Why You Should Think Twice Before Joining ASCAP, BMI or SESAC Part I

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It’s one of the top 10 questions I’m asked: ASCAP, BMI or SESAC? Which one should I Join? Here’s a rock ‘n’ roll answer: How about none of them. At least not right away.

All of these competing Performing Rights Organizations (PROs) spend a great deal of their members’ money selling “belonging” as if there is an immediate benefit to membership, like collecting money that they have been holding for you.  But experience indicates that you’d be better off waiting to sign with any of them. Wonder why? Here’s the truth about PRO’s in this three part series taken from Moses Avalon’s latest book, 100 Answers to 50 Questions on the Music Business.

Moses Avalon

ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) and BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) often called the “Coke and Pepsi” of performing rights organizations, will both tell you it is irrational not to join one of their organizations. They collect the bulk of all the performance royalties in the US, and will assure you that you cannot get your share unless you are a member.

ASCAP, BMI or SESAC?

Orig Photo By: Stuart Pilbrow

In their pitch they will make it sound as if your music is already out there earning money and the PRO is just holding it for you, like a bank, waiting for your application. But the truth is that unless you write a hit song, or a soundtrack for a TV show like The Simpsons you are unlikely to see any significant royalties, even if you are a member.

That said, the real question is not whether to join, or which one to join, but rather when is the right time to join either ASCAP or BMI (SESAC is by invitation and so the pros and cons outlined here are not really applicable.)

Many people who are new to the industry think they should sign with one or the other as soon as they can. The lavish events that both ASCAP and BMI host make one think that joining means there is an immediate chance to collect money. This is not true. Even if you are a member, you only get paid if:

1. There is money to collect for your musical works and, more importantly…

2. That you meet their requirements to receive money after you join.

Yes, signing a deal with a PRO, like so many other deals in the music business, is a guarantee of nothing.

In fact, it’s entirely possible that after you commit to a PRO, your song(s) could be earning money for them, but the PRO is paying you nothing in return. (See Part III about the pooling system for more on that.) Sounds crazy right? It is sad, but true. So, unless one of the PRO’s offers you a financial incentive to join, you should wait until you have written music that fills at least one of the following criteria:

  • It was recorded by a significant artist and the album or single is to be released in the next few months.
  • It was placed in a movie soundtrack that is about to be broadcast on a major TV network in the next few months.
  • It was used as a theme for a series that is about to be broadcast on a significant TV network– in the next few months.
  • It is currently getting a lot of play on a commercial radio station or podcast, or it has been tracked by a reliable service as being downloaded (legally) many thousands of times– now.

Notice that all four criteria listed above are either happening currently or scheduled to happen in the near future. Both ASCAP and BMI have payout systems that tend to respect events that are either happening in the immediate present, or around the corner. If you had a hit five years ago and are just thinking about joining now or you’ve just been signed to a major label but have yet to record even your first album, don’t expect to have any real negotiating leverage. Also notice which additional situations are NOT on my list above — writing the music for:

  • A TV commercial.
  • A soundtrack for a movie that has only seen theatrical or direct-to-video distribution in the US.
  • Independent films that show at festivals only.
  • A hot regional artist’s indie release.

For reasons that are too lengthy to go into here (but are discussed in detail in two of my books, Confessions of a Record Producer and 100 Answers to 50 Questions on the Music Business, these circumstances tend to not track on either ASCAP’s or BMI’s systems. However, any of these additional situations could someday metamorphose into one of the top four criteria if, for example, the festival film gets bought by a major studio and they air it on TV, or the local indie acts gets signed and marketed by a major label.

In those situations, which PRO you join could make a radical difference in your income. Since joining a particular PRO is the only bargaining chip you have for carving out better terms, like foreign rights, bigger advances, etc, it is in your best interest to wait till you have established leverage before you join.

Which direction your career takes prior to signing will also affect this decision. Are you a songwriter or have you become a soundtrack composer or are you both?

Each PRO has an accounting system that favors different types of public performances. (See Part III for which pays more for what.)

Both ASCAP and BMI will tell you that they pay the same, because to admit otherwise would get them into a bit of trouble with the law. (Google: “consent decree ASCAP” for more on this.) But this “we pay the same” pitch is a very transparent lie to catch them in. If you ask a representative of ASCAP how much BMI pays, they will tell you that they don’t know. And vice versa. How can they tell you that they pay the same as the competing PRO if they don’t know how much each other pays?

In addition, There are many cases of songwriter teams who are on competing PROs who receive wildly varying royalty checks for the EXACT same song performed in the EXACT same way. It is clear that they do not pay the same. (in my books I give detailed analysis on how each of their formulas work.)

To my knowledge the only critical analysis of the difference between the Coke and Pepsi of PROs is in the latest edition of my first book, Confessions of a Record Producer. If this is still a burning question after the explanation above, then I urge you to read chapter 20 in that book. Unfortunately, You’ll not find this information about the differences in each of their payment formulas anywhere else.

Another great book on this is Music, Money and Success, by the Brabec twins.

In Part II of this series on the truth about PROs, we’ll dive into the “non-profit” stasis that PROs like ASCAP and BMI claim to have.  What if this turned out to be one of the biggest lies in he music space?  Sign up for the free mailing list above or follow me on Twitter to be kept in the loop.  @mosesavalon.

