Who To Join
Which organization to join is one of the most important decisions
a writer will ever make as the wrong decision can and has
cost writers and their publishers millions of dollars over
the life of a successful copyright.
In most countries of the world, there is only one PRO so
the decision is easy. In England, there is PRS; in Canada,
you join SOCAN; in Australia - APRA; in Germany - GEMA; in
Spain - SGAE; in Ireland - IMRO; in France - SACEM; and so
on. But in the U.S., you have 3 PROs and each one has different
contracts, payment schedules, philosophies, organizational
structures, ownership, rules to join, procedures to terminate,
membership benefits, showcase and workshop programs as well
as relationships and agreements with the rest of the world's
PROs which collect for U.S. writer's and publisher's performances
outside the U.S. Each of these differences can have a substantial
effect on the amount of royalties you receive over the lifetime
of a copyright.
Joining a PRO
In order to receive performance royalties from ASCAP, BMI
or SESAC, a writer or publisher must join by filling out an
application for membership or affiliation and signing a contract.
ASCAP and BMI both have very easy "open door" admission policies
whereby if you qualify, you can join. All a writer or publisher
needs is to have a composition performed in any area that
ASCAP and BMI licenses (radio, television or web site performance;
song on a CD, record or tape; performance in a club or concert
hall; song in a film; etc.). SESAC, on the other hand, employs
a selective process whereby writers have to pass a screening
process before they are asked to join usually after an interview.
Each organization's contract is very different as to length
of contract, ability to leave and duties and responsibilities
of both parties.
ASCAP: Writers and publishers sign identical agreements which
are subject to the Society's Articles of Association (by laws)
and Consent Decree with the government. All writers and publishers
have the right to resign from membership any year of the contract.
In effect, these are year to year agreements able to be terminated
BMI. The normal contract for writers is 2 years with the
standard publisher contract running for 5 years. Successful
writers and publishers are usually able to negotiate shorter
deals. The 2 year writer and 5 year publisher agreements continue
to automatically renew for additional 2 and 5 year periods
if they are not terminated by the writer or publisher by registered
or certified mail within certain specific "window" periods.
SESAC. SESAC writer and publisher contracts run for 3 years
and continue to be automatically extended for additional 3
year periods. Either party can terminate the agreement by
sending written notice not more than 6 months nor less than
3 months prior to the end of the then current 3 year term.
The primary way that most PROs find out what is being performed
is through surveys of performances of the areas licensed (radio,
TV, etc.). Surveys can be either census (100% pickup) or sample
(a statistical portion of the whole). Most performance information
is received by the PROs through cue sheets, electronic logs,
broadcast program information, tapes, and BDS monitoring.
How Writers and Publishers Are Paid
ASCAP: Payments are guided by a "follow the dollar" principle
whereby monies collected from a specific area (radio, network
television, live concerts, cable, etc.) are paid back only
to the writers and publishers who have performances occurring
in that area. In the radio area, frequently performed songs
are given additional payments.
Any changes in the specific payment rules have to be approved
by the ASCAP Board of Directors of 12 writers and 12 publishers
with notice to the entire writer and publisher membership.
BMI: A payment schedule lists a minimum penny or dollar rate
that is due for certain types of performances in certain medium.
In the radio area, fluctuating bonus payments are paid to
certain songs based upon many factors including past performance
history as well as current radio and television performances.
Voluntary payments are then added to some types of performances
in certain areas in certain payment periods. All payment rates
are subject to change at any time without advance notice to
writers and publishers
SESAC: Writers and publishers are paid in a variety of ways
including payments based upon release or chart position, payments
based on performance information from stations and payments
based on other business considerations and factors. All payment
rules are subject to change at any time.
Foreign Country Performances
The PROs in the U.S. have reciprocal agreements with the PROs
in each country of the world whereby the foreign country society
licenses the performances of U.S. writers works in their own
country and forwards the money to the U.S. writer's PRO. Under
the same agreement, the U.S. PROs license the performances
of the works of foreign writers in the U.S. and forward that
money to the foreign writer's home country PRO.
Career Development / Workshops / Other Benefits
Some of the performing right organizations also provide a
great range of other benefits to their members. These include
educational workshops on the music business and the craft
of songwriting, band and songwriter showcases, workshops in
practically all genres of music, musical instrument, studio,
travel/personal accident life and individual term insurance,
music store, instrument purchase and many other discounts,
etc. Check as to the ones that your PRO provides.
Related: Ralph Murphy on A.S.C.A.P.