Why Signing Up with ASCAP or BMI is Not Enough

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Collect Global Publishing RoyaltiesIf 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 CD Baby Pro, 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.

CD Baby Pro ensures 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.

Unless you use a service like CD Baby Pro!

With CD Baby Pro, you’ll be set up to collect all the publishing royalties you’re owed — worldwide.

Publishing Guide: Get Paid the Money You Are Owed

[Global money image from Shutterstock.]

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  • Some of the big P.R.O's still do things the primitive way, Even if they do collect your performance royalties it will still take them years before your get that check for a couple of bucks in the mail

  • The problem with the big three PROs is that they shake down small venues that support small time artists, often tilting the venues to avoid live music alltogether – even if everything they preent is by unaffilliated artists. If a songwriter "slips" and does a Dylan cover, bang – the venue owes a minimum of $1200 – to EACH PRO. (And really, would you trust these sharks NOT to pay a performer to do "accidentally" throw in a few covers?)

    Then comes the payment to the writer. How do they determine who gets paid? Commercial radio play. So by signing up to have BMI / ASCAP / SESAC represent you, you're giving them the fuel they need to extort money from the venues that support you as a performer of original material, and in the end, sending that money to Justin Bieber.

    The PROs have had 70 years of being in bed with the major labels – who often own the publishing half the PRO royalties – in a kind of circular back scratching game where only the megahits get significant money. Don't spend that $3.00 all in one place – and sorry to tell you but the room that used to host the songwriter's showcase just dropped music of any form entirely, to avoid a month's rent in licensing fees.

    • It's not just playing the Dylan cover that could get a non-paying venue in trouble. Tons of relatively unknown songwriters are affiliated with one P.R.O. or another — and when they perform their own material in a club, they're owed a performance royalty.

      And your concerns about the P.R.O.s fighting mostly for the major labels and big publishing houses is EXACTLY why there is a need for CD Baby Pro. We'll handle all the publishing administration work for you to make sure you're collecting EVERYTHING you're owed — not just the songwriter's 50% share of domestic performance royalties that a P.R.O. like ASCAP is likely to pay you. We'll register your songs worldwide and make sure you get the publisher's share of your royalties too — PLUS mechanical royalties which performing rights organizations don't collect.

      @ChrisRobley

      • Christopher Bingham

        Is there a way to selectively collect mechanicals? If NBC wants to use my stuff, then I’m happy to collect as much as we can get them to pay. If Joe Blogg’s Friday Night New Music internet radio experiment wants to share my stuff with his 500 fans, I don’t want it to cost a thing. I’ve already paid Jango several hundred bucks to promote my stuff. So now they’re going to pay it back? It seems kind of clusterfucky.

        Can I do any of this without affiliating with PROs that have done more to harm the venues I play than helped? It would be a slap in the face to people who have partnered with me to get my music out there and made both of us money.

        When BMI goes to the “Songwriters Cafe” with a lawsuit ready to file on first contact and says “Pay up or we file tomorrow,” I don’t want to support that in any way. It’s bad for me as a composer and bad for the pool of available venues.

        I don’t mean to sound unappreciative, because cdbaby has sold a bunch of my stuff, (about $22.5k over the years, as it turns out..) but it really seems like what you’re saying is that a club that is already paying me to perform a concert of my own material needs to pay me a mechanical to perform my own material? Or I, as the concert producer, should pay an increase in rent to produce my own shows because I’m playing the material I wrote?

        I’m trying to see the upside of this. How is extorting money from the small rooms that are usually on the edge anyway, helping anyone but the gatekeepers who have traditionally kept indies out of the market?

      • Chris Otto

        Call me a skeptical, but that just doesn’t make sense in the real world. Let’s say someone is performing a song written by my band in a coffee shop and there happens to be an ASCAP spy in the audience. Am I to believe that this spy will know all of my band’s material (and the material of the other of the thousands of emerging artists in the nation, and also know which of those bands are signed up with ASCAP or BMI)? No, he or she will not, but if someone plays a John Cougar song, a check will be in the mail. ASCAP is the bane of new artist who are just in search of places to play. They actively discourage some potential venues from having live music. Once you’ve “made it”, these licensing organisations may make sense, but in the meantime, I’ll take my chances with having a radio stations play my music without “paying me”.

      • Kenn d’Oudney

        “…when they (both affiliated and unaffiliated artists) perform
        their own material in a club, they’re owed a performance royalty.”

        Generally,
        this is not so because the performance royalty is ‘understood’ between
        performer and promoter as being waived, it comprising part of the ‘fee’
        rendered to the performer in exchange for his or her appearance at the
        venue. (Obviously, such terms are best clarified by written contractual agreement.)