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121 Responses to “Why You Should Think Twice Before Joining ASCAP, BMI or SESAC Part I”

  1. TC Smythe says:

    Every word of this is true. I have been a member of BMI for ten years, and have had ten years of documented airplay. I have not seen a dime.

    To add insult to injury, it is very difficult to get out of BMI. The contract I signed (back when I was very green) only provides a two week exit window every two years. If your registered letter is not received during that window, they own you for another two years.

    • Taylor B says:

      All of the PROs have a 3 month window of termination notice. For BMI and SESAC that window is between 3 and 6 months before your renewal date, and for ASCAP it is between 6 and 9 months before your renewal date.

  2. As much as they might suck, my indie band (of 20 years now) gets thousands of dollars each year from ASCAP for all the cable stations, radio stations, and so on that play our song. Now ASCAP is getting performance payments from YouTube and iTunes. They went retroactive to 2003, so I got some fat check two months in a row now.

    I do the leg work of getting our songs played on cable tv shows, so we make nice money. Other indie bands don’t do that work and have nothing to receive. Bigger indie bands get a good amount of radio airplay, so they get some good money too.

    ASCAP got us VERY affordable tour & instrument insurance that saved our ass a few times. And, my friends in other indie bands get affordable dental and health insurance through ASCAP.

    Also, we get money each year for being an indie band, they give out special payments for that if you fill out the paperwork delineating what concerts, festivals, and halls you have played that year, what new songs you have registered at ASCAP and so on.

    And, ASCAP has a ton of service they give their members that help them get legal advice, demos recorded and listened to, free courses, workshop where you might industry people (*not that I want to, I do well without a label getting in the middle), and lots more.

    So, yeah, you are right, but once you have your songs being synced on cable tv show soundtracks and so on, it is WELL worth being with ASCAP.

    AND< ASCAP PAYS WAY MORE THAN BMI. One band member went with BMI and he gets a fraction of what the rest of us get.

    • Moses Avalon says:

      Sal,

      Thank you for the balanced positive aspects. You are right, and let me be clear in saying, for thors visiting this blog for the first time, that I am NOT implying that either ASCAP or BMI are scams. Quite the contrary, without PROs the music business might not be a viable business at all. So, let us not confuse healthy citrisim and unpinning of a few competitive sales pitches with any form of anti-endorsement. These are vital companies to be sure. I just want everyone to make an educated choice, rather than one based on an assumption.

    • Paul says:

      Hey I Loved your post great Wisdom. If you are able to touch basis with me. I have established a school of music and Im looking to record my students in the spring. We are creating fundraisers in the Spring and I would Love to get your input on a few things if possible.

      Thanks

    • moses gershbein says:

      Thanks Sal and Moses… Nice to get the different perspectives to aid in the decision making process.

  3. Great post, as always Moses! Thank you for explaining all this in a way that artists can understand. I, like you, get asked this one all the time too. Your insight is spot on!

  4. Lucian Clewell says:

    Thank you again for yet another enlightening article. And thank you other bloggers for your examples!

  5. Jef Jaisun says:

    You want my two cents (which is about all ASCAP ever paid me)?

    Actually, they were okay at first. In the early 70s they gave me something like $100 a year for submitting a record of all the places I’d played my original material. But that soon dried up.

    In 1975, I had the Song of the Year on the Dr. Demento Show. It was getting played on 200 radio stations and AFRTS every week. It was always in the Top 5, usually #1. But Demento was syndicated, and mostly broadcast on Sunday nights. That’s when ASCAP’s “monitors” were either turned off, asleep or busy knocking down drinks at the local bar. When I submitted several dozen Demento playlists and station lists to ASCAP, trying to get any kind of remuneration for all the airplay, I was told, “Sorry, but those would throw off our random survey.” In 35 years of airplay on Demento’s programs and stations from Hawaii to Japan to Europe, the song was “randomly surveyed” a grand total of three times. And not since 1976. Two of those plays were not on the Demento show.

    In the early 80s I got into it with the ASCRAP Prez Hal David, over his proposal to charge a royalty fee on blank cassette tapes. He claimed people were taping off the radio, stealing food out of the mouths of ASCAP artists. Yeah, right. That was about the time McCartney received some well-publicized obscene amount of royalty money from ASCAP. I told David that I (like other indies) was lucky to have my tunes played on the air at all, and that if people didn’t tape them they might never hear my music again. I made a rather lengthy and strong argument, actually, against his tape fee. His one line response to me, as well-considered as you would expect from someone milking a cash cow, “Obviously, we have a difference of opinion.” And fuck you very much.

    Concurrent with that very exchange, a local ASCAP agent had demanded high licensing fees from a local coffeehouse that presented folk concerts on the weekends. All the door went to the performers. The joint was told to either pay up or shut down. Since they couldn’t afford the fees on coffee and brownie sales, they stopped having live music. The ASCAP agent did the same to a small music bar down the street, forcing them to go silent as well. In other words, ASCAP closed down two rooms where ASCAP members, including me, were being hired to play.

    In the 80s I discovered that my ASCAP membership allowed me to collect live performance royalties thru affiliated organizations in Europe. So, when I toured there I filed the forms. ASCAP held onto the money for two entire years before paying it out. Did I get interest on it? BUAHAHAHA!

    It was a lovely day when I finally bailed on those goons. But they had one final insult to deliver. Long after I’d resigned my commission, I received an ASCAP royalty statement for $5.00…and a check for $0.00. I was informed the $5 had been applied to my dues. My what??? Oh, never mind.

