What Is A PRO?

Written by: Sarah Sparks | Troy University Music Industry Major | Muscle Shoals Song Rooms Intern 2020

October 13, 2020

So you are a songwriter… You have notebooks filled with lyrics, you’ve created melodies and grooves, and you even co-write from time to time. You are itching to get your music heard and start getting paid, but you aren’t quite familiar with the business side of the music world. There is SO much information out there, and it can honestly be a little overwhelming. 

It is important to protect yourself and your creative content, and you want to be sure that you don’t miss out on any opportunity to make money. So, where do you start?

PROs (Performance Rights Organizations)

Performance Rights Organizations, or PROs, collect public performance royalties and distribute them to the rights holders. In layman’s terms, they collect payments when a song is played publicly and make sure that the songwriter(s) and publisher get their money. In even simpler terms, they work for YOU. 

Public performances include – but are not limited to – TV, radio, restaurants, and live. 

There are four major PROs in the United States, two of which are for profit and invite only (SESAC and GMR). For purposes of this blog, I’m going to explore the two non-profit PROs.

ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers)

ASCAP has been around since 1914 and has over 775,000 members. It is completely controlled by its composers, writers, and publishers – the members even appoint their own Board of Directors. More on ASCAP can be found at their website: https://www.ascap.com 

BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.)

BMI was founded in 1939 and is the largest music rights organization in the United States, representing over 1 million songwriters, composers, and publishers. A few of the artists represented by BMI include Taylor Swift, Dolly Parton, and Luke Combs. More on BMI can be found at their website: https://www.bmi.com 

Additionally, ASCAP and BMI have collaborated with Canada’s organization SOCAN to create MusicMark, in which publishers can submit a single registration file to all three PROs at the same time! More on that here: https://musicmark.com 

What PROs DON’T Do

PROs do not handle nor distribute copyrights. PROs only track performance through their organization and have no involvement in the copyright process. It is very important to register your material for copyright at copyright.gov as soon as you finalize your songs, then register your songs with your PRO. 

Recently, our Founder and CEO Lillian Glanton sat down with two representatives of BMI to discuss the benefits of songwriters registering their work with BMI. You can watch their discussion here: https://streamable.com/tmwsqx?fbclid=IwAR2eqEbasidtSUV4xZtD-bR9j1goMa6UdJNhMtA9YQ_LtH3Qs27sVcqT8eQ 

I hope this information gives you a starting point in deciding which PRO to register your music with. And as always, happy writing!