        Best wishes,
        Kenn d’Oudney. http://www.astramusic.org

      • I’m starting to wonder if those songwriters that actually hate what ascap/bmi are doing should get in them anyway to possible change them from within? I’ll be working on an essay video about the ethical catch-22 here. I’m aware of the problem for those near-non-profit venues that I wish to support, but also the fact that rejecting p.r.o.’s means missing out on some opportunities. From what I’ve heard, BMI are somewhat better for having lower fees and a better chance for non-majors to win some royalties.

    • Peter

      I think CD Baby needs to get its facts right about royalties. Your explanation of what CD
      Baby Pro can do is slightly misleading particularly regarding “publishing”
      royalties. Publishers collect “mechanical” royalties and synchronization fees (also NOT called “performance” royalties) and split those but they do not collect “performance” royalties. Those royalties are collected for publishers (or the copyright owner) and the artist by the performing rights organizations like ASCAP, BMI and
      SESAC. I guess if you want to run with the big boys the big boys should
      grow up first! By the way if you visit ASCAP’s web site:

      http://www.ascap.com/about/collecting.aspx

      here’s what they say and I quote: ”

      ASCAP has reciprocal agreements with foreign societies representing virtually every country that has laws protecting copyright. We license the works of their members in the U.S., and they license the works of our members in their territories. ASCAP is the most effective U.S. performing rights organization in collecting foreign royalties. We have the longest-standing relationships with foreign societies, so we have the deepest understanding of how they do business. We aggressively monitor foreign performances of ASCAP works in all media to ensure that our members are being paid correctly. In fact, ASCAP is the only society to have an International Monitoring Unit “IMU” that utilizes an innovative database “EZ-MAXX” to verify the accuracy of television performance statements received from affiliated foreign societies.”

      Got it!

  • You really want to help the small guy? Monitor the predatory digital download sites and enforce the DMCA laws – it's impossible for a little guy like me to keep on top of all of them!

    • ApathyNihilism

      Yes, yes, and yes. And press for serious legislation that can actually do something about piracy. The technology is there to do it, but the will is not, as long as others are able to illegitimately profit from the work of creators.

  • Is this article telling the full story?

    In New Zealand and Australia mechanical royalties are collected by AMCOS. Their sister organisation APRA collects performance royalties. You can join both organisations via the APRA website.
    Surely theer must be something similar in the US and other western countries.

  • Guest

    Those small venues pay 4,000 a year in toilet paper alone,
    then there’s the liquor license etc..again the last guy on the
    totem pole is the artist.. so i say pay up if ya wanna run a bizzness,
    Why stop on the last license required. The music one. This is an old conersation by the way.

    Maybe ASCAP can tighten up on their existing
    rules and maybe my reported college radio play,
    you tube etc..won’t go missing any longer.
    Obviously geared towards larger bizzness’ (major label’s) but hey their working on stuff….

    Meanwhile sign me up i will try CDBABY PRO.
    Maybe CBBabyPRO can offer a waive fer folks
    that are on certain ASCAP levels, or/and have many years standing etc..with ASCAP.

    • That must be some very expensive papel de toillette!

    • “Those small venues pay 4,000 a year in toilet paper alone,
      then there’s the liquor icense etc..” You’re describing a midsize “noisy bar” – I don’t feel sorry for that type of “small” venue, playing 99% cover material, raking in six figures in booze sales, any more than you do. The objection is the attacks on places of a near-non-profit nature, that function more like songwriter meetinghouses, and doing the good works that Ascap themselves should be doing. If bars are the only viable entry-level venues, that puts songwriters that write sophisticated and morally upright material at a severe disadvantage. I know of someone just like Amy Grant in northern Maine who can’t get any gigs. And she’s an ASCAP member!

      Have you ever seen the movie “Coyote Ugly”? It is not fiction!

  • Well, I think some of the P.R.O.s would disagree with you. That's why they created ASCAP Live and BMI Live, so that affiliated artists could enter in their performance information (dates, venues, songs played, etc.) and get get paid performance royalties for those shows — not directly for the venue as part of their fee, but FROM the venue THROUGH the P.R.O.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Yes, it's true. The US has different laws, and we're pretty much barbarians. We also only get 2 weeks' vacation a year.

    @ChrisRobley

    • isamary bonilla

      Hi… Im An aspiring songwriter and ive been doing alot or research on deciding which P.R.O to join… so you’re meaning to tell me that if i join Baby CD Pro, I Will get all my profits faster, and whoever plays or performs my song in a foreign venue or foreign website will owe me mechanical royalties?

