Royalties For Songwriters: Everything You Need To Know About PROs!

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Royalties for songwriters: Many musicians rely on Performance Rights Organizations (PRO) to ensure they are fairly compensated for the use of their musical works. PROs are just as crucial as your music label or distributor. This is because they make it easier to track where your music is played publicly, and they help you maximize your earning potential.

Performance Rights Organizations are independent bodies that ensures the legal use of copyrighted musical works. They collect performance royalties for songwriters from licensees on behalf of songwriters, composers, and music publishers. Performance Rights Organizations issue licenses to entities that want to use your songs in a public setting, such as radio broadcasters and clubs, and they track plays. They also disseminate royalties to their members.

Music publishers often require artists to register their songs with a Performance Rights Organization before publishing them. That way, you will receive the maximum amount of income owed to you.

This post discusses all you need to know about Performance Rights Organizations. We’ll also look at nine prominent PROs globally and the benefits of registering with these organizations.

What Are Performance Rights Organizations (PROs)?

The music industry comprises independent bodies known as collection societies, which include:

  • Collective Management Organizations (CMOs)
  • Mechanical Rights Organizations (MROs)
  • Performance Rights Organizations (PROs)

Collective Management Organizations are large bodies responsible for licensing, monitoring, and collecting performance and mechanical royalties for songwriters and their members. CMOs are more common in some countries. However, you may find that their duties are split between several organizations in other areas.

That’s where Mechanical Rights Organizations and Performance Rights Organizations come in. MROs deal solely with mechanical royalties, which you receive from the reproduction of your music in digital or physical formats. And PROs oversee the collection of performance royalties.

Composers and publishers are entitled to performance royalties when licensees play their songs in a public setting, like a restaurant. If musical works are integral to an organization's purpose, they'll have to pay royalties to use the songs.

For instance, music is essential for radio broadcasters. Therefore, these companies will require permission to air an artist’s songs. They’ll purchase the right to use an artist’s music from the associated PRO. They can play any song from the PRO's catalog with a license.

Consider a PRO an integral part of your music career. Their responsibilities include:

  • Issuing a blanket license to anyone who intends to use your copyrighted music in a public setting
  • Monitoring the use of your music and ensuring licensees adhere to the contract terms
  • Collecting license fees and royalties for songwriters and allocating these payments to their members

The agreement songwriters and publishers enter into with a PRO is non-exclusive. Therefore, you or your publisher may also authorize third parties to use a song. However, you will need to notify your PRO before doing so.

Public Versus Private Performances

PROs only issue licenses for public performances of copyrighted music. Public performances aren’t exclusive to concerts. They also entail airing an artist’s songs on the radio or in clubs, restaurants, and shopping malls.

When a fan purchases your tracks or an album, they also buy a license to listen to them for personal enjoyment. The use of your music, in this sense, constitutes a private performance. And your fan essentially pays mechanical royalties to enjoy your music.

Therefore, PROs don’t collect this type of royalties because they don’t deal with the private use of copyrighted music. Instead, a Mechanical Rights Organization will collect mechanical royalties. The music publisher will receive the mechanical royalties and distribute them to the composer.

Royalties For Songwriters: PROs Vs. Music Publishers 

PROs and music publishers aren't one and the same. In fact, these organizations are entirely different despite both being important to songwriters.

As we’ve established, PROs collect performance royalties. These organizations also ensure songwriters and music publishers receive fair payment and copyright protection.

A music publisher is an entity with the right to sell licenses for music usage. Music publishers, like Sugo Music Group, are responsible for:

  • Song registrations with PROs and mechanical societies
  • Publishing your music on streaming and downloading services
  • Collecting performance and mechanical royalties for songwriters worldwide
  • Finding advertisers and film and television producers to use your music

Having a music publisher in your corner is essential for various reasons. For one, they’ll audit the royalty reports from PROs to ensure you’re compensated fairly. In addition, they can monitor public performances of your music to ensure accurate reporting by PROs.

Sugo Music Group has been helping musicians find new homes for their work for over three decades. They can make your music available on over 200 streaming and downloading platforms. In addition, Sugo Music Group is partnered with all PROs and MROs worldwide. These include ASCAP, BMI, PRS, IPRS, MLC, HFA, GEMA JASRAC, and many more.

While it is possible to do your own publishing, it’s not advisable. The work of a music publisher is incredibly labor-intensive. It demands a tremendous amount of time dedicated to performing highly administrative tasks. And the legal aspects of music publishing can be tricky to navigate if you don’t have the proper knowledge and experience.

Working with a publisher allows you to leave these tasks in the hands of professionals. And it frees up your time and energy so you can focus on your music.

How Performance Rights Organizations Work

The first thing a Performance Rights Organization does is issue a license for the composition’s use. This license varies from one licensee to another. For instance, radio broadcasters and television networks receive blanket licenses. This allows them to air any PRO member’s song for a flat yearly fee.

After a PRO issues a license, the licensee will report the music used to the PRO. These reports will vary based on the licensee. Radio broadcasters will share broadcast logs, while film and TV show producers will submit cue sheets.

A cue sheet outlines where, when, and who used the songs and the duration used. Despite the tracking systems set up by PROs, it’s not guaranteed that every play will be recorded. There’s still a chance they won’t get complete data due to human error.

Upon collecting the records of music usage, the PRO will distribute the money it receives from licensees. These payments are made according to the PRO's payment structure, so they'll vary from one organization to another.

