[This article is the 2nd in a series by Rob Filomena, CD Baby’s former Director of Music Publishing. To start from the beginning, check out “What is music publishing administration, and why do I need it?” ]
Hey! We’re back to dig a little deeper into the basics of music publishing and how it relates to the career of the DIY artist.
In our last article, we talked about the basic definition of what a publisher is, and the differences between what a publisher and a publishing administrator does.
One of the other topics of consistent confusion for our members is the differentiation between what a publishing administrator does and what a performing rights society does.
Many members of ASCAP, BMI or SESAC that I’ve heard from think their performing rights society IS their publisher and that they are getting all of the income they’re entitled to directly from that P.R.O. (performing rights organization).
In this article, I relay a couple actual questions we’ve received on the topic and try to give some clear, concise answers.
“My PRO already collects my publishing royalties for me, including foreign money, so why should I pay you to administer my money and take a commission on something I am already getting myself?”
ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, SOCAN and other performing rights societies collect royalties for public performance of your compositions. This covers a wide range of uses such as live performance (yes, when you play your songs live in a licensed venue you are earning a royalty), television, radio broadcasts, in-store playbacks and other types of public performances both in the US, Canada, and abroad — but it’s not everything.
What many musicians don’t realize is that public performance is but one of several streams of revenue that a publisher earns. When your music is streamed in an interactive service like Spotify or Google Play, sold as a permanent download on iTunes or Amazon, sold in physical form, or synchronized with a moving image (as in a commercial or film sync placement), you are owed some form of income as a publisher that Performing Rights Societies do not collect for you.
Mechanical royalties are especially challenging to collect for DIY artists. These are collected for sales and interactive streams by Mechanical Rights Societies that, in most cases, operate separately from the performing rights societies in a particular country. Without a publishing deal, or working to affiliate yourself with several global mechanical societies, your mechanical royalties from streaming and foreign sales are going uncollected. They sit at the mechanical societies, waiting for you to claim them. A writer/publisher can attempt to affiliate with all of them (at great cost in both time and affiliation fees) or work with one publishing administrator who already has a relationship with these societies. With a the assistance of a publishing rights administrator, you collect EVERYTHING you are owed, minus a small commission.
On the matter of foreign performance royalties, US performing right societies work with their foreign counterparts to help each others’ members get paid via what are called “reciprocal agreements.” These are essentially information sharing exercises that help account for foreign performances between society members in different countries.
Reciprocal agreements are useful but not ideal as they do not register your songs directly with these foreign societies and there is no opportunity to reconcile what you get with what really occurred to ensure accuracy. They are a passive, second line of defense for a publisher. There is a reason large publishers have offices all over the world. In addition to making it easier to find local writer talent to sign, being locally affiliated in a foreign territory means you get prioritized like a local publisher. You also have an open channel to reconcile performance data to ensure accuracy.
When you work with a publishing rights administrator, your songs will be registered directly with societies around the world.
“Isn’t ASCAP (or BMI or SESAC) my publisher?”
No, they are your performing rights society. You grant them the ability to license your compositions to users that publicly perform them (like TV networks, radio stations, websites, retail chains, and live venues). If you wrote your own songs, you are the publisher and retain ownership of the copyright. You have the ability to distribute your work, create reproductions and derivative works, and publicly perform them any way you want.
When you join a U.S. Performing Rights Society, you are affiliating to participate in the live, broadcast and digital public performance licensing that they handle. As a member, they will collect your share of public performance revenue from their licenses and remit to you based on how and where your music was used in a particular quarter. They do NOT collect revenue from mechanical royalties or sync placements, nor do they register your works with foreign societies (though they do share data with foreign societies via reciprocal agreements to get you foreign performances royalties). A publisher or publishing administrator looks out for all of your rights and is responsible for collecting all of the revenue your copyrights generate.