    • Danna Cooper

      Speak for yourself. I am 35 years old, and have never had a paid vacation, nor health benefits from my employer. I make wages in the bottom 20% of wage earners, and after calculating all my taxes, hidden and what not, figured that I pay 50% of my wages in taxes per year. USA! USA! USA!

  • I understand your frustration and skepticism, as the PROs have a proud history of fighting for the big guy, often to the detriment of the little guy — but as they catch up technology-wise, it's possible that within a few years we'll have a system that pays evenly — per-play, per-performance, etc. — and not skew towards paying the known artists more than their fair share.

    Regarding live venues, they should be paying the live performance dues whether bands are performing famous covers or obscure original — because plenty of those indie bands performing originals are affiliated with ASCAP or BMI as well, so they're owed money too. And both PROs have created live music components to their sites where you can enter in your performance info (date, venue, songs played, etc.) and get paid the performance royalties you're owed.

    Yes, that probably means they're going to approach the venue for that money — which unfortunately can sometimes mean that you're pissing the venue off for "tipping off the man" — but, in the end, you ARE owed that money under the law. And the venue is supposed to pay it under the law. If they want to skirt paying those fees while also being a MUSIC VENUE, then they're operating under a very creative business model.

    I know the system is very flawed now, but as BMI Live and ASCAP Live become more popular, and as digital reporting of performances becomes the norm, I think indie artists will come to see ASCAP and BMI as allies — because ASCAP and BMI will grow (out of necessity) into organizations that benefit everyone, not just the Coug.

    At least that is my sincerest wish. Fingers crossed!

    @ChrisRobley

    • Christopher Bingham

      Man Chris, that is a lot of hope to place on an organization with the history that they have. And by joining these organizations we give them permission to do this in our name.

      As thge owner of my copyrights, don’t I get to decide who owes me money for use of my work? Because the idea that the venue should be forced to pay extra to the PROS for *my* performance of *my* work on a given evening, so that they can take their “administrative” cut and pay me is really absurd.

      From what I’ve been told, the European performance rights system requires the logging of all tunes performed and has had no problem making sure the writer gets his nickel. But American PROs have fought that idea from the beginning, claiming that it would be impossible – and funneled that money to the the top 40 players.

      I want to make money from my music as much as anyone else who has done all the hard work of putting out records, but after 30 years of being up against the machine, I’ve seen the damage these organizations have done to venues that used to have music and don’t – and most of these places are the ones that hire singer- songwriters who perform their own work. That is hurting the vast majority of indies.

      Isn’t up to ASCAP and BMI to make good on your hopes *before* we give them the power to act in our names?

      I hope this post can make it through the moderation process, as my last one didn’t.

    • JR

      Can we walk through the numbers before painting an unrealistically rosy picture? If a band plays an hour-long set of their own properly registered material in a NYC venue where the doorman counted 40 people who came to see you that night and promptly files their set-list via BMI Live – would the royalties owed amount to the cost of ONE Pabst Blue Ribbon? More specifically – let’s say one round for the band – five $2 beers – a grand total of $10. How large of an audience would you need to play to in order to accumulate ten bucks? Can you walk us through that calculation?

  • All publishing royalties (including mechanicals, performance, and sync) get split into two shares, the 50% for the publisher, and the 50% for the composer/s.

    Publishers are paid mechanicals through administrators like Harry Fox, or through direct relationships with foreign collection societies — or directly from the label/artist selling their music.

    Performance royalties DO get paid to publishers through P.R.O.s such as ASCAP — after all, ASCAP stands for "American Society for Composers and Publishers."

    Regarding sync licensing, yes — that is a completely different thing from performance royalties. However, the sync placement (which requires the initial license/fee) can often generate performance royalties as the song is used on TV/film/commercials, etc.

    Regarding ASCAP's reciprocal agreement, with CD Baby Pro, we register songs directly, so, at minimum, you get paid much faster — and in some cases, you'll get paid more.

    I'm not sure which facts you're suggesting we got mixed, but please let me know if something is unclear about how we're communicating the benefits of CD Baby Pro.

    @ChrisRobley

    • Andrés Marín

      “All publishing royalties (including mechanicals, performance, and sync) get split into two shares, the 50% for the publisher, and the 50% for the composer/s.” This is incorrect, only performance get split.

  • Hey C — just going through the comments now for the first time since Friday, so I'm sure I'll get to your other comment in a sec. It wasn't being flagged or anything.

    And as for faith, yes. I think healthy skepticism is… healthy.

    @ChrisRobley

  • As a artist I don't see any way either help

  • Song Splits

    SongSplits welcomes #Songwriters and #Producers to manage their music copyrights and split sheets free online at http://www.songsplits.com.

