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What Is A Performance Rights Organization?
Performance Rights Organizations (PROs) collect royalties on songs performed in public.
This includes live performances, broadcast media like radio and television, and Internet performances, including streaming, webcasts and podcasts.
Most nations have PROs. In the UK you can join the Performing Rights Society (PRS) or Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL). In the United States the big three are ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. Do an Internet search to find the PROs associated with your nation.
Many of these societies have agreements with each other to collect in their nation on behalf of the non-native PROs, although this can be difficult to monitor.
A songwriter/musician and his publisher can become a member of any of these organizations, but only one at a time.
What does a Performance Rights Organization Do?
The job of the PRO is to search for usage of your copyrighted material, then collect the appropriate money for the usage and forward that money to the publisher and composer of the work.
The PROs are constantly checking radio playlists and TV shows, matching up the music performed with songs and soundtracks logged into their databases. They collect money from the stations and pay it to the publisher and writer of the work.
They track the live performances/concert dates of artists affiliated with them. This even extends down to artists who play small venues like bars and coffee houses.
The PROs go around to clubs, restaurants, cafés, retail stores—basically everywhere music is played either live or in recorded form. The PROs are empowered by the copyright laws to collect royalty money from those venues. These laws can change depending on which nation the PRO is operating in.
For the most part the PROs use trends and percentages in figuring out how to allocate money collected from retail outlets and local venues, and sometimes for radio stations. This can be unfortunate for unknown artists, because the trends and percentages tend to favor music that is popular in big cities and on the national broadcast outlets.
The situation is improving, though, as most of the PROs are instituting programs where their members can log in their local live shows and get paid something for them.
What Performance Rights Organization should I join?
Read everything about the PROs you can find and consider carefully. They all have websites. Look at what artists are affiliated with them, and join the one you think best represents what you do.
Talk to other musicians you know that have signed on with a PRO and see how they are being treated. Find out how often the PRO pays and if they have good practices for collecting money for their artists and publishers.
Affiliating with a PRO should be free of charge to the composer/songwriter. You empower them to collect money on your behalf.
Like a good publisher, a good PRO can help you establish another revenue stream, and for musicians, creating multiple streams is the best way to mount a long-term career in music.