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The Differences Between ASCAP vs BMI vs SESAC

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Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

As an indie musician, you should understand the role of performing rights organizations (PROs) if you want to seek compensation for your creative works. We’ll explore some key differences between ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC, three prominent PROs in North America.

With insight into the features, eligibility requirements, royalty collection, distribution systems, and artist services, you can make informed decisions to choose the right PRO to protect and collect your music royalties and licensing payouts.

What is a PRO?

A PRO is a collective management organization that safeguards and administers public performance rights on behalf of songwriters, composers, and music publishers. PROs ensure that musicians receive royalties whenever their music is publicly performed, broadcasted, or streamed. They accomplish this by monitoring and tracking performances, collecting royalties, and distributing them to their affiliated members based on various factors, including radio airplay, live performances (either by you or when someone else covers your song), and digital streaming.

Long story short: PROs scour the world to make sure you get paid whenever your music is played or broadcasted.

What are ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC?

ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), founded in 1914, was created by a group of composers, including Victor Herbert and John Philip Sousa, who sought to protect the rights of songwriters and ensure they received fair compensation for their works. The establishment of ASCAP marked a turning point in the industry as it recognized the importance of performance royalties and pioneered the concept of collective rights management.

BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.), established in 1939, emerged as a response to ASCAP’s restrictive membership policies at the time. BMI’s founders included radio executives and songwriters who aimed to create an inclusive organization that represented a broader range of musical genres and provided fairer opportunities for songwriters and publishers.

SESAC, founded in 1930, originated in Europe and later expanded its operations. While smaller in scale compared to ASCAP and BMI, SESAC differentiated itself by focusing on European repertoire and maintaining a more selective membership. Its commitment to representing quality and commercially viable music has made it a preferred choice for certain songwriters and publishers. SESAC is invite-only, so it’s not as easy to join as ASCAP or BMI.

The differences in royalty collection and distribution

Because SESAC is invite-only, we’re going to focus on ASCAP vs. BMI.

ASCAP and BMI employ different approaches to royalty collection and distribution. ASCAP operates on a blanket license system, where license fees are paid by music users, like radio stations and venues, for unlimited access to the PRO’s entire repertoire. ASCAP then distributes the collected royalties to its members based on performances and other factors.

BMI follows a similar model, with blanket licenses and distributed royalties. Both BMI and ASCAP allow members to co-own the rights to their compositions. So if a song has multiple songwriters, each writer can choose a different PRO to represent their share of the song.

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Services for the artists

ASCAP and BMI offer various benefits and services to their members. ASCAP is the only US PRO that is a membership organization operating on a not-for-profit basis with nearly 90¢ of every dollar collected paid back to members in royalties. ASCAP provides educational resources, workshops, and networking opportunities to help artists navigate the music industry. It also offers assistance in licensing, copyright protection, and global royalty collection through their partnerships with international PROs.

BMI offers similar services, including workshops, showcases, and seminars for artists. Additionally, BMI has a strong focus on supporting independent artists and emerging genres. They provide resources for music distribution, licensing, and songwriting collaborations.

Choosing the right PRO: Other factors to consider

When deciding between ASCAP and BMI, there are several factors to consider. Evaluate your individual goals as a musician and the genre of your music. ASCAP has a more extensive presence in the mainstream commercial music industry, while BMI has a strong presence in various genres, including indie, hip hop, and electronic music.

BMI represents over a million artists, while ASCAP represents over 930,000 songwriters, composers, lyricists, and music publishers.

BMI has a one-time fee of $75 to join as a songwriter or composer. ASCAP is free for all new writer members.

Consider your career aspirations and the types of opportunities and support you require. ASCAP’s focus on education, networking, and international partnerships may be appealing to artists aiming for global recognition. BMI’s emphasis on independent artists and emerging genres can be advantageous for those seeking grassroots support and exposure.

Ultimately, your personal requirements and how it matches with the benefits, services, and reputation of each PRO will help you choose the one that aligns best with your artistic vision and long-term objectives.

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About Philip Kinsher

Philip Kinsher is a writer, editor, and musician with a predilection for YA Sci-fi Fantasy books and rock and roll. And golf and pickleball.

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