  • There is no way to selectively collect performance royalties, unless of course you were acting as your own publishing administrator — which is NOT worth the man-hours and frustration it'd take to do effectively.

    As for the PROs relationship with live venues, that is certainly a concern many musicians have. All I can say is that I hope that some compromise can be made and that technology enables fairer payments for performance venues generated in live venues. On the one hand, venues DO owe performance royalties to the folks who play in their establishments. On the other hand, there's been a tradition of that money getting paid up the pyramid to the top 200-grossing tours of the years. Though both ASCAP and BMI have made huge strides in evening things out with the addition of their live programs. Even if you're only earning $1-$5 per show in performance royalties, that can really add up if you play a couple hundred shows a year — and it's a LOT better than the venue getting "shaken down" for a fee, and then watching that fee go to U2 or Cher.

    @ChrisRobley

  • L.w. House

    Wow, Its kinda difficult for me to wrap my head around WHY an artist is owed a performance fee, if they are being paid to play their music at the venue. Its like double charging IMO.

    I do know, that if you’re like a church or something, things become a lot easier with CCS Performance Plus license. Christian Copyright Solutions negotiate a lower fee with the 3 Pros (lets not forget about Sesac everyone. There are 3 of them after all) and you pay your annual fee to one place, CCS. Doesn’t help the bar or the songwriters club, but still.

    I know that Limelight with Diskmakers seems to make things a lot easier to get license to record a cover of a song, then it does going through HFA, cuz 9 times out of 10, HFA doesn’t have 100% rights on most of the songs in their library.

  • Well, if the system were set up so that the venue would include performance royalties as part of its payment to the band — that'd make sense (if the band were performing all original material). But as it stands, they pay those to P.R.O.s. The performance royalty goes to the publisher/writer of the material being performed, and the band might not be performing originals.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Chris Matthews

    How can you say that 50% of the royalties are not distributed back to the local society. Isn’t it that without an associated publisher, every society pays 100% of all due royalties to the writer?

  • You’ll get paid mechanical royalties for international downloads and global streams. PROs like ASCAP and BMI do NOT collect mechanical royalties — only performance royalties. But, the great thing about CD Baby Pro is that we’ll affiliate you with either ASCAP or BMI so you’ll be sure to collect all your performance royalties too. CD Baby Pro gives you a wider net to capture maximum publishing royalties, a net which includes affiliation and song registration with ASCAP or BMI — PLUS our working as a publishing rights administrator on your behalf to collect mechanical royalties!

    @ Chris Robley

  • Hi I live in Australia, I’m about to start selling downloads through CD Baby and I would like to know:

    1. Is the Pro method only available to artists residing in the US?

    2. If Pro is available to Australian artists, why I can’t find an option to enable Pro on the Dashboard? When I select “upgrade to Pro” an info page loads, not a page where I can actually upgrade to Pro! If I click “Add New Title” on the Dashboard page, I only get the 2 options for Basic, not Pro..

    Help??! Any info on this will be really appreciated 🙂

  • Hi there, sorry for the confusion, but yes — at this time, CD Baby Pro is only for US-based artists. We’re working to expand that internationally, and we’ll definitely keep you posted when that happens.

    @ Chris Robley

    • ItsGiannii

      Hi Christopher,
      Have read through your very informative article and responses…
      We are interested in signing up with CD Baby Pro but an artist in Jamaica. Is it available now internationally?

      • Not yet. Right now it’s in the US, UK, Canada, and Republic of Ireland, but we have plans to expand significantly within the next year.

        @ChrisRobley

  • ApathyNihilism

    The US has some rather thuggish laws that remain in place, in contrast to the rest of the world. Like the way radio pays (or rather doesn’t).

  • ApathyNihilism

    CDBaby Pro sounds like a great initiative. Can you compare these 2 scenarios, pros and cons?

    1. CDBaby (non-Pro) + direct relationship with SongTrust
    2. CDBaby Pro (which outsources to SongTrust)

    One seeming difference is that in the former case, SongTrust is the publishing administration, whereas in the latter, CDBaby is actually the publisher. Is that correct? Please clarify if possible.

    • CD Baby is technically acting as a publishing administrator as well. And both options would work well, since we’re essentially using the same infrastructure to collect royalties. One bonus to going with CD Baby Pro (if you’re already signing up for distribution) is you can manage it all from one place, one signup, one account, one accounting dashboard, etc.

      @ChrisRobley

    • CD Baby is technically acting as a publishing administrator as well. And both options would work well, since we’re essentially using the same infrastructure to collect royalties. One bonus to going with CD Baby Pro (if you’re already signing up for distribution) is you can manage it all from one place, one signup, one account, one accounting dashboard, etc.

