The United States has three main Performing Rights Organizations, which can also be referred to as “PROs”. These PROs are ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. For the most part they all do the same thing; keeping track of the music that is being played out in public and determining what writers get what amount of royalties. “Its very important to note that these PROs only license performance rights, and do not deal with dramatic performances like those seen on Broadway. They do not license mechanical rights, master rights, synchronization rights, or grand rights. They also do not cover Internet radio services like Pandora, satellite radio services like SIRIUS and XM, or digital cable music services like Music Choice or Muzak. That real is monitored by SoundExchange.” The Performing Rights Organizations have their eyes on radio stations, television shows, restaurants, bars, hotels, theme parks and just about any other place you can imagine where there is music playing in a public manner.
In order for these places to play this music they must pay a blanket license fee to the Performing Rights Organization. This allows them to use whatever music they want without having to account to each individual songwriter. The fee is based on the size of the broadcast reach. For an example, a small clothing boutique’s blanket license fee would be much smaller than that of a large commercial radio station. So now the question is… How do these Performing Rights Organizations keep track of exactly what songs are being played? This is learned by finger printing technology, viewing radio stations playlists, television shows cue sheets and by taking polls from restaurants etc. They then pay royalties to writers based on the number of times an affiliated songwriter’s music is used.
As a songwriter, artist or producer, you affiliate with one and only one Performance Rights Organization. Publishers however can work with multiple societies at a time. Becoming a member of ASCAP or BMI is simple. You register online and pay a small fee. Once you are accepted you can register as many songs as you would like at no extra cost. However, the hard part is picking the PRO that is right for you.
BMI (short for Broadcast Music Inc.) is owned n run by broadcasters. It was formed in 1939 and it was the first Performing Rights Organization to offer representation to songwriters of blues, country, jazz, r&b, gospel, folk, latin and rock & roll. BMI strives to help songwriters, composers and music publishers all around the world develop both the creative and business skills crucial to a career in music. BMI sets their licensing fee at a flat rate. They distributed more than $789 million in royalties for its 2010 fiscal year to their members.
ASCAP (short for the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) has more than 420,000 US composers, songwriters, lyricists, and music publishers. ASCAP represents all kinds of music and is controlled by composers, songwriters and music publishers, with a Board of Directors elected by and from the membership. In my opinion, this seems more logical than having broadcasters run a performing rights organization like BMI.
Both are non-profit organizations governed by the internal documents and consent decrees with the federal court in New York City. Additionally, they both strive to actively license more music users and negotiate the best license fees. Although they all generally do the same thing, each one has specific benefits and services that vary.
ASCAP puts on workshops and showcases. BMI also offers series of industry showcases, seminars and professional workshops. I don’t know why but something about ASCAP just seems more nurturing to me. As if they actually care about helping music makers throughout their careers. They even provide an entire section online dedicated to career development. Their feature articles are helpful and provide great insight on topics...