    The bottom line with the PROs has always been: If you’re successful already, they’re really really pleased to have your business. But if you’re not, they could give a flying f–k.

  6. I’ll be the voice of the independent artist/label here (as usual) and relate that in my experience (mainly in the gospel/Christian and contemporary jazz genres respectively), we see decent pay for national single airplay through BMI. Of course New York and LA stations help, and XM/Sirius helps ALOT! And to do this you need serious record promotion help, but that’s another subject…

    In talks with other artists and players here in the Nashville area, it seems BMI may pay a bit better in these specific genres. I have had people report ASCAP didn’t pay as well in these same genres.

    Probably in the reporting, but who knows!

    I would take exception with a few of the rules above, and know they are general. If you are an indie artist doing specific national radio promotion and you hate $500-1000 checks appearing quarterly in your mailbox, definitely don’t sign up.

    EC

    • Moses Avalon says:

      Oh, Eric, suppose you expand a bit for us on exactly what you mean by “specific national radio promotion.” because this sounds expensive and way more costly than $4000/year.

      • Independent radio promotion we use usually starts at $2000 or so, and goes to $3500 for a life of single.

        Once the domain of only the record companies, the radio promoters split off into their own companies years ago. And as labels spend less, they are hungry for clients. Enter Indies.

        These promoters call on reporting stations in the format you are trying to chart on (usually Billboard is the key, but not always depending on your format/genre).

        Of course, you don’t always recoup those costs in royalties, especially if the single doesn’t take at stations. Just because you hire a promoter doesn’t mean stations will actually play it.

        But one of our jazz artists saw almost 5 figures in royalties (BMI) from one well played jazz hit. I’m sure he spent only about $3k on promotion.

        And yeah, since most of my clients are indies, they rarely even splurge for radio promo, but if they do and I write or publish their stuff, could be some extra money every quarter.

        It’s all about multiple income streams at this point right…

        PS. If you use radio info you get from your promoter you can use this to book with, and add to the bottom line. But this is grassroots/indie marketing stuff.

        EC

        (Caveat: Remember I’m operating exclusively in specific niche national radio genres like gospel (or CCM) and jazz (smooth/contemporary). I’ve never hired a secular AC/pop or CHR/rock radio promoter for national promotion, and would never want to!)

  7. Trudee Lunden says:

    Moses, while I agree it’s extremely important to understand the differences between ASCAP & BMI (& SESAC for that matter) before choosing which PRO to join, there’s one concern I have about waiting to join one according to all your scenarios.

    Granted, why bother until you have music professionally recorded. However, in order to place and pitch music for Film & especially TV today, music supervisors want the artists/songwriters to have these legal “ducks in a row” and by NOT having these matters creators will simply lose potential income because of clearance issues.

    Yes this may be for their convenience, but they too are often working in limited time frames of 1 day or even hours, and they don’t want to risk being “burned” (as many have) by pitching uncleared music that may have potential legal problems down the road. We hear this from numerous music supervisors.

    Music is a unique art where income streams are always inter-dependent between many kinds of organizations and people within the industry. I agree artists and creators must always be proactive in their own best interests based on this understanding…

  8. Trudee Lunden says:

    An added thought on this subject…

    I know a composer team where each is signed with a different PRO – one with BMI & the other with ASCAP. They CONSTANTLY find discrepancies between their statements, and because they work as a TEAM they take that knowledge back to their respective PROs and get the extra money they should because they are fully informed and having the ammunition in writing. This is a very successful and smart duo and they’ve learned the best way to be proactive in handling the business aspects of earning money from music IMHO.

    • Jef Jaisun says:

      Sounds like the thing to do would be to join both, using a pseudonym for at least one of them. (The “Nanker Phelge” option.) That way you’d always know if one or the other was shorting you. Of course, first you’d have to actually be getting airplay AND be monitored.

  9. Tom Hitt says:

    Interesting dialog, I definitely have some things to consider here – thanks to ya’ll for the comments. ~TH~

  10. Jason Miles says:

    i have been a member of BMI since 1980.Is ASCAP better.I don’t know.I have about 100 songs out there and what I have noticed is that revenue is definitely down for someone who gets AirPlay but may not have a stone hit.
    I register the songs and get paid if they get played.That simple

  11. Derrick Utsey says:

    I am a songwriter with BMI. I have never had a song played on the radio. All of my music is licensed for TV shows and some films. I have consistently gotten checks every quarter from BMI for the past 4 years. I honestly feel like joining BMI was the best thing I could have done for my music career. I don’t perform on the road and I probably only put out about 6 songs a year, but I do get paid from BMI. I’m interested to see how much of a difference I will see when I sign up with ASCAP as a publisher. I always heard that it was best to sign up with one as a writer and the other as a publisher.

  12. Lady J says:

    There is no mention of how music is monitored by these companies, but after reading some of the comments, I hope it’s covered in your book.

    BMI uses BDS for radio tracking and ASCAP created Mediaguide specifically for tracking royalties, but they do much more now. Both are electronic, so there is no ‘downtime’ when no one is paying attention. Mediaguide allows artists to track their songs themselves, so if you feel like ASCAP isn’t paying out you can show them their own data. That’s a nice feature..comforting. BDS is part of the Nielsen/SoundScan/Billboard family, though, so it has its own perceived advantages.

