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ASCAP vs BMI vs SESAC – How To Get Your Royalties

Photograph of the blog post author, Mary Woodcock

Mary Woodcock

8.1.2020

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ASCAP vs BMI vs SESAC – How To Get Your Royalties

All artists and musicians need to know how to earn money from their music. But royalties never appear like magic. Royalties are only sent to you through work undertaken by a PRO to ensure that their members are getting paid. If you’re not yet signed up to a Performing Right Organization like ASCAP, BMI or SESAC, you may not be receiving all the royalties you deserve.

Choosing between PROs can be confusing, which is why we’re here to help you make a decision. But first, let’s have a look at what a PRO is and does…

What is a Performing Right Organization?

band performing onstage with lights and crowd

Performing Right Organizations, or PROs for short, provide intermediary services between copyright holders and those who use and ‘perform’ copyrighted works. PROs collect royalties for rights holders when their music is performed publicly. A public performance can mean anything from being performed live at a gig to being played on radio, TV & streaming services or in shops, bars & movies.

The PRO essentially collects public performance royalties and distributes them. On top of that, they also ensure that all locations playing music have a license to do so.

hand holding us dollars

Performing rights organizations like ASCAP, BMI and SESAC license, collect and distribute public performance royalties for their members. If you’re not a member of one of these PROs (or another PRO if you’re outside the US), you could be missing out on a major income stream! 

In the USA alone, about $3 billion of ROI is generated by public performance. You don’t want to miss out on a slice of that pie, do you?

Members can be composers, songwriters, publishers, recording artists, or other copyright owners. If you’re any one of the above and want to get royalties for your music being played publicly, you need to sign up to a PRO.

So now that you understand the importance of registering with a PRO, let’s have a look at the top three PROs in the USA; ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. (If you’re in the UK, please take a look at this article about PROs and how to make money with music.)

ASCAP vs BMI vs SESAC

All PROs offer similar features and services that essentially ensure all members are paid what they’re due. Choosing which PRO to go with is a personal choice, so you’ll have to weigh up the pros and cons. There different benefits that come with each service, like conferences, awards, workshops, partnerships, discounts, etc.

Let’s dive into each one and see what the pros and cons are…

ASCAP

Performing Rights Organization ASCAP logo

The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers is more widely known as ASCAP. ASCAP is the oldest working PRO, having launched in 1914. It’s also the second-largest in the US, boasting about 10 million works from approximately 660,000 members. 

For publishers and songwriters, there’s a one-off $50 registration fee.

Well known members of ASCAP are Ariane Grande, Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson, and Justin Timberlake.

Benefits of ASCAP

Now you may be asking yourself: ‘Why should I join ASCAP? What does ASCAP do for artists?’ Well, the benefits it offers are:

  • Membership discounts to the songwriter’s hall of fame.
  • Membership in the USA Alliance Federal Credit Union. 
  • Discounts on dental, health, instruments, and life insurance through the MusicPro program. 
  • Discounts on the web tools of ASCAP. (Digital marketing, selling tools and more)
  • Discounts on retail products and services related to music.
  • Vehicle rental and hotel discounts. 
  • Access to the annual ‘ASCAP I Create Music Expo’. (Read more about the I Create Music Expo in this list of the best Music Industry Conferences)

BMI

Performing Rights Organization BMI Music logo

BMI is an abbreviation of Broadcast Music Inc. As the largest PRO in the US, BMI represents about 12 million musical works and more than 750,000 musicians. 

So how much does it cost to join BMI? Its membership is entirely free for songwriters. For individual publishers, it costs 150$, and for companies, $250. 

Notable members of BMI are Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar, Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood and Sam Smith. 

Benefits of BMI

There are additional benefits that BMI offers, including;

  • Discounted registration for the billboard Latin conference only offered to certain BMI affiliates. 
  • Discounted membership from LARAS.
  • Exclusive discounts with NXNE.
  • Access to Fan bridges.
  • Exclusive discounts from Video Games Life for their particular LA show.
  • Access to Musician’s Atlas.
  • Discounted registration The billboard touring conference and awards.
  • Access to Muzlink
  • Access to the production marketplace.
  • Songwriters hall of fame.

ASCAP vs BMI – Which Is Better?

They’re relatively similar, however the main difference between ASCAP and BMI is that BMI is free to register and ASCAP has a one-off fee of $50. Now it’s up to you to weigh up BMI vs ASCAP and their pros & cons.

SESAC

Performing Rights Organization SESAC logo

Among these big three pros, SESAC is the smallest and the only one that’s a for-profit organization. It caters over 400,000 musical works from more than 30,000 affiliated writers.

SESAC pays out in the same way as BMI and ASCAP, in quarterly royalty checks. However, SESAC members also have the option to get monthly radio royalty payments.

SESAC has significant differences from BMI and ASCAP. SESAC is not available for everyone. Only artists are invited to join their membership. Moreover, there are no fees required to join SESAC.

