. Note: the SESAC abbreviation is, today, meaningless; the organization was originally founded to serve European composers underrepresented in America before branching out to become a full-service PRO.
Fee: None (invitation only to join).
Don’t leave money on the table
While you consider which PRO to join, you also need to make sure to collect all the money owed to you. PROs divide the licensing money for a song into two parts known as the writer’s share and the publisher’s share. For example, out of each dollar that your song earns in performance royalties, 50¢ goes to the group of writers and 50¢ goes to the publishers. If you have a publisher, they will collect the publishing share and should register your songs with all applicable PROs. If you don’t have a publisher you might be leaving money on the table!
If there is no publisher listed for your songs then ASCAP or BMI will not pay out the publisher’s share. You will only be collecting half of the royalties available to you. Working with a publisher can have its benefits, especially if you don’t have the time or connections to effectively promote your songs. A good publisher will get your songs performed or recorded ("cut") by other artists and will pitch your music for licensing opportunities where you can earn licensing fees. If you choose to self-publish, (you set up your own publishing entity) make sure to register yourself as a publisher with your PRO so that you can collect both the writer’s share and the publisher’s share. The registration process for publishers is very similar to registering as a songwriter. Fill out an application, pay the fee and you could potentially double your royalty payments.