    MediaBASE is the only monitoring company that still uses human ears, so it’s by far the least accurate. It’s owned by ClearChannel so people still use it, but I don’t think it has much to do with royalties. Could be wrong.

    No one is very forthcoming with all of this information, so I really appreciate these articles. More information on tracking and collection would be nice, so I’m going to buy the book!

    Thanks!

    • Moses Avalon says:

      Thanks for the comments Lady J. I loved your radio show.

      The info about how the PROs do thier tracking is included in the expanded version of this piece in the book confessions of a Record Producer, it had to be cut for this excerpt for space considerations.

      In the new book, 100 Answers to 50 Questios, I also have a chapter on why tracking PRO data is so complex.

  13. Rhea says:

    In talks with other artists and players here in the Nashville area, it seems BMI may pay a bit better in these specific genres. I have had people report ASCAP didn’t pay as well in these same genres.Thank you again for yet another enlightening article. And thank you other bloggers for your examples!

  14. Thommy S says:

    I love all the info here… I’m an American living in South Africa. Here the PRO is Samro. Should I join Samro since I live here, or should I join one of the American firms? Can you join the overseas company and join one of the American ones too? What advantages do you see if any, of me joining Samro verses say… ASCAP.
    One of my secular songs is now on CDbaby.com and can be bought worldwide…they also market your songs to flim companies etc. One man mentioned the “Legal” problems of getting a deal on films if your not with a PRO, but if I join SAMRO will that also be a negitive for me, since I’m here in South Africa? I know the Net has made the world smaller but are there still issues?
    I just don’t know what to do. Also how should I copyright my songs from here? Go to a lawyer, notary…Samro?
    Next Month I’m releasing my 15 song org Gospel album I’ve made here in South Africa on the net, and I would like this advice too, because I don’t want any trouble if my album does well. I might put this album with indieheaven in the US as I’m still an unsigned artist.
    Also….some say I can register my album here with Samro but I don’t have to join….and that might protect me , at least for copyright purposes etc.
    I’m going to ask the book store here to order your book. Thanks for all the help… and God Bless…

  15. Damaris Griffin says:

    Very Helpful info.

  16. D says:

    I’m glad that organizations exist that help ensure you get paid for your work.

    That said, my venue will be going silent. We got our first ASCAP demand letter for $1700 which means BMI and SESAC will follow suit shortly.

    ASCAP grossly exaggerated the size of our building and included unusable square footage like the kitchen, walk in coolers, storage closets, bathrooms to arrive at a “seat” capacity that is 225% greater than actual. $1750 for ASCAP may not sound like much but when the profit margin is 15% or less the actual cost is $12,000 in gross sales just for ASCAP. I haven’t even payed the band yet.

    The cost of the band, additional wear and tear on the building, licensing fees, additional labor, additional electrical consumption ect virtually guarantees a net loss on the evening and no pay for my personal labor.

    I am deciding in the next couple of days if I should pull the plug on live music. It would eliminate 104 gigs for local bands (roughly 52,000 dollars in incone to local bands) which in turn will eliminate 208 shifts for my employees (around 40,000 in wages and tips). It will reduce my electrical usage and reduce my maintenance costs.

    As much as I would like to be the spot for local talent to cut their teeth it doesn’t appear to be a financially viable model anymore.

    I will probably have to join the ranks of other bars in the area that don’t have live music. The local music scene is completely nonexistent here.

    I wish you all the best.

    • Moses Avalon says:

      Well, have you considered trying to negotiate? Everybody does.

    • Jef Jaisun says:

      Sounds like nothing’s changed since they ran the Silver Spoon and Country Inn out of the live music business 30 years ago. Those clubs tried negotiating, too, but it’s hard to do that — and impossible to be successful — with a loaded gun pressed up against your head.

    • Mike says:

      $1750 – roughly the price of one beer per day for the right to perform live music? Doesn’t sound too bad. But if they got the size and seating capacity wrong you should definitely fight them on that.

      • Moses Avalon says:

        Okay so, note to everyone on this forum: if you own a restaurant and feel that ASCAP and BMI is overcharging you let me know and I will negotiate with them for you. Yes, there will be a small fee for this but it’s a “cry once” fee. Meaning, one negotiation will last you years and years and save you money in the long run on licensing fees.

        • Karen says:

          Hi there. We own a small cafe, host live music twice a week. We are paying BMI, ASCAP and SESAC. SESAC is the most expensive at $594.00 per year. ASCAP $409.80 BMI around $400.00. In your experience, is it normal for SESAC to cost so much more than the other two?

    • Brad Fielder says:

      D-

      I perform regularly at a small little bar where the owner was facing the same dilemma. Know what he did to curb having to pay the fees? He enforced a strict “no covers” policy. Might not work for your venue or the bands you regularly work with but it has helped business for him. Original music by local/regional, mostly unsigned artists actually brings in better business than “bar bands” or all cover bands. Plus, it raises the bar for quality. Performing songwriters and bands who write their own music generally take themselves more seriously than the Tom Petty tribute band or that bands that plays all 80s hair metal covers.

      I do realize I’m replying to your comment a year too late but I hope this is a helpful idea for anyone else facing the same problem.

