Music Rights and Licensing

As an independent musician, you want people to play your music. But you should also get paid for it. So, copyright your music to ensure that you own it. Then, other outlets can license your music from you – and you get paid royalties when they play it.

There are three performance rights organizations (PRO) in the US that represent songwriters and their right to be compensated for having their music performed in public. As an indie artist, it’s important that you get to know these PROs and how they can help you:

  • The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) is a non-profit PRO that licenses and distributes royalties for non-dramatic public performances of members’ copyrighted works. They monitor public performances of member’s copyrighted music –whether it’s played via a radio broadcast or live — and compensate members in royalties.With a membership base of 420,000 U.S. composers, songwriters, lyricists, and music publishers, ASCAP members range from Dave Matthews to Duke Ellington, Stevie Wonder, Beyoncé, Marc Anthony and thousands of other burgeoning writers.
  • BMI: Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) is another PRO that collects fees and distributes royalties to its members. Formed in 1939 by radio executives, BMI was the first to offer representation to songwriters of blues, country, jazz, r&b, gospel, folk, Latin and, ultimately, rock & roll. BMI represents artists such as Mariah Carey, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Maroon 5, Dolly Parton and more.
  • Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC) is the smallest of the three major PRO’s in the United States. Founded in 1930, it’s the second-oldest PRO in the US, and the fastest growing. Unlike ASCAP and BMI, SESAC retains some of its income as profit and its membership is not open. Members must be approved through a selective process in order to join the Nashville-based organization.

As an indie artist, it’s important to make the most out of your music. Be sure you take the proper steps to copyright and license your music. Then, join a PRO to make sure you get paid for what you do best.

Tell us what you think! Are you a member of a PRO? Do you receive royalties?

Up next: Home recording: the bathroom as a vocal booth.

The SongCast Crew

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