      @ChrisRobley

    • CD Baby is technically acting as a publishing administrator as well. And both options would work well, since we’re essentially using the same infrastructure to collect royalties. One bonus to going with CD Baby Pro (if you’re already signing up for distribution) is you can manage it all from one place, one signup, one account, one accounting dashboard, etc.

      @ChrisRobley

    • CD Baby is technically acting as a publishing administrator as well. And both options would work well, since we’re essentially using the same infrastructure to collect royalties. One bonus to going with CD Baby Pro (if you’re already signing up for distribution) is you can manage it all from one place, one signup, one account, one accounting dashboard, etc.

      @ChrisRobley

  • Hey, I have a question I hope Chris Robley will speak to. I’m going to over-share at some length here and apologize in advance for said length.

    I was a Bug Music writer for over a decade and when my contract went to BMG Chrysalis in that deal, I ended up having to deal with this guy who was just a nightmare. I tried going around him and over him, but just got yelled at. Somewhat literally. I went from being with a really cool, writer-centric company (Bug) to one where, before I’d even ‘met’ my BMG Chrysalis ‘liaison’, before he’d even heard my music, he emailed me to say “I just can’t spend my time with every little Bug writer.” And “You may find you’re happier leaving BMG Chrysalis.” I hung in there for over a year and fought the good fight, but he made sure his prophecy came true and I have recently decided to dump my contract.

    The good news. I’ve just about to sign a non-exclusive deal with a company that does pitching for TV and film and I’m really excited about it. They’re smaller company that’s pretty big in that world and that’s exactly what I’ve been wanting (and not at all getting) during my purgatorial time with BMG Chrysalis.

    My questions follow (see, it came eventually). 🙂 If I sign up with CD Baby Pro, A.) It’s “by the record” only? I pay a fee each time I connect a record to this service? And B.) The primary service is that you’re (CD Baby Pro) collecting the mechanical/publishing royalties on my behalf that ASCAP does not collect for me? And in addition to the upfront fee, you collect 15%?

    Which brings me to my next (probably really dense and dumb) question. Say the song pitching agency goes out and gets my song on… whatever. Mad Men. And they pay me upfront licensing fees for master and publishing. Now, the pitching agency takes 35% of any upfront fee for licensing deals they procure. If I’ve signed that record up with CD Baby Pro, are you guys now expecting to participate at !5% of that upfront money on the publishing side? If yes (if yes, I probably won’t sign up so this is probably moot anyway), but would that be 15% of the publishing I get after the agency’s 35% take for procuring the placement or 15% of the original publishing sync fee payment before the agency’s take? Again, I would hope you guys wouldn’t try to dip into that at all, since you had not one thing to do with getting it nor do I need you to collect it. But I had to ask.

    And lastly (again, sorry this is stupidly long), I randomly said ‘yes’ to everything when I signed up my newest record this year including Rumble Fish. I just saw a whole bunch of placements come through for the princely sum of less than $2. Other than grand-old “it’s great exposure” line, is there a better-paying silver lining to this? Am I going to get some much bigger publishing/songwriting/mechanical performance royalties that are going to compare to the ones I get from TV? And if you can be really honest with me about this, I’d appreciate it (I get that this is your job and if you can’t be forthright, just ignore this question), won’t Rumble Fish utlimately cheapen my music with savvy music supervisors? Say my pitching agency comes to them and they love one of my songs for a network show. The pitching agency negotiates a reasonable, decent deal with solid upfront sync fees. They doublecheck libraries and Rumble Fish and the like to see if any of the songs they want for the episode are available much more cheaply and… viola. I just lost out on some good money because I allowed my sync fees to be super-cheapened (I had no clue they would be THAT low when I signed up for Rumble Fish). Is that not so? And if not, can you tell me why?

    And lastly, is there a way for me to just see where my songs are being used even just after the fact? I get that it’s already happened and the artist/writers don’t have any say in how the Rumble Fish usages occur, but if I could see them and discover– hey, this is a cool video with a million hits, maybe it is worth the exposure. But as it is, I can’t even see how my songs are being used after the fact and it would be really cool if I could.

    Sorry for the long, ridiculous post. I know it’s a lot.

  • Hi David,

    First, that sucks about the BMG liaison being cold to you after working well with Bug for so long.

    Now, lemme answer your questions one at a time below:

    — If I sign up with CD Baby Pro, it’s “by the record” only?

    Yes, per title/submission, which could either be a full album, EP, or single. (There’s a cheaper signup fee for singles).