  17. ben says:

    im in a signed indie band. i’ve been with ascap for over 10 years. have had many syncs to cable/network television and movies in the last 3. my 50/50 partner gets paid almost 4x as much as me being a member of bmi, it’s staggering to see how much it differs. ascaps response is “well some things just pay more than others..” unacceptable in my opinion….
    i am now going through the process of switching to bmi which ascap makes extremely hard to do.
    whoever stated above that ascap pays way more, is sorely mistaken…

  18. […] Moses Avalon’s article “Why You Should Think Twice Before Joining ASCAP, BMI or SESAC,” he stated, a songwriter should only join a PRO if their song was recorded by a major artist, it’s […]

  19. Noah says:

    I have earned large amounts of money over the last 11 years from being a BMI member, as a composer for television. While absolutely not perfect, they have been the source for my truly great living doing music. I can’t speak for being represented as a songwriter, and that is something that I will see over the next year. I have heard many negative reports on all the societies, as far as their accuracy and responsibility, however, and am beginning investigations into potentially large amounts of money that have not been reported to me. As of now it appears that it’s a combination of problems with BMI and the TV world itself.

  20. Duane James says:

    I’ve been with ASCAP for ten years and finally one of my songs will be in a movie so I,m hoping I will get paid they way I should. Great comments and reading info.

    Dreamy D

  21. redub says:

    Am I the only one who finds the ASCAP website difficult to navigate? Just trying to change your mailing address seems to be a major undertaking.

    • lover man says:

      lies. ascap site is eay to update mailing info.
      ust go in the site and edit info takes like 1 min unless u dont know your info
      in which case u need some help from the medical industry not the music industry

  22. Jack Serlin says:

    Dear Mr. Avalon,

    Thank you for answering our questions. Creativity is a joy for composers and singer-songwriters; even if the way they arrived there was through heart ache at times. I compose instrumentals and songs both. One of my instrumentals has been requested as a piece to be played on the internet radio for a well know speaker.
    The person managing this has told me no money is paid for it, but it does bring your music world wide and gives recognition to the composer. I was wondering if I sign a contract and agree, is a time limit of one or two years reasonable and if I am registered with ASCAP or BMI, would royalties be mine for the airtime?
    I thank you for being there to help us composers protect ourselves!

    Jack Serlin

  23. Jeff says:

    I don’t get the main point of this article. It cost practically nothing to join these organizations: zero for BMI (songwriter) and a mere $35 for ASCAP so what do you have to lose by joining them? If the article is suggesting that you should NEVER join based on some evidence (while possibly suggesting an alternative) that’s a different story, but why wait until you are getting played? It makes no difference whether you are making money with your music or not, the services are free. Also, these blogs and articles really need to update the discussions to include on-line streaming such as youtube, spotify, Pandora, etc….

    • Moses Avalon says:

      Jeff,

      I’m sorry that you didn’t get the point of the articles. However, in a nutshell these articles are not saying that you should not join any of them but rather which one you should join based on your career path. The problem in the industry is that most people will tell you that ASCAP and BMI is like Coke and Pepsi. The point of these articles is to show you that they’re not.

  24. Daniel says:

    Very interesting article. Thank you Moses.

    I signed up with ASCAP 6 months ago, and recently finished my first EP. We have some bites and interest but I have yet to register the actual songs with ASCAP.

    Is it too late to register with BMI and place the songs under BMI? Once I register am I stuck? Or is it just about your works being stuck at a particular PRO?

    Thank you

  25. Karl Smiley says:

    What really don’t understand about the PROs is how they are constantly shutting down music venues and squashing the opporunities for new, up and coming musicians and singer/songwriters. What they need to develop is places to play. The The PROs make it financially impossible for many would be venues to continue to have music. In a town of 50 thousand they have shut down music in 4 places I used to play….And they don’t care if song writers only play their own songs. It’s like they don’t want anyone competing with their clear channel corporate music fare. Are they getting kickbacks? Or are they just trying to kill independant new music? Or is it just because they pay straight commission to guys who go out looking for venues to make pay? I don’t know…but I do know thqt they are killing music at it’s roots.

    • Moses Avalon says:

      “a town of 50 thousand they have shut down music in 4 places I used to play.”

      Karl,

      PROs do not have the the power to “shut down” a venue. They can insist that a venue adhere to the law and pay for the musical content. I have never heard of a venue closing its doors because of PRO fees. Their fees are really small. For a bar that holds 300 people the annual fee is between $500 and $1500. The bar’s liquor license costs about 100 times that. So any bar owner who is telling you that he blames PRO fess for closing his doors is frankly playing you for a fool.

      • Karl Smiley says:

        Alright, I misspoke. They didn’t shut down the venue. They shut down the “live” music. They just made it financially unfeasable for them, besides (in one case)scaring the crap out of them so that they thought they were dealing with the mafia.
        By the way, only one of these places might be considered a “bar” and none of them sold hard stuff. These were honest acoustic music loving small business owners who also hoped that live music would help their business not playing anybody for a fool. They learned otherwise.

        The proof is in the pudding and the PROs ARE killing music at it’s roots and are a benefit mainly to the corporate owned.

        • Moses Avalon says:

          “These were honest acoustic music loving small business owners who also hoped that live music would help their business not playing anybody for a fool. They learned otherwise. ”

          What they learned is that going into business has costs. As it should. The PRO fees are infinitesimally small compared to just abut everything else related to opening a bar, club, whatever: liquor license, leases, wages, etc. Why don’t i hear you complaining that the landlord was shaking them down for wanting rent or the ABC is like the mob for wanting a license to sell booze, or the government was leaning on him to pay the help minimum wage, pay unemployment, social security or fire insurance? These are all basic costs for doing business. Why are you being so hard on musicians? What are you one of these morons who thinks music should be free?

