Music Licensing Tips: Performance Rights Organizations

You may have heard of companies such as ASCAP and BMI. These are called Performance Rights Organizations (PROs) and they exist to help you as an artist get paid whenever you get film placements, TV placements, and other music licensing opportunities. If a cell phone company uses a musician’s song in one of their commercials, for example, that songwriter will get paid through whichever PRO he is a member of.

Different Performance Rights Organizations

There are several PROs in the United States that you could join. Most songwriters join either ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) or SESAC (originally known as the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers, but now known only as SESAC). SESAC is the most exclusive of the three. Based in Nashville, TN, it has the smallest roster of artists and is the only PRO that doesn’t run as a not-for-profit organization. ASCAP and BMI are much larger companies.

What PROs Do

A PRO is important to musicians because they monitor public performances of compositions and collect royalties for their members. So if you’re a member of a PRO and you see reruns of the “One Tree Hill” episode that featured your track, you can rest assured that a royalty check will be headed your way. This is why any musician who is interested in pursuing music licensing opportunities and any artist who hopes to get signed to a music publishing deal should become a member of a PRO.

Do I Need to Be in a PRO?

While joining a PRO is a must for many artists, you may not have to bother with it at all depending on your situation. If you don’t have any recordings finished, for example, you might want to wait before you sign up with a PRO. Or if you’re not interested in pursuing music licensing and would rather focus on playing live shows and going on tour, there may not be any benefit to you joining. But if you have any aspirations for getting your recording on TV or on the big screen, you will need to become a member.

Which One Should I Join?

Different PROs have their own benefits, so there’s no one way to tell you how to choose which one works best for you. Reading up on their websites and checking out member benefits (often including insurance discounts and other musician-friendly services) is the best way to figure out which one you should join. As mentioned above, SESAC is the most exclusive of the bunch, as they’re the only PRO that listens to all submissions and approves only artists they want to work with. Neither ASCAP nor BMI require any screening process to join.

How to Become a Member

Processes will vary between PROs when becoming a member. SESAC has a selective screening process, but ASCAP and BMI can be joined by signing up through their websites with some basic information about yourself and your music. ASCAP does charge a one-time processing fee of $35, while joining BMI is free. None of the organizations require members to pay yearly dues.

Remember, you’ll need a polished, professional recording before you join a PRO and try to get song placements. Let Studio Pros help you get your songs professionally produced!