Famous members of SESAC include Mariah Carey, Bob Dylan, Adele, Neil Diamond and Mumford And Sons.

Benefits Of SESAC

The benefits that SESAC offers include;

  • The option to get monthly radio royalty payments (instead of the usual quarterly royalty payments).
  • 10% discount at Sprint.
  • 10% discount at Bertleemusic.com.
  • 15% discount on the first year of Songtrust.
  • Discounted Nero Multimedia Suite 10.
  • Discounts for airport parking.
  • Discounted rate on CMA’s Sterling person’s membership.
  • Available 3-month free Musician Atlas online account. 
  • 20% discount on the legacy learning system.
  • Special 33% discount to the American songwriter magazine.

SESAC vs BMI and SESAC vs ASCAP

As mentioned above, SESAC is the only for-profit organization, meaning that the money they make doesn’t all go back into the company as much as with ASCAP and BMI. This could mean that they’re spending less money on improving their service and the wider industry for its members. It’s also much more difficult to join due to its invite-only registration.

Ready To Sign Up To ASCAP, BMI Or SESAC?

man sitting on the sofa using his laptop

If you’ve made it to this point in the article, you may be wondering how to get a BMI, ASCAP or SESAC membership. Now, there are some eligibility criteria for these PROs:

  • In order to sign up to ASCAP, the applicant must have at least one song written and available to the public. The eligibility criteria for a publisher is that they need to be entirely engaged in the business of music publishing
  • The eligibility criteria of BMI is the same as ASCAP (minimum one song must be available to the public). 
  • As mentioned above, SESAC is the most difficult to join due to its invite-only registration. 

 One important thing to remember is that you can only become a member of one pro at a time.

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ASCAP vs BMI vs SESAC – What Are The Similarities?

So now you know about the differences between each of these PROs, but let’s recap on the similarities;

All three PROs…

  • have an equal division of royalty between the songwriter and publisher. 
  • pay 88% of their money collection to the members of performance.
  • pay royalties out on a quarterly basis.
  • let you register your performances online. 
  • do not ask for recurring membership charges.
  • offer exclusive discounted deals and benefits. 

Minimum Payment and Timeframe for Deposit

hands holding lots of us dollars

In terms of all these three pros, it takes some time to get paid after the performance of your song. 

Royalty payments from ASCAP mostly take almost six and a half months after the end of the quarter in which the song was played. BMI payments take about five and a half months after the end of each quarter. In contrast, SESAC just takes 90 days – 3 months to deposit money after each quarter. 

The minimum payment for ASCAP is $1 only if you get listed in direct deposit or $100 will be paid if they will pay via check. The minimum amount of payment for BMI is $2 for direct deposits or $250 by check if it’s the last ongoing quarter of the year. On the other hand, the minimum payment for SESAC is $1 for direct deposit and $50 minimum for checks. 

Terms of Standard Agreement

Whenever you become a member of any PRO, you’re essentially entering a deal. This means you can’t now register the same song on a different PRO during that deal. 

So how long do deals with PROs last?

  • The contract period of ASCAP is a one-year deal that automatically gets renewed. 
  • The BMI contract is for a standard two-year deal for writers and a standard 5-year contract deal for publishers.
  • SESAC gives a 3-year contract deal for both writers and publishers that automatically gets renewed. 

How Do PROs Know About A Live Performance? How To Collect Live Performance Royalties

Live gig with how to collect live performance royalties

To let your PRO know that you performed a song in a live setting, you need to tell them. All the pros, like ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC, facilitates its users with an online feature for submitting your setlists. For this, you have to fill that setlist to get paid for all the songs you performed. For instance, you played any of your ten original songs, then log in to your pro account and list all the songs you performed, and you will get a royalty for that. It’s really that simple!

Wrapping it up

Here’s one last summary of the three main PROs in the US music industry:

  • ASCAP is the oldest and second-largest PRO in the US with great benefits, at a $50 registration fee. However, they do take the longest to pay out royalties at 6,5 months after the end of each quarter.
  • BMI is the largest PRO in the US, with free registration but fewer benefits than the others. It pays out slightly quicker than ASCAP at 5,5 months after the end of each quarter.
  • SESAC is the smallest of the three and is also free to sign up. It pays out royalties the quickest at only 90 days after the end of the quarter. However, it’s relatively difficult to join due to its invite-only registration policy.

Now you know about each of the PROs, you should be able to make a decision. It may still be a hard decision but it all depends on your budget vs. the benefits & accessibility. At the end of the day, it’s your personal choice!

Just make sure to choose a pro and start collecting your royalties for your hard work. 

Registering to PROs Is Not Enough!

Registering for these PROs is a significant step to earn royalties. But keep in mind that these PROs do not collect your mechanical royalties. Read more about mechanical royalties, how they work and how you can collect them in this article about how to make money with music.

Learn More About The Industry

Expand your knowledge of the music industry and become a true empowered creative with a bunch of How-Tos and the latest news on our blog.

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