How Artists Get Paid for Their Music

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How Do Music Royalties Work?

Do you know how music revenue flows back to songwriters, artists, publishers, and labels?

Most musicians have a general understanding of how money works when it comes to live performance and merch sales — but when it comes to getting compensated for radio play, digital sales, webcasts, and interactive streaming, the waters are a bit more murky.

Last week, the folks at the Future of Music Coalition published four online quizzes that let you test your knowledge about the music revenue streams mentioned above, and how that money is distributed. The best thing about the quizzes — if you don’t know the answers, they’ll explain it to you right then and there.

Learn more about how these organizations work:

* SoundExchange

* PROs like BMI and ASCAP

* Harry Fox Agency


If you want to learn even more about how musicians, songwriters, labels, and publishers earn money from broadcast radio and webcasting, digital sales, and interactive streams, also check out these detailed infographics from the folks at Future of Music Coalition. 

To make sure you’re set up to collect maximum publishing royalties for your original music, join CD Baby Pro today!

Want to learn more about the world of music publishing? Download our FREE guide:

Guide: Make More Money From Your Music

In this article

Join the Conversation

  • Dave Tate

    I have a CDBABY PRO question. I'm already affiliated and have registered each song with BMI. I want to switch to CDBABY PRO, because you collect the mechanical royalties internationally and BMI only collects performance royalties. Do I need to "Un-Affiliate" with BMI first? I can imagine if you are trying to re-submit already submitted songs it can get confusing for both of you. Also, I have songs that are not available in an album at this time, but were published before. So I need those to stay protected. How can CD Baby PRO do that if it's not an album registered on CDBaby for sale?
    Thanks for all you guys do!

    • Hey Dave,

      No. You don't need to un-affiliate. In fact, you can stay affiliated with BMI for all your tunes. All you have to do — when you sign up for CD Baby Pro — is provide us with some of your writer and song information that's registered with BMI. We'll take care of the rest.


      • Dave Tate

        Thank you Chris! Listening to you on the podcast as we speak : ) Thanks for all of your excellent work, musically and on the podcast.

        • Cool. Glad to hear it. You listening to the CD Baby Pro/publishing episode?


          • Dave Tate

            Yeah just started. Glad you guys are back…again : )

    • I should add that this will enable you to collect all your publishing royalties — some of which will still come to you directly from BMI (and the some from CD Baby).


  • Zallen Jones

    I recently registered my new “Zallen” Cd with CDBaby Pro as well as two new singles.
    Do you register them with “SoundExchange” or do I need to do that?

  • paul

    how much does it cost to do a master copy of our album and what is the cost of using you to market it

  • Steve Ashall

    I don’t live in the USA, when will CDBABY PRO be available to rest of the world?

  • Blake Bys Click Young

    I do shows all the time.. how does BMI know to colloect the payment? Did I miss something? I am A registered atists

  • Emily

    Hi, If I didn’t write the material for my album as it is a classical CD am I still owed royalties?

  • Bakkeby

    I should be able to get my mechanical royalties fra Itunes whether or not i have cdbaby pro?
    Not through you but my preformance rights company? I get via them for Spotify but never get anything from Itunes.

  • BMaster

    Hello Christopher..

    i am based in the Gambia,West Africa..Am a Music Producer/sound engineer/Gospel Radio presenter.

    i have so many Gospel Artist that follows my shows and i produced their songs aswell…

    i will like to introduced the whole Gospel Artist in The Gambia to sign up with CDBABY…but first..

    thier must have to be someone that has a good result to show..from the success of joining Cd baby before i introduced this to them all…

    we have events,also coming up by july 21st which is organised by me..

    And they Artist look up to me…

    How can you help me,on guide for registration and payment modes…and with the easy access…to make it successful for them all to join cdbaby..



  • Hey Zallen,

    Awesome. You definitely SHOULD register with SoundExchange, but CD Baby doesn't handle that. You'll have to register your own account. I've heard they improved the process, though. (It used to be a nightmare).


    • BMaster

      i got you message Zallen..i want to make sure that all the artist in the Gambia get affiliated with Cdbaby..

      how do i get paid…for the fact that am in Africa…whats the transfer of payment like….must i have to give you my bank details or how does payment transfer for Africa works



  • I don't understand your question about the master copy. Are you asking what it costs for CD Baby to distribute your music? If so, check this link: As for marketing, that is up to each artist to promote their own music — thus, this blog! (We try to help out by providing useful promo/music-marketing info).


  • Here's a very unhelpful answer for you: soon!

    Sorry to not be more exact, but I can tell you we're working hard on it now — and we don't want to roll anything out until it's ready to go.

    Thanks for being interested though. We're excited, and will keep you posted when it launches outside the US.


  • As an indie artist with BMI, the best way to ensure you get performance royalties for live shows is to register with I should mention that there are lots of folks who are NOT in favor of this kind of system, though, as it can — or so the fear goes — "tip off" the PROs to venues that might not be paying PRO fees. You'll have to decide for yourself, though in my mind, if you're playing decent shows in reputable music venues, they're probably already paying those fees, in which case you might as well make sure you're getting paid what you're owed in terms of performance royalties for live shows.


  • If you didn't write the music, then you wouldn't be owed any publishing royalties (performance royalties or mechanical royalties), but you could still earn royalties through SoundExchange for performing the music, and for owning the master recording (if you're also "the label") — plus you'll earn royalties for owning the master recording if you ever license the music for sync purposes, as well as the general sales revenue for CD sales, downloads, and streaming license fees.


  • Hey Bjorn, what country are you in? It depends on the publishing rights administrator you're working with. Some of those agencies have agreements with download services to collect mechanicals for non-US downloads. However, you wouldn't see mechanical royalties from iTunes sales in the US, because the mechanical royalty is folded into the general payment per sale. (And then it's up to the label, or you — if you're the owner of your master recording — to distribute those mechanical royalties appropriately,… or just keep 'em if you're also the songwriter/publisher).


  • Hi BMaster,

    We sell music by many African artists, and one of the first "success stories" that comes to mind is Baba Salah — the Malian guitarist:

    We'd be happy to distribute the Gospel artists you're affiliated with. Would they be signing up individually with CD Baby, or are you acting as a kind of label/cooperative? If the later, you could purchase CD Baby Submission Credits to save on the cost to start distributing this music:

    Please let us know if you have any questions about selling music through CD Baby. or 1-800-Buy-My-CD.


  • Hi Bolanle,

    Yes. We can pay you through international ACH (direct deposit) or via PayPal or an old fashioned check in the mail. We pay every Monday.