Royalties For Songwriters: The Top 9 Performance Rights Organizations

As mentioned earlier, some countries have Performance Rights Organizations while others have Collective Management Organizations. Essentially, there is one PRO in each country through which musicians in that country must register. The United States is the only country that has more than one PRO to choose from.

Let’s take a look at some of the prominent PROs across the globe. 


ASCAP is member-owned, unlike other significant PROs. This means its board of directors comprises artists represented by the company.

The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, or ASCAP, is one of two PROs dominating the US market. ASCAP was the first PRO in the US, created in 1914.

The organization represents over 800,000 composers and publishers. In addition, it has an impressive catalog of over 11 million licensed compositions. ASCAP claims to collect more local and international royalties for songwriters and its members than other PROs.

What’s more, ASCAP is member-owned, unlike other significant PROs. This means its board of directors comprises artists represented by the company. 

ASCAP has a one-time joining fee of $50 for new musicians. It doesn’t charge annual fees once you make that payment.

2.   BMI

BMI, or Broadcast Music, Inc, is an American Performance Rights Organization. It’s the second PRO dominating the US market and has been operating in the US for over 80 years.

BMI represents over 1.2 million composers and music publishers compared to ASCAP. And BMI's Repertoire Catalog comprises over 18.7 million musical works. They had long supported new music genres like rock ’n’ roll and jazz when they first emerged.

BMI primarily operates in the US and North America. However, it has a presence internationally. In addition, it’s free for artists to join BMI.

3.   SESAC

The Society of European Stage Authors & Composers (SESAC) is a for-profit organization. This means it holds a portion of royalties earned as profit.

SESAC is the second oldest organization in the US music industry. It represents artists in several countries, with a focus on European musicians.

This organization is affiliated with over 30,000 composers and music publishers. And it licenses over 1 million songs for public performances.

Unlike ASCAP and BMI, SESAC is both a PRO and MRO. It achieved the latter status through its acquisition of the Harry Fox Agency. With this evolution, SESAC became the first organization to operate as a CMO in the US.

Another thing that makes SESAC stand out is that it’s an invitation-only organization. That means they don’t accept unsolicited applications for membership. However, your agent or manager can still reach out to them on your behalf.

4.   PRS for Music

PRS for Music is an inclusive Collective Management Organization in the United Kingdom. It was founded in 1997 through the merger of the Performance Rights Society (PRS) and the Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society (MCPS). This created an all-in-one CMO for the UK market known as the “MCPS-PRS Alliance.”

PRS and MCPS operate as separate collection societies. But PRS for music provides services to MCPS and has its own specific functions.

5.   SOCAN

The Society of Composers, Authors, and Music Publishers of Canada, or SOCAN, is a Canadian Performance Rights Organization. It functions much like ASCAP. However, SOCAN caters to Canadian artists, broadcasters, and publishers. SOCAN represents the performance rights of over 100,000 composers and music publishers.


The Japanese Society for the Rights of Authors, Composers, and Publishers (JASRAC) is the largest CMO in Japan. It claims to dominate over 98% of the Japanese market. The majority of the royalties collected by the organization come from karaoke, which is a $5 billion market in Japan.

7.   GEMA

GEMA, or the Society for Musical Performing and Mechanical Reproduction Rights, is a government-mandated collection society and performance rights organization. It acts as a CMO in Germany, covering everything from public performance rights to mechanical royalties.

The organization has over 3,000 full members, which include composers, songwriters, and music publishers. GEMA also represents about 6,000 members who have more restricted rights.

8.   IPRS

Founded in 1969, the Indian Performing Rights Society Limited (IPRS) oversees the performing rights of composers, lyricists, and music publishers in India. It's the only organization with the right to issue licenses for musical works and literary music usage.

9.   SACEM

The Society of Authors, Composers, and Publishers of Music (SACEM) is a French organization representing the rights of songwriters and publishers. It functions much like GEMA in Germany in that it's the single body in charge of performing rights. SACEM is one of the leading CMOs in continental Europe, with over 160,000 members.

Why Register With a Performance Rights Organization?

It’s evident that PROs simplify the collection of royalties for songwriters and music publishers. They ensure you’re paid for your efforts, whether from a hotel or a concert arena.

When registered with a PRO, you don’t have to chase companies to pay for the right to play your music. You also don’t have to bill every radio station worldwide for airing your tracks. Your PRO will handle all the hassle of tracking where your music is publicly performed.

It’s important to note that you can only register with the Performance Rights Organization in your country of residence. And it’s best to approach your country’s PRO and register with it directly. After that, your music publisher will liaise with the PROs in other countries to register with them on your behalf.

Working with a music publisher ensures you are connected to the global PRO network. This way, you are compensated when your music is played publicly in other countries.

Royalties For Songwriters: The Bottom Line

We’ve established that it’s essential to register with a Performance Rights Organization to ensure you’re paid for public use of your music. And that the first step is to register with the PRO, or CMO, in your country. As you can see, if you live in the United States, there are two different PROs to choose from. However, if you're anywhere else in the world, there will be one governing PRO or CMO you must register with.

Then, after registering with your local PRO, you’ll need to partner with an experienced music publisher, like Sugo Music Group. Sugo Music Group has built steadfast relationships with PROs and CMOs internationally over the years.

Working with Sugo Music Group means that a professional takes care of your global music licensing needs. This way, you'll receive the royalties owed to you when your music is used in a public setting. And you won't have to worry about any of the legal complexities of licensing in other countries.


  • theIndie Editor

    Sam Poole is a content writer with a deep love for music and the music industry. As theIndie Editor, Sam aims to provide practical and actionable tips to help indie artists effectively promote their music and succeed. [email protected] Poole Sam

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