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Copyrights, Publishing, And ASCAP....What's The Difference?

I get asked a lot “I’m with BMI/ASCAP, aren’t they my publisher?” The simple answer to this is no. As Artist/songwriters, you need to know and have a basic understanding of copyrights, PRO’s (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC), and publishing companies…..That is if you ever want to get paid for your work!

    Let me explain. You write your hit song. You’re ready to press up some CD’s and get down to the local radio station so the world can hear your voice. Your time is NOW!!!!!! But WAIT!!!!!!!! There are a few things you need to do first….like protect your work. Under copyright laws, the second you write down your lyrics or record your song so others can hear it, you are protected under copyrights. End of story. BUT… do you prove that you did it first? That’s where the Library of Congress comes in. They keep track of who wrote what song, and when. However, in order for them to do this, they need to know when you have a new song. This is when you fill out the copyright form PA and/or SR. Once this is done, you are safe to play your music for the world.

     BUT, HOLD ON…..You didn’t shell out all that money for studio time, CD’s, Artwork, and that $35 copyright fee for nothing did you? You do want to get paid, don’t you? Well then, we have another step. This is the time to sign up with a PRO.

    PRO’s or Performing Rights Organizations are the ones that make sure you get paid when the radio (or television, or internet, or clubs, or restaurants, etc….) plays your music. To put this simply, (I’ll be going more into details next week) you have two choices. Either you can go to every radio station in the country, negotiate a price for them to pay every time they play your song, then go back and check when they play it, then go back again to collect your money, OR sign up with ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC, as well as SoundExchange, and let them do ALL of that for you. And once they collect your money, they will send you check. Very simple.

Now you have a protected song getting played, you’re getting paid for those plays, and you have more songs ready to go. You’ve made so much noise with your hit song, Publishing companies are knocking you’re door down. “What do they want?” you ask… Well, they think your songs sound great, and they think they can get Justin Timberlake, Mary J. Blige, and Coldplay to put them on their albums. All you have to do is sign over your copyrights that you filed, and they will write you a nice check. On top of that, every time these artists sell an album or get played at a club, on tv, or on the radio, or have the ringtones of your songs downloaded, you will still get a check…..It’s a pretty sweet deal….as long as you understand the basics of copyrights, PRO’s, and Publishing.

Now, what I’ve described of course has much more detail then I’ve stated, but again, this was just to give you brief description of how things work.

I WILL be doing more blog posts and video tutorials on these topics and many more in the near future. Until then, if you have any questions, feel free to leave me a note or comment.


Nathan Talbot is an entertainment consultant with over 15 years of industry experience. From DJ’ing, producing and engineering for local and national artists, to producing national television shows, to marketing and brand building for new and exsisting entertainers, Mr. Talbot has gained the knowledge and expertise to help anyone interested in the entertainment industry get their foot in the door, and provides a wealth of FREE resources at his website You can download his free quick read book The Absolutely FREE Guide To Everything You Need To Know About The Music Business: In 30 Minutes Or Less here.

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Reader Comments (2)

Good post except it should be noted you will not get performance fees unless you music is being played on a monitored station. ASCAP only uses a "sampled" play list from a very few monitored stations then assumes everyone is playing the same songs. The chance of getting a performance royalty check from ASCAP as an independent is slim and none, you've got a better chance of winning the lottery. You need to have your music on several megawatt BDS stations playing all day in prime time to ever see a check. That being said if you're not registered you'll never get a check either, like playing the lottery, you can't win if you don't buy a ticket. ASCAP and BMI memberships for independents should not be looked at as an income generating investment, but a place to legitimize your songbook and have a 3rd party record of your works. Hopefully in the future there will be standardized digital reporting which will remedy this situation. Right now it is complicated and skewed to make sure only the very few profit from the many, just the way the lawyers like it.

~ CrowfeatheR ascap member

August 27 | Unregistered CommenterCrowfeatheR

You are very correct in that PRO's use a very complex sampling system to find who's being played which will definitely favor the few mainstream artist out there. However, where many independents (and even many larger acts) get confused is, radio play is not all that ASCAP/BMI track and pay. I know several independent artist in my area alone who receive quarterly checks from ASCAP/BMI through the licensing of their music to film, tv, and video games. No, they're not $100,000 checks, but some have started off at a few thousand, and now, 5 years later they are still recieving a couple hundred dollars every few months. And this is not uncommon. Independent artists need realize there is a LARGE sum of money out there that is not directly tied to top 40 radio and Livenation.
I am in total agreeance with you that now that most distribution of content is digital, there will be a more accurate, and fair way to account for those major spins on radio, and maybe all artist can begin earning what they are really worth!

Nate Talbot

August 30 | Registered CommenterNate Talbot

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