    —-I pay a fee each time I connect a record to this service?

    Yes.

    —- The primary service is that you’re (CD Baby Pro) collecting the mechanical/publishing royalties on my behalf that ASCAP does not collect for me?

    Yes, though we also collect performance royalties too. We work with ASCAP/BMI/SESAC to streamline publishing royalties payments through once source (CD Baby Pro), and we also make sure songwriters who’ve not registered as a publisher with one of the PROs get the publisher’s share of their performance royalties too. Then we have direct agreements with foreign agencies so you get paid international performance royalties quicker than you otherwise might. Then, of course, the biggest benefit is that we collect your mechanicals — including mechanicals for international downloads and global streaming (those are royalties PROs do not collect).

    — And in addition to the upfront fee, you collect 15%?

    Yes.

    —- Say the song pitching agency goes out and gets my song on… whatever. Mad Men. And they pay me upfront licensing fees for master and publishing. Now, the pitching agency takes 35% of any upfront fee for licensing deals they procure. If I’ve signed that record up with CD Baby Pro, are you guys now expecting to participate at 15% of that upfront money on the publishing side?

    No. We don’t take any part of the licensing fees you negotiate either on your own or through another licensing firm. We would only take 15% of any royalties we collect for you that were generated by the usage of that music AFTER the sync arrangement (for instance, TV performance royalties, or mechanicals from streams/sales from that song, etc.)

    —–And lastly (again, sorry this is stupidly long), I randomly said ‘yes’ to everything when I signed up my newest record this year including Rumble Fish. I just saw a whole bunch of placements come through for the princely sum of less than $2. Other than grand-old “it’s great exposure” line, is there a better-paying silver lining to this?

    What kind of placements were they? Usually the Rumblefish placements are micro-sync, meaning your songs are licensed through their FriendlyMusic program for usage with YouTube/Vimeo videos. Like, someone wanted to sync your song with their crazy cat video, or their wedding slideshow, or something like that. The other source of income that Rumblefish helps us collect is YouTube ad revenue. So it could be that some of that money is actually being generated by people clicking on the ads that are served up on ANY video on YouTube that contains your music. If Rumblefish were to license your music for a television show or movie, they would want to get a high fee than what they charge for micro-sync uses (since they get paid too, so they have the incentive to charge more for bigger uses).

    — Am I going to get some much bigger publishing/songwriting/mechanical performance royalties that are going to compare to the ones I get from TV?

    Well, it really depends on sales/streaming. If you’re generating most of your performance royalties through TV and NOT radio, then the new royalties that would be opened up to you via CD Baby Pro are mostly going to be mechanical royalties. If you’re selling songs overseas, or if your tunes are getting streamed often, then you’re missing out on that money. Without more specific info, I can’t really say how it would compare to your TV-generated performance royalties.

    —- And if you can be really honest with me about this, I’d appreciate it (I get that this is your job and if you can’t be forthright, just ignore this question), won’t Rumble Fish utlimately cheapen my music with savvy music supervisors? Say my pitching agency comes to them and they love one of my songs for a network show. The pitching agency negotiates a reasonable, decent deal with solid upfront sync fees. They doublecheck libraries and Rumble Fish and the like to see if any of the songs they want for the episode are available much more cheaply and… viola. I just lost out on some good money because I allowed my sync fees to be super-cheapened (I had no clue they would be THAT low when I signed up for Rumble Fish).

    I’m going to check with our resident publishing expert to be sure, but the way I understand it is that Rumblefish’ low rates for pre-cleared licenses are for micro-sync and pro-sumer uses, NOT for big TV or film productions. So just because your music is available in the FriendlyMusic catalog doesn’t mean it can be licensed for the latest Tom Hanks movie for a couple bucks. Does that make sense?

    — And lastly, is there a way for me to just see where my songs are being used even just after the fact? I get that it’s already happened and the artist/writers don’t have any say in how the Rumble Fish usages occur, but if I could see them and discover– hey, this is a cool video with a million hits, maybe it is worth the exposure. But as it is, I can’t even see how my songs are being used after the fact and it would be really cool if I could.

    If you’re interested in getting that kind of info, send an email to cdbaby@cdbaby.com.

    Hope that answers everything. If not, lemme know.

    @ChrisRobley

    • Super thorough, informed and helpful. I really appreciate it, Chris. Thanks so much for taking so much time and care with my insane litany of questions. You’re the best.

      If you do happen to get word back from the ‘publishing pros’ you mention above, I’d love to find out what you learn.

      Thanks so much once again.

      • Thanks, David. Happy to help.

