[For the next few weeks, we’re going to post updated sections from the article “20 Questions for New Artists” by Chris Castle and Amy Mitchell which has been posted various places. This doesn’t constitute legal advice, or any intent to form the attorney-client relationship. (If you miss an installment, try searching this blog for “20 Questions for New Artists”.)]
There is a bit of strategy involved with affiliating with a songwriter performing rights society in the United States. PROs license and collect royalties for the performance right in your songs, such as a performance on television or radio or live music venues (including in some cases your own performances of your own songs). Each writer should affiliate with one of the societies although all members of a band or co-writers on a song don’t need to belong to the same society. This is why you see some songs with both ASCAP and BMI writers. We will discuss publishing and affiliating your publishing company with a PRO later. For now, just realize that your publishing company should be affiliated with the same PRO you are affiliated with as a writer.
All the societies have a creative staff. The decision to affiliate with a particular society should be made after the artist/writer has taken some meetings with the performing rights society and decided if there’s more love coming from one than another.
Most of the time we like to wait until the music is fairly well formed and the band has gelled into a working unit before approaching the societies unless there’s a reason to move more quickly, such as getting a film or TV license, or substantial radio/webcasting play. In more experienced bands, the writers will already have an affiliation, so it is a good idea to know this in advance for purposes of servicing the creative staff with new music, competing for slots on compilations and festival shows, etc.
The major U.S. performing rights societies are the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (http://www.ascap.com/), Broadcast Music, Inc. (http://www.bmi.com/), the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (http://www.sesac.com/) and Global Music Rights (http://www.globalmusicrights.com).
There are, of course, payment differences among the societies. For detailed background on PRO payments (and many other subjects) we recommend the book Music, Money and Success by Jeff and Todd Brabec available in paperback.