The Performing Rights Societies: ASCAP, BMI and SESAC

ASCAP, BMI and SESAC are performing right societies that are authorized to represent music publishers and songwriters in the music business.  They are in essence the watchdogs of the industry to log, track and issue licenses for public performances of music that includes but is not limited to public performances in public places such as radio, television, cable networks, concerts ranging from clubs, theaters, arenas and stadiums, your local malls, dance studios, restaurants or anywhere that music is played publicly.   Built on the belief that songwriters, composers and publishers have the right to be paid for the public use of their songs, not only do these societies grant permission and issue licenses for companies to perform music publicly but they also negotiate and collect fees for the rights to use their catalogues as well.

How does this work for you as a songwriter?  The idea and dream of every musician is to write music that will be heard around the world.  Let’s say a radio station does pick up your music and puts it into rotation, they are making money off of your music, so how would you collect your share of the profits for giving them the rights to play your music to the masses?  Going around to every radio station just on one continent let alone the world would be an impossible task to negotiate performing rights fees to play your music.  Not only that, there are thousands of musicians out there just like you and if everyone one had to negotiate their own performing rights fees individually with each radio station, no one would get any work done and the music would be never played, an impossible task for both parties.  Now add in going to every mall in the United States and every bar or club.  Then head out to every place you could possibly imagine your music being played and negotiate an individual performing rights license fee.  If you managed that impossible task, now track where and how many times your music is played and collect fees based on the amount played on a monthly basis.  You say impossible?  More than likely you are right and those companies that are required to pay the fees would be in over their heads with musician’s pounding at their door demanding payment and negotiations. 

This is where a performing rights society will come into play.  Musician’s and music publishers affiliate themselves with these societies authorizing them to work on their behalf to license companies the rights to perform their catalogue of music publicly.  However, these performing right societies do not go in and negotiate on an individual artist basis, instead they go in representing a catalogue of works in which you as the musician or music publisher has affiliated your music to.  This way a radio station, television station, club or mall negotiates with the performing rights society for the rights to play publicly any music on their catalogue for a fee.  There are three major performing rights societies and those are ASCAP (American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers), BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) and SESAC (once stood for Society of European Stage Authors and Composers, now simply known as SESAC due to the fact they represent works produced in the United States as well) of which a music publisher or songwriter will affiliate themselves with one of these organizations.

Because of the time consuming task for a company such as a radio station to search the catalogue to make sure that they have the rights to one particular song to play, more than likely they will pay fees to all three societies granting them access to practically all copyrighted songs for public performance.  These performing rights societies then compile data from these companies they have issued a license for, such as playlist logs from radio stations to tally how much a certain song in their catalogue is played and by that able to tally and divide the fee’s collected to pay the music publishers and songwriters that are affiliated to their organization based upon how much their song is played in public.  That means a song in heavy rotation at the radio station will pay more than a song that is played only once a week.

By affiliating your work to one of these societies frees you the musician, composer or music publisher to do what you do best and that is create music. 

For more information on these societies visit their websites:
www.bmi.com
www.ascap.com
www.sesac.com

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