by Jeffrey & Todd Brabec

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 any year.

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.

Tracking Performances

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.

2002 Jeff Brabec Todd Brabec
This article is based on information contained in the new, revised paperback edition of the book "Music, Money, And Success: The Insider's Guide To Making Money In The Music Industry" written by Jeffrey Brabec and Todd Brabec (Published by Schirmer Trade Books/Music Sales/435 pages). Click Here to buy this book.

Related: Ralph Murphy on A.S.C.A.P.

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