        Our real publishing expert is traveling right now from NYC to Oregon, so once he’s settled back into the office, I’ll try to get him to clarify that one remaining mystery (though I’m pretty sure my assumption is correct on that point).

        @ChrisRobley

  • Tommy Womack

    We are in talks with BMG/Chrysalis to administer publishing and collection rights for the record. Can we get iTunes service etc through CD Baby without signing the publishing agreement?

    • Are you asking if you can use CD Baby to distribute your music to iTunes, even if you’re not enrolled in CD Baby Pro (our publishing royalty collection service?) If so, the answer is absolutely yes (as long as you have the right to distribute the music, and it’s not in conflict with any other agreements you have with a label).

      @ChrisRobley

    • Are you asking if you can use CD Baby to distribute your music to iTunes, even if you’re not enrolled in CD Baby Pro (our publishing royalty collection service?) If so, the answer is absolutely yes (as long as you have the right to distribute the music, and it’s not in conflict with any other agreements you have with a label).

      @ChrisRobley

  • There are a few things in this article simply not true. Basically skip over reading number 2. because thats a bunch of bs, cd baby is just trying to sell you, i collect royalties from overseas and i dont have cd baby.

  • From the info you’ve provided here, I am assuming you’re a member of either BMI or ASCAP in the US and are relying on reciprocal agreements to collect your foreign royalties. If this is the case, you probably collect some foreign royalties from them but this is, even in ASCAP & BMI’s own words, a secondary strategy. With reciprocal agreements, the PRO’s do not register your songs with foreign societies; they “share information” with them. This information, by necessity, gets prioritized behind all of their locally affiliated publishers and writers and can lead to not only incomplete collections, but long wait times for foreign royalties. Being registered locally in foreign territories (something extremely difficult to do without a global publisher) is the only way to ensure you get everything and in a timely fashion. In many cases, CD Baby Pro members collect from foreign countries in the same 6-month timeframe (from performance to payment) that you’d enjoy domestically.

    Lots of writers who rely on reciprocals through BMI or ASCAP aren’t paid until 1, 2 or 3 years after the performance.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Dahshanae Jones

    Hey
    So I’m going to be releasing my first single really soon but I’m a little confused about which company is better. Should I just go with BMI or CD Baby. I’ve heard good things about both but I’m still not sure which one is best for independent artist but also fair for the artist. I’m the artist as well as the songwriter.

  • It’s not an either/or situation. BMI is a performing rights organization. CD Baby is a music distributor and publishing administrator. My feeling is that you need both. If you register with CD Baby Pro, you’d need to select between BMI and ASCAP anyway. We help you get affiliated with one of those P.R.O.s and then register your songs for you.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Matthew J. Griswold

    I had a song placed in a BBC TV teaser for their former top rated show Copper (season 2). The song is so prominent in the trailer and it got so much exposer that I estimate millions of streams based on royalties I’ve gotten from PRS and other counties. My admin publisher is Universal music because they are the parent company of the production music library my songs are contracted to. I’ve seen a very large of mount of royalties from BMI from many countries, I’ve had sizable payouts directly to my publishing account from Universal Music from many countries, but my CD baby royalties have only been for (what I’m guessing) is the sound exchange royalties for Internet radio plays (from 27 countries), and for over a year there’s been 10s of thousands of plays. However, I’ve yet to see a single mechanical royalty for any downloads. I’ve read posts on blogs of people talking about my song but many seem to be downloading it. I’d guess that the royalties for that are pretty sizable, but don’t know how to get to them. I’m also not able to verify my artist pages so that I can connect with these new global fans. Every post I’ve read these fans are talking about how hard it is to find anything about me. That kinda drives me nuts because in an Internet age, I thought something like that would be easy, but everything about me over seas is only linked to blank discography pages.

    Will CD Baby pro be able to connect that last dot in this issue? It’s kind of a big one for me…

    Thanks!

    • First, if Universal is your publishing admin, you might not be able to sign up for CD Baby Pro. (But they should be doing much of the same work: collecting your worldwide mechanicals, working in conjunction with BMI or PRS or whoever, to get you all your performance royalties, etc.). Are you in the US, or UK? In the US, mechanicals for downloads are paid directly through the distributor/aggregator to the label/artist. So your mechanical royalty for a download on iTunes USA, for instance, would be wrapped up in the same payment you receive from CD Baby for the download. If you weren’t also the songwriter, you’d then need to set aside that 9.1 cents per song to pay out, but it sounds like you don’t need to worry about that since you’re basically just paying yourself. However, downloads in many other countries do generate a mechanical royalty that is kept separate from the download payment $$ (and collected by mechanical societies). This is where your publishing admin comes in. So, for US download sales, CD Baby has already paid you the mechanical as part of the per-download payout. For download sales outside the US, your publishing admin is responsible for collecting (even though the fee for the download itself is still paid to you by CD Baby). Now, SoundExchange royalties should NOT be paid to you via CD Baby unless you have failed to register with SoundExchange directly. We only collect those royalties (for you) if you don’t set up a direct relationship (which is preferable), because we don’t want artists to miss out on $$ they’re owed (SoundExchange royalties expire if they go uncollected for more than… 3 years, I think? Lastly, any time your music is streamed (worldwide) on an interactive service like Spotify, you are owed a mechanical royalty. It’s also the responsibility of the publishing admin to collect this for you. I’d suggest you get in touch with Universal and see exactly what they’re providing for you. Hope that helps.