          • Aaron Kerr says:

            The question here is not if a venue should pay for music that is being played in their business for their customer’s enjoyment (which they should). The question is, why are they paying ASCAP, or other organizations like function like ASCAP? As you said above, “you could be making money for a PRO, but getting nothing in return”. If your music is being played at a venue that pays a PRO and you aren’t getting paid for it, then that is exactly what is happening. Moses – I want you to know that I read “Confessions” when it first came out and I appreciate the advice you give to musicians, but Karl has a valid point here and I think it goes beyond monetary compensation for artists. Ethically, we need to demand that ASCAP / BMI, and other such organisations stop the practice of harmful, unwarranted legal action against small businesses. Yes, organizations like ASCAP clearly are necessary to have, but we need a new model for compensation to musicians. It will be harder for the PROs to do, but the right answer is not always the easy one.

          • Moses Avalon says:

            Well, you seem to be saying two different things that are in opposition to each other: on one hand you want ASCAP/BMI to be less aggressive with the venues they collect from, on the other hand you want them to compensate musicians better.

            I agree that the PRO’s distribution methods are worthy of criticism. That’s the reason I wrote these pieces. However, reformed does not begin by asking those who use music for commercial purposes to pay less. In my view, the PROs are not aggressive enough. They leave a great deal of money on the table that should go into the pockets of writers. The problem is that they are simply too big to fail, to use a cliché.

            Reform will likely come in the form of competition. Eventually they will have to start paying more or they will lose members. That is the democratic way.

          • Spoon says:

            Basically it sounds like there trying to take your first amendment . I would just tell the PRO’S these are LIVE rehearsals for future performances what can they do? Shut down a LIVE rehearsal??? I would say people paid for the drinks, & social mixer for community outreach, while this Band does rehearsals at the same time. Play there game, or just MOB UP, GATHER Local bars,bands,communities FROM ALL OVER, & form a ALLIANCE. Strength in NUMBERS!!!! Bad Mouth them so BAD that the MEDIA “HAS” to get involved. This is AMERICA, Corporations shouldn’t make the RULES, we DO, thats what is wrong with this country, they put FEAR into your heart, because you let them, MOBB UP, FORM together, I’m DONE, RANT is OVER:)

          • Moses Avalon says:

            Harry,

            Nice try but here’s why it will not work. Any performance done in a public place is considered a “public performance” and therefore subject to payments. So, yes, that includes rehearsals.

  26. Vaughan says:

    SESAC reportedly pays more than ASCAP and BMI. They only accept certain applicants, but if you can get in, that will likely be the best paying option for a writer or writer/publisher.

  27. Tom M says:

    I am a Grammy nominated songwriter-producer with songs in movies like Rocky Balboa, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Expendables 2 and hundreds of TV shows. If I told up and coming artists and songwriters that working at MacDonalds would make you more money than my yearly royalties, they would think I am a huge liar. Foreign royalties that even pay theatrical royalties only adds up to pennies and under 50 dollars most times, and remember, I am talking the biggest grossing movies and most popular TV shows. ASCAP should be ashamed of itself and I should have my head examined to pursue this career for so long!

  28. Matt says:

    This is the dumbest thing i have ever seen on the internet. Absolutely 100% you should join ascap or bmi… absolutely.

  29. J Daws says:

    I’m an aspiring songwriter and whenever I do choose the right time to join either BMI, ASCAP or any other PRO, I want to make an educated decision. As mentioned in an earlier post, BMI offers membership and registration for songwriters/composers for “free.” However, for ASCAP there is a $35 annual fee. By doing this is BMI simply using a different marketing ploy trying to attract more members or could this be an indication of lack of service, lower pay levels for artists, etc.?

  30. Chazz Livingstone says:

    Is there anyone affiliated with Sesac? How is their record for songwriter/publisher?

    • Kevin says:

      I’m affiliated with SESAC and love them. They have great customer service when needed and they are a great organization in general.

  31. Yadgyu says:

    I see no reason in not joining.

    This article was written as a shock post. Nothing more. Songwriters and publishers probably will not make a ton of royalties, but being with a PRO can help to make extra money. The real problem is that musicians do not know how to monetize themselves.

    Most bands and musicians can make way more money from music licensing than they can by touring and selling CDs. People need to focus on getting songs on TV and film. That money is easy to make, especially if a band has great songs. I just get sad when I read about bands paying to play at places. Why continue to chase a ghost? Just get into licensing and let the money come to you.

    • Moses Avalon says:

      “Most bands and musicians can make way more money from music licensing”

      Sigh. ASCAP and BMI are licencing. You are disagreeing with me and then helping me make my argument. Are you high or just a tech-troll.

      • Ed says:

        I inferred from Yadgyu’s comment that “most bands and musicians can make way more money from music licensing” on their own, instead of using a PRO. Is that a crazy idea?

  32. Ehryen says:

    I’m new to the industry and am trying to make sure I cover all my bases. I am representing a Rap artist in Texas and want to make sure I make education decisions. Which of these (ASCAP and BMI) would be the best fit for us? My artist writes all his own lyrics and someone else comes up with the beat. He has performed at local clubs and entered a competition which got him to the BET awards last Oct. He was able to meet established folks in the industry and made a few contacts. One established artist offered to include him on a “mixed tape” which featured numerous up and coming (unknown) artist but we would have to pay a fee? At this point we are looking at finishing his first albumn and trying to get airtime. Of course You Tube and other viral venues. I’m hungry for any advise. Thanks!!

