We’ve all been there, sitting in a restaurant and recognizing there’s a song playing in the background as you chow down on some free bread. Have you ever wondered how the artists behind that song get paid when it’s being played in a public place? Thanks to a Performing Rights Organization (or PRO for short), artists get paid when you hear their music play as you eat out, attend a show or more.

So what exactly is a PRO and how does it work? 

A PRO collects public performance royalties and helps songwriters and publishers get paid whenever their music is used in a public setting. This means when a song is played on the radio, at a restaurant, in a commercial or performed live in concert, anyone involved in the songwriting process gets paid public performance royalties.

What Performing Rights Organizations Are Available to Artists?

You’ve probably stumbled across acronyms like BMI, ASCAP, SESAC and SOCAN at some point in your music career. These are the main PROs covering rights for the United States and Canada. To help you get acquainted with them, we included some information about each. To sign up with any of them (which you absolutely should), follow the links below.

BMI (Broadcast Music Inc.) has been around since 1993 and is the global leader of the PROs. BMI offers blanket licenses to businesses to allow 13 million songs to be played publicly. It’s a non-profit organization founded by radio executives to make sure artists get paid what they’re due when their music is utilized.  

ASCAP (The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), the only American PRO run by writers and publishers, was founded in 1914. They exist to help artists get properly paid when their music is performed in public. ASCAP licenses around 11.5 million songs and uses specific technology to process over 1 trillion public performance payments each year.

SESAC (the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers) started in 1931 as a means for European composers to grow in America. Advancements in radio and film allowed SESAC to expand representation for American publishers. In 2015, SESAC bought the Harry Fox Agency (HFA), the leading mechanical rights organization in America. This acquisition positioned SESAC as the only music rights organization able to offer singular licenses that aggregate both performance and mechanical rights.

SOCAN (Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada) was founded in 1997 and focuses on providing businesses a license to play music in Canada.

Why should artists use a PRO?

All artists should register with a PRO to get paid in full for the use of their music. While your label or distributor covers master royalties, and your publisher handles mechanical royalties, a PRO covers the collection and payment of your public performance royalties. From there, you get to choose the Performing Rights Organization you feel will best help you get paid when your song is played publicly.

PROs & Cover Songs

Cover songs can be a tricky road for many artists because there are many rights holders to consider. With cover songs, both the artist performing the cover and the original artist or songwriter must get paid accurately. A Performing Rights Organization doesn’t deal with cover songs, but companies like the Harry Fox Agency and Loudr will navigate that avenue for you.

The world of music rights is a complicated one. It’s important to stay up-to-date on these aspects so that you as an artist get paid what you’re due, when you’re due. While Stem makes sure both songwriters and collaborators get paid their fair shares for their sound recordings, a Performing Rights Organization ensures that artists get paid for the public use of their music. Save this handy list below as makeshift sparknotes when you’re looking into your public performance rights:

 

Interested in learning more about music rights? The Stem Blog is here to help with articles like 4 Steps Songwriters Can Take To Get Paid and Music Publishing 101.