      @ChrisRobley

      • Matthew J. Griswold

        Thanks a ton Chris! As soon as I was done posted here, I contacted my rep to see if there were restrictions about me signing up for CD Baby PRO. Sure enough there are. Universal does collect all of my publishing royalties and I had been seeing that for over a year. Of course, because it was more than I had ever seen for anything music related I assumed that was all of them. However, because my publishing deal is through their production music library (licensing branch) they do not collect any mechanicals. I always thought CD baby would collect those and it’s been driving me nuts as to why I haven’t seen anything. My rep explained that I need to register on my own with PRS for Music to collect my 2 years of mechanical royalties from all those 27 different countries.. Haha… I’m feeling a little dumb! Of cours this is only outside the US. This trailer was not used in the US at all so it’s only had a minimal push n my state side exposer.

        Also, I am not registered with sound exchange and so the only thing I’ve gotten is through CD baby, which has been steady and does report more plays than I had ever had before. I should probably get on that as well. It certainly pays to know everything you can about royalties. Not all of my songs are signed to APM/Universal so I still will put some of my works through the PRO.

        Thanks so much again and I hope my naivety helps a few other artist that stop by here to not make these same mistakes.

      • Matthew J. Griswold

        I live in MN but my song was licensed to BBC for the use… I contacted my admin rep and he did say that they collect all royalties but not any mechanicals. Im not registered with Soundexchange but nonetheless less I’ve seen over 10,000 Internet radio plays but I will admit that I do get the full publisher amount for those same plays and they are much higher, so it sounds like I should get on that.

        However, you said that CD baby does pay the “fee” for downloads from overseas? Does this mean there should be a deposit for that in my CD Baby account?… If so, I have never seen one. I assumed that the iTunes payments were all filtered through something outside of CD baby but if that’s not true, than something is wrong with my account. Would I have to contact someone. I can post up a number of sites were people overseas have talked about downloading my song(s) but I’ve still not seen a singe payment for a download.

  • I probably worded that poorly.

    When you sell an download internationally, the retailer pays the sales revenue to CD Baby (which we pass on to you), but they set the mechanical royalty aside, to be collected by a mechanical society. You would then need a publishing administrator to get that money on your behalf. If your current admin deal does not allow for the collection of mechanicals, I’d definitely recommend CD Baby Pro.

    In the US, the mechanical royalty and the revenue from the download sale are lumped together, paid to your distributor (CD Baby), and then passed on to you.

    As for SoundExchange, yes, definitely, register, now, today, don’t delay ; ) — but remember, SoundExchange does not collect publishing royalties. They collect a digital performance royalty that is owed to the owner of the master recording (you, or your label), the primary artist (also you?), and session players for non-interactive streams/online radio plays.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Ha. No worries. Glad you got some helpful answers from Universal, even if the answer leads you to more thrilling online paperwork (signing up for PRS and SoundExchange).

    @ChrisRobley

  • Ryan

    Hey Chris,
    First of all, thanks for the insightful article. Maybe it’s too late to post a comment to this one, but It would be appreciated if you could answer my question. I was wondering about this sentence.

    “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.”

    Could you elaborate how you can say this situation a “vanity”? I understand a self-publisher by a composer would have some limitation (such as eligibility for HFA) or lack some credibility, but it should be much, much better than not having any publisher at all (or delegating his 50% to those who may not be fully motivated to develop his work). He could even have sub-publishing agreements with foreign publishers himself.

    What’s actually wrong with the vanity, e.g. having a self-publisher, in terms of running music publishing business on a daily basis?

    • Nothing wrong with it at all (in fact, I have set up my own publisher name for ASCAP), as long as people realize that being a publisher in name doesn’t make you cover all the responsibilities of a publisher. That’s where a publishing administrator can be so helpful.

      @ChrisRobley

      • Ryan

        Understood. Thanks for answering my late question, Chris!