Which Performance Rights Organization Is Right For You?

by Susan Tucker

pros-2013Since one of the unique things we do at Kim Copeland Productions, when working with writers and artists, is try to provide a bit of free advice – we often get asked about joining a performance rights organization. The three organizations here in the United States are ASCAP, BMI and SESAC (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, Broadcast Music Inc. and The Society of European Stage Authors and Composers, respectively).

A performance rights organization primarily provides the collection of royalties for copyright holders (songwriters and publishers) from parties who wish to publicly use their songs/music. Royalties for sales of physical CD’s are not collected by the performance rights organizations. Every writer should belong to one of the groups.

ASCAP was established in 1914 and “is a membership association of more than 450,000 U.S. composers, songwriters, lyricists, and music publishers of every kind of music. ASCAP is the only U.S. performing rights organization created and controlled by composers, songwriters and music publishers, with a Board of Directors elected by and from the membership.” ASCAP is a not for profit company.

BMI “was founded in 1939 by radio executives to provide competition in the field of performing rights, to assure royalty payments to writers and publishers of music not represented by the existing performing right organization and to provide an alternative source of licensing for all music users.” BMI is a not for profit company.

SESAC was founded in 1930 to serve European composers not adequately represented in the United States. Though the company name was once an acronym, today it is simply SESAC and not an abbreviation of anything. SESAC is a “for profit” company.

BMI and ASCAP both have an open door policy that welcomes songwriters, composers and music publishers of all disciplines, while SESAC “utilizes a selective process when affiliating songwriters and publishers, resulting in a roster of affiliates who have personal relationships with the SESAC staff.”

The fee to join ASCAP is $35 for writers and for publishers and there is no annual fee. For BMI publishers, there is a registration fee of $150-$250 but no charge or annual fee for songwriters.

Since SESAC does not have an open door, there is no available information about fees, if any. I won’t go into further details about them in this article, because their policy basically means that they tend to work with experienced and established writers and publishers.

What are some of the ways ASCAP and BMI are different?
✔ASCAP is owned by its members (writers and publishers) while BMI is owned by radio and television broadcasters.
✔ASCAP has specific payment formulas for all its surveyed areas and for all performances. BMI has specific payment formulas for network TV, local TV and radio only.
✔ASCAP’s writers and publishers sit on its advisory committees, attend membership meetings and select the Board of Directors and Board of Review. BMI holds no such meetings and its writers and publishers have no say in how BMI is run. ASCAP earns more revenue than any performing rights organization in the world. BMI does not share info on its financial data to writers or publishers.

What are some of the ways ASCAP and BMI are alike?
✔ASCAP and BMI represent all genres of music
✔Both offer discounts to their members for various items and memberships that are pertinent to a writers career. Such as magazine subscriptions, insurance, travel, education and gear.
✔Each have a program to collect royalties for performing songwriters from shows or concerts featuring their original works. BMI Live and ASCAP OnStage.

So how do we recommend you chose which one to register with? No idea!
Seriously, the best way I can suggest you decide is to try to meet with each one and see where the vibe is more to your liking. They are both reputable companies looking out for the rights of songwriters and music publishers, so either is a great choice.

I suggest you go to each website and look over the complete information there, before you decide.
ASCAP – ascap.com
BMI – bmi.com

Article courtesy of songwritersconnection.com

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