Why Signing Up with ASCAP or BMI is Not Enough
If you’re an independent songwriter, composer, or lyricist, there are more opportunities than ever to earn significant income from music publishing.
Sadly though, many artists think they’ve covered all the bases in terms of royalty collection when they affiliate themselves with an organization like ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC.
ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, SOCAN, and other associations that collect performance royalties on behalf of songwriters and publishers are called “Performing Rights Organizations” — or P.R.O.s.
Performing Rights Organizations are not collecting all the publishing royalties you’re owed
While these services do perform a valuable and vital role in making sure artists get paid, they don’t do it all. In fact, they don’t even do half of it — and that means songwriters are leaving a lot of money on the table in the form of uncollected publishing royalties.
1. You’re not getting mechanical royalties.
What is a mechanical royalty? It’s a fee that is owed to the publisher/composer of a piece of music (that’s you! — unless you’ve signed your publishing rights away to a publishing company) any time that song is sold digitally or manufactured in physical form (CD, vinyl, etc.). This fee is owed to you whether you are selling a recording of your own music or if another artist is covering your songs.
In many countries, any time your song is downloaded, you (as the songwriter/publisher) are owed a mechanical royalty. Any time one of your songs is streamed on popular services like Spotify or Rdio, you are owed a mechanical royalty.
Despite the fact that your songs are generating income in the form of mechanical royalties, P.R.O.’s like ACSCAP and BMI do NOT collect them for artists. (They only collect performance royalties).
This means there is money out there waiting to be collected — money you’ve EARNED. But these mechanical royalties have traditionally been inaccessible to songwriters unless you’re represented by a major label, big publishing house, or had the muscle of an agency like Harry Fox on your side.
With a publisher, you’ll be set up to collect all the mechanical royalties you’re owed. No more getting shut out from collecting YOUR OWN money.
2. You’re not getting all your performance royalties from overseas.
What is a performance royalty? Well, any time your music is played on the radio (terrestrial, satellite, and internet), on TV shows, films, video games, and presentations, or performed in a live venue — you are owed a performance royalty.
ASCAP and BMI do NOT register your songs with foreign royalty collection societies. So unless you have a co-writer or an artist who has covered your song and sent that information to a foreign collection society, those international Performing Rights Organizations will probably never know about your songs, never know they should be on the lookout for tallying “performances,” and never know who to pay.
The only way ASCAP and BMI will collect international performance royalties is if a foreign society knows about it through happenstance and directs the payment to the appropriate US-based P.R.O. That likelihood is… unlikely. You don’t want to leave something like royalty collection up to chance.
A Publisher can ensure that foreign collection societies WILL know about every one of your songs, and we’ll collect all the royalties you’re owed.
3. You’re not getting the publisher’s share of your royalties.
Even if, by luck, a foreign collection society does pay a performance royalty to ASCAP or BMI for the usage of one of your songs, the chances are even less likely that you’ll be paid the publishing share of your performance royalty for that same usage.
Performance royalties are split into two shares, 50% going to the songwriter and 50% going to the publisher. Unless you’ve signed away your publishing rights to a publishing company — you are BOTH entities: the songwriter AND the publisher.
But even if you’ve set up a publishing company and affiliated with a P.R.O. as both the writer and the publisher — it’s really just a vanity publishing company. Sorry to say it, but it’s true.
You don’t have the money or the muscle to do all of the administrative work that a “real” publishing company can. And that means that P.R.O.s have less incentive to fight for you when it comes to collecting every cent you’re owed. So even if you DO get paid your songwriter’s share of performance royalties, the other 50% you’re owed is going to go uncollected.