ASCAP vs BMI vs SESAC: The Big Three, Who’s for Me?
If you’re a songwriter, artist or producer, chances are you know the value of public performance royalties. Big or small, performance royalty checks come in every quarter. Like clockwork. It’s familiar, dependable, and comfortable.
But these checks don’t just appear like magic. They’re the result of the work that any one of three of the major Performing Rights Organizations (PROs) undertake on a daily basis to make sure their members get paid.
The main PROs in the U.S. include ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC.
What to PROs do? They license, collect and distribute public performance royalties for songwriters and publishers. This includes when music is:
- broadcast on the radio (terrestrial or satellite)
- used on TV or movies (including commercials)
- performed or streamed live (like in bars, restaurants, performance venues)
- streamed over digital services (such as Spotify or Pandora)
The PRO will ensure all venues have a license to play music, collect public performance royalties from all, track who hasn’t paid up and then determine the composer, publisher, and songwriter to pay for each instance, They compile a list of what music was played where and includes this information with every payment to each artist it represents.
Which Performing Rights Organization should you choose? Good question.
Choosing a PRO is a personal choice. At the end of the day, they all offer much the same service--ensuring their members are fairly compensated. The difference comes down to the details. Each service comes with different benefits, such as workshops, conferences, awards, discounts, partnerships, and more.
So, let’s take a look at these big three, and their role in those quarterly checks you know and love.
The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) is a not-for-profit organization. It is unique in that it's controlled entirely by the composers, writers, and music publishers that make up its membership. Launched in 1914, ASCAP is the oldest of the "Big Three" by about 16 years. It represents more than 10 million works from over 550,000 members.
Membership is $50 for both songwriters and publishers.
2016 distribution: $918 million
- Discount on membership to the Songwriters Hall of Fame
- Membership in the U.S. Alliance Federal Credit Union
- Discounts on health, dental, instrument and life insurance via its MusicPro program
- Discount on ASCAP Web Tools, a set of internet-based marketing and sales tools developed by Nimbit, Inc. for ASCAP members
- Discounts on music-related retail products and services
- Hotel and rental car discounts
- Annual ASCAP "I Create Music" Expo
Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) is also a not-for-profit organization that represents over 12 million musical works from over 750,000 artists.
Membership is free for songwriters. For publishers, there’s a $150 fee for individuals and $250 for companies.
2016 distribution: $931 million (fiscal year ended June 30)
- Discounted Registration for Billboard Latin Conference Offered to BMI Affiliates
- LARAS Offers Membership Discount to BMI Affiliates
- NXNE Offers Special Discount to BMI Affiliates
- Video Games Live Offers Special Discount to BMI Affiliates for LA Show
- Billboard Touring Conference and Awards Offers Discounted Registration to BMI Affiliates
- ArtistShare for Songwriters
- Musician’s Atlas
- Songwriters Hall of Fame
- The Production Marketplace
SESAC is the only for-profit private company among the "Big Three" PROs. Based out of Nashville, SESAC serves around 400,000 musical works from over 30,000 affiliated writers.
SESAC pays its members quarterly royalty checks exactly like BMI and ASCAP. But, members of SESAC have the option to receive monthly radio royalty payments as well.
Another major difference is SESAC is not open to just anyone. To gain membership, artists are invited to join.
There is no cost to join SESAC.
2016 distribution: $400 million to $500 million (Billboard estimate)
- SESAC direct deposit
- SESAC offers special discount at POPmarket
- 10% off at Sprint
- 10% off at Berkleemusic.com
- 15% OFF of the first year of SONGTRUST
- Discounted Nero Multimedia Suite 10
- Discount Airport Parking
- Discounted rate on CMA’s Sterling Individual membership
- Free 3-month Musician’s Atlas online account
- 20% discount on Legacy Learning Systems
- Discount subscriptions for Billboard Publications
- Special organizational rate at The Hollywood Reporter
- 33% discount to American Songwriter Magazine
- NSAI and Frost Specialty Insurance Copyright Infringement Policy
- Discount at MusicPro Insurance
- Discount at Avis Rental Cars
- Additional Discounts at Brickhouse Direct, Ameriprise Financial, COPYCATS, Disc Makers CD Manufacturing, Song U, Get It Guru, MasterWriter, Music Connection
WHICH IS FOR YOU?
Depending on what an artist needs from their Performing Rights Organization, any of the "Big Three" are great options.
The costs are largely the same (keep in mind that in addition to membership fees, all PROs also take an estimated 11-13% fee from collected royalties to cover administrative costs and expenses). So it usually comes down to side benefits, customer service, and personal preference.
Once you choose a PRO and begin collecting quarterly public performance royalty checks, contact us to learn how to maximize their potential.