PROs – formally known as performing rights organizations – are societies that operate on the behalf of songwriters, composers and publishers to ensure they are properly compensated for their musical work. Meaning, they act as a liaison between producer (you) and user (radio stations, TV shows, bowling alleys, anyone that publicly broadcasts music). Essentially, the users pay licensing fees to the appropriate PRO who in turn pays the registered writer or publisher. But there are three PROs in the US – ASCAP, BMI and SESAC – all of which offer slightly different takes, benefits and specialties when it comes to representing the rights of their affiliates. Below we break down what you should know about each.
Also Known As: The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers
Who They Are: Over 460,000 US composers, songwriters, lyricists and publishers including the likes of Justin Timberlake, Vampire Weekend, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Stevie Wonder and Beyoncé.
Where They Have Offices: New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Miami, London, Puerto Rico,
What They Offer: Like most PROs, ASCAP’s purpose to protect their members’ rights and ensure proper compensation, specifically by licensing and distributing royalties for the non-dramatic public performances of their copyrighted work. In addition to that, they offer benefits ranging from software (MasterWriter, Secret Composer) and gear (Instrumentpro.com) to travel (car rentals) and insurance (dental, studio and tour liability). Not to mention discounts with industry publications like American Songwriter. A full list of their benefits can be found here. ASCAP pays out monthly with the option of direct deposit and registration is a flat one-time $50 fee.
What Makes Them Different: ASCAP purport to be the only US PRO created and controlled by the composers, songwriters and publishers: Their Board of Directors is elected by and from their membership. Plus, their operating costs i.e. what they take out of your royalties claim to be the lowest in the US, with artists receiving .88 cents to the dollar.
Bonus: ASCAP offers a whole Career Development department, with everything from Q&A’s and regular articles to workshops (ranging from songwriting in country or pop to TV/film scoring and music business) and showcases (ASCAP presents…). Not to mention job listings, in-house performance opportunities and awards/grants.
How to Register: Grab your SSN or foreign tax number, a credit card and click here.
Also Known As: Broadcast Music, Inc.
Who They Are: Approximately 600,000 songwriters, composers and publishers of all disciplines (notable names to drop: Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Maroon 5, Eminem, Sam Cooke, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton) led by radio executives with an interest and attention to emerging genres.
Where They Have Offices: Nashville, New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Miami, London, Puerto Rico
What They Offer: A bridge between songwriters and businesses plus advocacy for the value of music in the form of blanket music licenses providing music users with access to their catalog of more than 7.5 million music works. BMI, after acquiring the rights from the writer and publisher members, grants licenses to radio, TV shows, amusement parks, wherever collecting the fees and distributing that money (minus operating costs, of course) to the appropriate writer or publisher. They exclusively license performing rights (hence, PRO) and only non-dramatic rights (so no Broadway shows). Like ASCAP, they offer a benefit package of perks and discounts towards publications (e.g. AS, Billboard), gear (Blue Microphones, MasterWriter), classes (Berklee Music, UCLA Extension) and financial services (direct deposit, US Bank Loan Program). They don’t charge a registration fee for songwriters or composers (publishers pay $150 if an individual, $250 if a company) and they pay out quarterly.
What Makes Them Different: A specific attention to technology, meaning you get all kinds of mobile apps and online services to make inputting performance data and registering songs easy on the go.
How to Register: From the Creators page on their website, scroll down and click on “JOIN BMI” and select songwriter, publisher or composer.
Formerly Known As: Society of European Stage Authors and Composers, but the acronym is now meaningless
Who They Are: Originally founded for the advocacy of unrepresented European composers, SESAC has since expanded its operation to include all songwriters, such as Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, MGMT, Mumford & Sons and Cassandra Wilson.
Where They Have Offices: Nashville (HQ), New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Miami, London
What They Offer: As with the other PROs, SESAC represents their songwriters and publishers’ work and rights with regard to public performances of that work. To that end, they boast state of the art computation and monitoring systems and computer broadcast logs to guarantee accurate compensation and efficiency. The smallest of the three companies, SESAC claims this title by choice, promising their affiliates a personal relationship and investment with the staff as well as cutting edge technology and an international reach. . They also offer comparable benefits and discounts (direct deposit, Berklee Music, American Songwriter, MasterWriter, MusicPro, the usual) and they have also recently started SESAC Sessions to showcase their writers. Payment is marginally more complicated here, as they pay monthly for radio use and quarterly for everything else.
What Makes Them Different: The personal angle. SESAC uses a selective (but free!) application process to choose writers they feel express the necessary professionalism and seriousness towards their careers. This results in the small but closely monitored community that has become SESAC’s calling card.
How To Apply: Email your submissions to the SESAC Writer/Publisher Relations staff at the appropriate following address: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org