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Should I Join a Performing Rights Organization?

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Read Time: 4 min

Ever wonder how performances of your songs on radio, jukebox, television, clubs, or arenas magically turn into quarterly checks made out to none other than you?

The primary role of performing rights organizations (PROs) is to track and collect performance royalties from those sources that make commercial use of the music of their contracted members. They deduct certain administrative costs and disperse the remaining royalties to these members which are comprised of songwriters, composers, and publishers.

Who Should Join and When?

Typically, most non-performing songwriters wait to join a PRO until they are either signed to a publishing deal or have a composition being commercially exploited. I joined sooner than I needed to because the concept sounded 'professional' to me at the time! A better decision is to educate yourself about which PRO meets your needs most effectively and make the decision from an educated vantage point. Do as I say, not as I did! In hindsight, I have been quite happy with my decision.

Performing songwriters on the other hand should resist the notion that they aren't yet a big enough act to join. It is quite possible that the performance venues hosting them could, in fact, bring in some additional income via performance royalties. Small change has a way of adding up!

Uncovered Performances

Dramatic performances likes those on Broadway in the United States are not covered by the services of PROs. Mechanical rights, which involve the sales of physical product such as CDs are also not licensed by PROs. Master rights, synch rights, grand rights, internet radio, and digital cable music are additionally not licensed by these organizations at this time. 

Which One Should I Join?

In the United States there are there PROs: BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC. A person cannot belong to more than one at any given time and there are specific windows of time as to when changes in PRO can take place. These are stated in your contract.


In this PRO, no fees are required of composers and songwriters. The term of a contract with BMI is two years for songwriters and five years for publishers. Contracts automatically renew unless membership is terminated within your specific window or time.

BMI relies on  yearly three-day monitoring sessions provided by commercial radio licensees. Each day of the yea is covered by different stations. The information is then compiled to determine a correct projection of what is trending across the country. This information is further fortified by pattern recognition technology.


This PRO requires a one time joining fee of $35 but there are no additional annual dues. ASCAP bases its radio payments on an exact airplay accounting from MediaGuide as well as on data from a sample survey. A contract with ASCAP is on a year by year basis and is self-renewing if not terminated. They  provide a great, easy-to-understand royalty collection graphic on their website.


No joining fees are required to join SESAC but this smaller PRO is a bit more selective and usually requires at least an interview. They claim to be more personal and user friendly because of their smaller size. A contract last three years and termination requires sufficient notice. SESAC employs pattern recognition technology on over 1600 AM and FM stations but only pays for feature performances of a song which means that the performance is intended to be the listener's primary focus.

Random Facts

Each PRO allows for bonuses achieved by reaching certain airplay numbers.

TV and film production companies fill out cue sheets that detail the type of use of a composition and its duration which then determines the payable royalty.

Most countries have a performing rights organization, and reciprocal agreements exist between the different geographic locations.

Writers' royalties are paid to the writer unless the writer is contracted to a publisher in which case a pre-agreed upon split determines the payment share.

In choosing your affiliation, many issues come into play which you may not be aware of in the early stages of your career. A television theme that I co-wrote a decade ago has netted me far more money than my co-writer simply because my PRO pays for opening AND closing credits while hers does not. Neither of us had a clue about this difference, but we certainly do now. What a costly lesson this has been for one of us!

Personal relationships with your PRO staff can come into play too. A rep that you happen to click with or who admires your work can be very instrumental is setting up publishing meetings and even co-writes with other writer members of that PRO. Take your time and weigh the pros and cons of each agency before finding your home base. Good luck!

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