  33. Ehryen says:

    WOW – I just love TYPOS…”educated decision”…

  34. Stanton Cornish bell says:

    I am a music producer & I want to know what is it I need to do to become a member of a pro. I also want to know would I sign up as a writer or publisher? What is the difference between a writer & a publisher?

    Thanks ,

  35. Hey guus i was hoping some of yall can help me i signed up like 5 yeaea ago and i havent seen one check ive opened up for artist auch as dmx,omarion,dipset,snoop dog,and recently 2 chainz why dont i jave any money?? Not even one cent???… Where is the money at in ascap… If i license. Tv or aomthing will i start getting paid or get some placements??.. Please hit me. Ack email me at boogeyman1025@gmail.com thanx

  36. Daniel says:

    Some say why not sign up if it doesn’t cost you (the songwriter) anything?

    I’ll tell you why not to sign up – Why would I or any one with a concious support an industry with the deep pockets and resources to do otherwise but crush the ability of the average singer/songwriter to get their music heard. That’s what happens when these companies threaten and fine the mom and pop venues and smaller venues – they either close their doors or stop having live music. This is what happened to the venue I was playing (originals) at. Now they won’t have music at all. This means less venues to play period. There’s nothing good about having less venues to play music. Nothing at all. I’m sure BMI and such have excuses and can justify their actions. They would be justifying shutting venues down. They have the resources to collect a fair and accurate money but prefer to spend it supporting the bit hitters that get radio play. After all, if they spend the time to actually monitor who plays what where in every (yes, every) venue, they would have less money to pay out to the big players. It’s not about what’s fair for them – it’s about collecting the most money. I will not support this terrorism.

  37. Phil says:

    I’m wondering why the author is responding negatively to certain comments. You should be happy people are even reading your post. Calling people morons is unprofessional, and I would never support such a person. You post content online for the purpose of educating your targeted audience. People have the right to express themselves (as do you), but no one disrespected you. Your responses make you look bad.

    • Moses Avalon says:

      Hey Phil,

      Thanks for shareing. You made me go back and re-read all my comments on this post. So, can you please point out for me where I call someone a “moron?” I can not find it anywhere in this post.

      • Z-Groove says:

        This is the post that you ask if someone is a moron:

        Moses Avalon says:

        January 5, 2013 at 11:44 pm

        “These were honest acoustic music loving small business owners who also hoped that live music would help their business not playing anybody for a fool. They learned otherwise. ”

        What they learned is that going into business has costs. As it should. The PRO fees are infinitesimally small compared to just abut everything else related to opening a bar, club, whatever: liquor license, leases, wages, etc. Why don’t i hear you complaining that the landlord was shaking them down for wanting rent or the ABC is like the mob for wanting a license to sell booze, or the government was leaning on him to pay the help minimum wage, pay unemployment, social security or fire insurance? These are all basic costs for doing business. Why are you being so hard on musicians? What are you one of these morons who thinks music should be free?

  38. Mr. Moonshine says:

    Thank you for this topic, really helpful!
    I have a song being released in a movie for the end credits later this year, an independant film distribution company that will be releasing it world wide. They will be shopping it at festivals and the marketing campaign will be large with our song used in the trailer. Woot.
    I am a member of ASCAP as a songwriter and I am looking into applying for a publisher license with either BMI or ASCAP. The song has yet to be registered. Do I wait to register the song or have it registered before the trailer is released? Should I get my publishing liscense. I know there are many ways to go about this, just not sure exactly what to do with many options.
    Any help would be great!

    • Lezkane Music says:

      If you are an ASCAP writer then you would have an ASCAP Publisher license your song. The song should be registered before it is released. Especially with the copyright office @ copyright.gov. The license they need to have your song on their film is called a SYNC License.

  39. Lezkane Music says:

    There is a lot of good information here. That being said, there is a lot of misleading and inaccurate information as well. Best thing to do is to create a relationship with someone at either of the 3 PRO’s. SESAC is not by invitation. You can actually call them and request affiliation.

  40. Larry S says:

    I play in a local band in Ga and am a songwriter. Im an ascap member. We play bars and clubs. Every time we play, we play 4-5 of my originals in a night. Would it be worthwhile to try to get paid for playing these songs. How do I know if the venue we are playing is an ascap member. Also, If I try to get paid from ascap and the venue is not a ascap member, does that mean the “ascap hit squad” will converge on this venue demanding $, thus possibly making the venue stop having live music? I would never want to cause that.

  41. Rick from the Netherlands says:

    In Europe we have similar problems albeit we have much more that just 2 or 3 competing societies, we have at least 1 for each country in the EU. E.g. PRS in the UK, Buma-Stemra in The Netherlands, SABAM in Belgium, SACEM in France and so and so on. 3 key problems come to mind:

    1) Each of these organisations have inherent administrative and technical difficulties when trying to monitor when, where and how often a certain song of a member is being played.

