The PRO Puzzle - Part 1
So you're a songwriter, composer, or music publisher, yes? Having fun figuring out the PRO puzzle yet? PROs, or Performing Rights Organizations, are extremely complicated organizations that can be fist-thru-drywall frustrating - yet they control a huge part of your financial future as a music copyright owner.
I spent 20 years at SESAC, one of the now five (count them 5!) PROs in the United States, including ASCAP, BMI, GMR and now AllTrack. Wait, no there are six, damn it! I almost forgot about the mysterious Pro Music Rights out of South Florida! And for you wise guys out there, I know you're asking, "What about SoundExchange?". I'll get there a little later, so hold your breeches!
Anyway, most of my entire professional life in the biz (as they say) has been entrenched in this labyrinthine world some conspiracy theorists might even call clandestine. So I thought I might impart a little institutional knowledge to those of you who are left scratching your heads on what the hell is really going on behind those seemingly veiled curtains! We're going to start with the very basics, so if you've been around awhile some of these early posts might be a little too remedial for you. But don't be hatin', just trying to provide a comprehensive exposition that hopefully all career-levels can throughout the course learn from. Will get into some nitty-gritty eventually, so hang with me.
Let's start with a little Copyright 101. In every recorded song, there are two copyrights: 1) the copyright in the song, i.e., the musical composition and lyrics, and 2) the copyright in the recording, i.e., the actual embodiment of the composition and lyrics in a tangible, audible form. When the composition copyright is played publicly, live or mechanically, a "public performance" occurs. So the right to publicly perform a composition is called a "performing right". And you guessed it, PROs are the collective licensing organizations that license these performing rights to the hundreds of thousands of potential organizations that wish to make public performances. This includes radio stations, broadcast and cable TV outlets, digital streaming services, bars, night clubs, concert halls, bowling alleys, fitness centers, etc., etc., etc. Yes, anywhere music is made available to a public audience, performing rights are involved and the PROs are there at the door ready to collect a check!
PROs do provide a certain level of efficiency in the performing rights licensing process. Think about it: It would be virtually impossible for each songwriter or publisher to provide licenses to each of the hundreds of thousands of organizations wishing to play their music. Conversely, it would be equally impossible for each organization to obtain licenses from each of the millions of songwriters and publishers for that same music. So PROs serve as one-stop shops for licensing many songs to many users.
So unless you're feeling saucy and want to try to license your music directly to every outlet in the Country that may eventually want to play it, or you just don't care if they use your music or not, then you're probably going to have to look at joining one of the PROs. Hmmm, choices, choices, these days! Remember, these guys are going to be guardians of your "babies", your creative genius given life in your words and/or musical compositions. Don't just choose one because of name recognition or because your favorite artist is there. Choose carefully! Next time, we'll examine why there are six PROs, introduce each one a little more formally, and hopefully shed some light on where they came from and what sets them apart so that you can make a more informed decision before making the leap of faith!