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How To Be A PRO – Performing Rights Organizations

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

What are a performing rights organizations they and what do they do for music creators?

Man creating music
Congratulations! You're a Music Creator! What's next?

You’ve been creating music for a while now, and you’re ready to get out there and share it with the world! You may track down an open mic, or start a live stream concert series, or find local musicians who will perform your work in an upcoming concert, Once you start performing your music or having your music performed either on stage, online, or on the airwaves, you should consider joining a performing rights organization. In today’s post, we will explore what a performing rights organization is and why it can benefit you as a working composer.

What is a Performing Rights Organization (PRO)?

ASCAP I Create Music 2010 with Speaker Music Legend Quincy Jones; Photo: Janae Jean
ASCAP I Create Music 2010 with Speaker Music Legend Quincy Jones; Photo: Janae Jean

A performing rights organization acts as an intermediary between copyright holders and those who wish to use their copyrighted works. One of their main jobs is to collect performance royalties on the behalf of music creators and publishers for the public performances of their musical work.

PROs may also offer their members other benefits such as discounts on products and services, conferences, networking opportunities, career assistance and advice, and advocacy for musicians and the arts.

What is a music publisher?

A publisher is a person or company that prepares and issues books, journals, music, or other works for sale. A music publisher is a type of publisher that specializes in distributing music. Many independent artists acts as self-publishers and are both the creator and publisher of their work.

What defines a musical work?

A musical work is a song’s underlying composition created by a songwriter or composer along with any accompanying lyrics.

What is a performance royalty?

Performance royalties are paid to composers, lyricists, and songwriters and their publishers in exchange for the right to broadcast or perform a copyrighted musical composition in a public environment, including theaters, bars, restaurants, places of worship, concert halls, educational institutions, and other venues, as well as radio, television, and the internet. Streaming audio is considered a performance as well. Performance royalties are shared in a 50/50 split between the music creator(s) and its publisher(s). This distinguishes them from mechanical royalties which are royalties paid for the purchase of a physical copy of a performance, such as a compact disc or vinyl record. Venues purchase a license from a PRO that gives them permission to have the works of its members performed in their venue.

What is copyright in the music business?

A music copyright designates legal ownership of a musical composition or audio recording, including redistribution and reproduction rights as well as licensing rights.

A Short History of PROs

The earliest PRO was founded in France in 1851. Italy introduced a PRO in 1882 and Germany followed suit in 1915. The first performing rights organization in the United Kingdom was the Performing Rights Society for Music Limited (PRS) was established in 1914 and still exists today. In the United States, The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) was founded in 1914; The Society of European Stage Authors & Composers (SESAC) in 1930, and Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) in 1939. In Canada, The Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency Ltd (CMRRA) was founded in 1975 and The Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) in 1990. A digitally focused PRO, SoundExchange was founded in 2003.

Today, PROs are international. There are now performing rights in nations organizations all around the world. The leading organizations are ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC, with ASCAP and BMI open to composers, authors, and publishers of all levels. Across the globe, PROs work together in reciprocal relationships so that they can all best serve their members.

The Big 3

Date of Founding: 1914

Fee: One-time $50 application fee for either composers or publishers or join as both in one application with $100 application fee.


The American Society for Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) has more than 850,000 music creator members across all genres, from pop to classical, and at all stages of their careers, from novices to students to seasoned professionals. They are the only PRO in the USA founded and governed by its members.

You may apply online, unless you are under 18. Minors can join, but they must apply to mailing in the form(s).

Why does ASCAP stand out?

Prior to this 2020, ASCAP hosted an annual conference called the "I CREATE Music Expo" which offered instruction, coaching, performance opportunities, workshops, panels, networking opportunities, and more for its members and partner members. For 2022, they have transformed the conference into a series of FREE virtual events called the ASCAP Experience. They also offer scholarship opportunities, grants, workshops, and other resources for members. They are also the only member-governed PRO in the United States.

Name of Organization: Society of European Stage Authors & Composers (SESAC)

Date of Founding: 1930

Fee: No fee but membership by invitation only

For profit

The Society for European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC) has over 30,000 members. As they are invasion only, members are only well-established music creators and publishers.

Why does SESAC stand out?

SESAC is the only music rights organization in the United States with the ability to offer singular licenses for the works of its affiliated writers and publishers that include both performance and mechanical rights.

Name of Organization: Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI)

Date of Founding: 1939

Fee: Free for songwriters, authors, or composers; $150 to register a publishing company that is owned by an individual, and $250 for a publishing company that is a partnership, corporation (including sole stockholder corporations) and/or limited liability company


Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) has more than 750,000 music creator members across all genres and career levels. While ASCAP was founded by music creators and publishers, BMI was founded by the National Association of Broadcasters, a trade organization and lobby group representing the interests of commercial and non-commercial over-the-air broadcast radio and television.

Why does BMI stand out?

BMI considers themselves to have been founded with a focus on new and emerging genres and artists. They do not charge a membership fee like ASCAP for music creators, however, their fee for music publishers is much higher than that of ASCAP. When you join BMI, you are agreeing to a two-year agreement.

You may apply online.

Wherever you are in your career as a music creator or publisher, you deserve to have the opportunity to be paid the performance royalties your music earns. For creators who are just starting out both ASCAP and BMI offer assistance and support while SESAC focuses on established creators only. Visit the organizations’ websites to learn more about how to join. Let me know whether ASCAP or BMI feels like the best fit for you, or share your experience with any other of the many smaller organizations worldwide. I would love to know!

For Further Information




Janae J. Almen is a professional music instructor, composer, sound artist, and writer. She has a BA in Music/Education from Judson University and a MM in Computer Music/Composition from the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. She is the founder of Perennial Music and Arts and is passionate about sharing her love of music and arts. Janae is a proud ASCAP member as both a music creator as Janae Jean and as publisher as SpindriftGreenMusic. She also attended the 2009, 2010, and 2017 ASCAP Expos where she made connections and learned a lot about the music business and music creation.



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