    2) But even more troublesome is sharing of that info among societies. it is so easy to not share or share incorrect info it seems

    3) Thirdly, many societies have in varying extents the practical and inherent problem that they collect revenues from all bars, local radiostations, local TV etc.. however distribute this money to authors based on national playlists or cue-sheets as delivers by certain national mediacompanies. As a result small authors who are played locally but not nationally are in fact by ripped by larger authors and their usually large major publishing labels.

    As a result there is lots of noise about how well societies function. This stays at the grapevine level as there seem to be very limited comparitive studies across europe. However about the Nordic countries I have heard good feedback. Many large local artists seem happy. Many artists without publishers or with just local exposure or with much international exposure, seem critical. Overviews of payoutcalculations and the ability to verify completeness of the revenue you receive from any society, these are not optimal and there seem to be many complaints.

  42. Greetings! I had a question. You are probably familiar with this problem. I registered my cd in 2003 with BMI mainly original music. Its called Ocean Bells. Then my computer broke, and I moved. I lost the ability to get on the BMI site to update because I can’t find my password and I don’t like putting my social security on sites. SO I am wondering how I can get my back royalties? I have called emailed many numerous times to BMI, to almost every email they have and I NEVER HEAR BACK., EVER I realize they probably make more money this way but its not ethical ( right) and also I am owed past royalties. I have gotten a royalty from sound exchange so I don’t see how BMI can just not pay me what they promised, I am aware however of something called a pool and maybe my royalties are there. Anyway help actual working emails that answer or anything would be vastly appreciated. Also how to I get off of BMI, if they are just going to take my money for themselves I don’t see the point of continuing with them. maybe Seasac which I have heard is hard to get on, thank you – I apologize for my ignorance
    Paul N Prince

  43. Anand says:

    Can we do without Any of them, even if our are placed in films etc.? Has anyone contacted stations etc. and represented yourself to collect? There must be a DIY method for royalty collection to avoid these PROs.

  44. J says:

    Does ascap pay you, for ” youtube ” views, and video plays on other music sites ?

  45. If you are a composer of “concert” music (i.e. “art music” or “modern classical music” or whatever you want to call it) and you don’t join a PRO, you’re an idiot and giving away free money. If you a member of BMI, you get royalties for *every single* live performance of your music. Period.
    That includes concerts where admission is charged, free concerts, concerts at universities, even foreign performances.
    If you are not a member of a PRO, you are leaving thousands of dollars of royalty payments on the table. There is NO way for an individual to go after those payments on his/her own, BTW. So why on earth wouldn’t you join a PRO?

    • Moses Avalon says:

      Well, Aparently Mr. McLoskey is either missing the point of ths piece or didn’t read it carefully. The question Mr. McLodkry, is not if you should join, but which one shoud you join and WHEN. Care to address that question, because that would be very helpful to those reading this forum.

  46. Kevin Burns says:

    A very interesting read all around. I found myself here while looking up information on how & why these PRO’s collect information. What I’d like to know specifically, is how is it justifiable for a PRO like BMI for example, to attempt to enforce collection for a license to play recorded music from a smaller music venue that by design does not play the music by artists they’re supposed to represent? I may be off topic here, but it seems to me that these PRO’s are basically attempting to collect money through intimidation all the while neglecting the very people they’re supposed to pay in the first place. With the exception of very few posts, this is what I’ve concluded.

    • Moses Avalon says:

      “What I’d like to know specifically, is how is it justifiable for a PRO like BMI for example, to attempt to enforce collection for a license to play recorded music from a smaller music venue that by design does not play the music by artists they’re supposed to represent?”

      I’m not sure where you got the impression that they did that, but they do not. It’s jst that their catalogue is so big it’s difficult to avoid playing things from it, especially if your resturant/club, etc. subscribes to a music service, or uses Pandora, to pipe in tunes.

  47. J Burnham says:

    As an aspiring singer/songwriter, it’s always helpful to happen upon articles like this. Sometimes the discussions that follow are more engaging than the article itself. No offense intended, it was a good read.

  48. Sean says:

    Mr. Moses, you keep responding that the piece is not about if someone should join a PRO but which one they should join. I’ve read the piece several times and it seems to me the gist of the article is when to join and pro (and a little bit about which one). You state as much when you write “… the real question is not whether to join, or which one to join, but rather when is the right time to join…”.

    Frankly, you don’t really explain what the benefit is to not joining at a certain time. Is it because if you join before you have a hit song by a named artist the PRO’s lose track of you?

    • Moses Avalon says:

      You may have missed the part in the article(s) where I sudgest the strategy as follows: wait until you know you are about to have a song that fits one of their high tracking criteria (which are outlined in the article). Then negotiate for an advance. This gets both PROs in a bidding war.

      Since joining is the only leverage you have waiting to join is a logical strategy and therefore conversely joining when you’re at a low point in your career would be contra indicated.

      • JohnF says:

        I was unaware that the PROs paid advances?? I know that publishing companies do (and they are affiliated), but I had never Heard of a PRO paying an advance before. Interesting. So, theoretically then, after picking your PRO, one could try to get the affiliated publishing companies on another bidding war to produce another advance from them (unless of course you own that yourself)???? I wonder what an average range would be for a PRO advance on a typical Top Ten Country hit???

  49. Fred Treece says:

    Live music venues pay a PRO a licensing fee which allows cover bands to provide entertainment for their clientele…

    There are a lot of variables in that one statement. I’ll just focus on one. Who gets the money from that fee? Maybe it’s covered in the book.

  50. Yadgyu says:

    This article is rubbish.

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