To Be a Pro, You Need a PRO
“Huh? Is this more of that collaborate and share kinda stuff?” Yes, and… no.
Let’s recap. We have talked about Branding, Management, and Booking. You have got your band together, and you are playing some cool shows. You have a record coming out soon, and you have spent a few duckies to get a nice web-site built ( if you are smart, you got Mid-Tenn to build it for you). Maybe you have spent a few hours, days or weeks making sure that you have registered with all the cool music sites: CD Baby, I-Tunes, ReverbNation, SoundCloud, and all the others.
Perhaps you have been lucky enough to sell a few digital downloads, and some swag, maybe you are even moving a few discs at your shows – I hope so! Actually selling some merch is one of the most rewarding feelings for a musician! Or so I’m told…
Now it’s time to get that All-Important Radio Play, but for some reason the stations don’t even want to talk about it because even though you act and talk like a Pro, you aren’t with a PRO. You see, if you aren’t registered they don’t know how to pay you for using your song(s) – not that they would want to anyway. If they don’t know how to pay you, and thus can’t, they would be in violation of federal law. Thus, resulting in your never ending stream of “No”.
So, what is a PRO?
In the music world, PRO stands for Performance Rights Organization almost sounds scary, huh? To some it is. They think that if they join one of these groups, they are going to be seriously limited as to what, when, where, and how they can perform and make money. In fact the opposite is the truth of the matter.
A PRO, simply put, is there to make sure you do get paid!
The rules are broad and general. In essence, when they speak of “performance” it is any performance, live, recorded, or streamed. When you hear “I Did It My Way” over the elevator speakers in a hotel, it is a “performance”.
Who gets paid? You do, if you hold the copyright.
How do you get paid? Simple (not really) your PRO collects data from all the restaurants, clubs, radio and TV stations, and hotels, theme parks, etc. about all the songs by all the artists from all the publishers which are played and divides the monies due to each accordingly. The formula they use to decide who deserves what payment is a bit of a mystery. Many artists, publishers and the like join a PRO and never see a dime. That is because when the math is sorted out their play-count of 100 plays per quarter pale in comparison to the 10′s of thousands of the other guy’s, and the big guy gets the cash, imagine that!
An old expression says it best – a little bit of everything is better than all of nothing. Can you imagine the hassle of being in touch with every station and venue that might play your music and trying to get them to pay you the few cents you are due for performance rights? That is why you need a PRO!
Who are the PROs?
There are three in the U.S.
ASCAP and BMI are both not for profit organizations, and there is SESAC, a for-profit. They have all been around for a long time, and aren’t going anywhere any time soon. All have slightly different operating principles and it is beyond the scope of this article to get into individual detail.
You may need to join more than one. As a performer, you may be best off to join BMI, if you also handle publishing, perhaps you need ASCAP, and if you have a band you may want to be a member of SESAC. Don Passman, in his book “All You Need To Know About The Music Business” suggests that each band member join a PRO, and then sign up the Group to another; good advice.
There is also a new organization called SOUND EXCHANGE they are the only royalties collection agency authorized to collect for on-line and satellite performances. As an independent artist doing it all yourself, I (and many others) almost insist that you register with Sound Exchange. For an audio discussion, have a listen to my interview with Kacey Jones – a music maven in her own right, highly respected throughout the music community.
The most informative online article I found was with the Better Business Bureau
I found a comparison on the Music Boot Camp site
You should purchase a copy of Mr. Passman’s book
In Closing, I strongly urge you to protect yourself and join a PRO! In theory, if you are doing a show in Joe’s Bar in Nowhereville, USA and the “music cops” show up, and Joe hasn’t paid his dues, it can come back on you to be responsible for thousands in fines, and you wouldn’t want that, would you?
I hope something in this convoluted mess has been helpful. Perhaps next time, I’ll tell you about Harry Fox.
Until then, Jam On in Peace,