PRO SERIES, Considerations of ASCAP & BMI, Part I: BMI

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Trying to decide which one is right for you? We did our own research to offer our readers some insight behind each of the two giants. Hope this helps with your decision!

Unless you’re a well-seasoned veteran (and even if you are) there’s a lot to learn when it comes to being your own boss and playing by your own rules in the music industry. For now, let’s just focus on the two (yes, two) major Performance Rights Organizations (PROs) options available if you reside in the United States. The third option, SESAC is by invitation only, and wait, there’s more for other countries as well (and even in the U.S.), but each operates by their own set of rules. It’s a lot to get into, so let’s get back to our main two.

First, simply put, a performance rights organization is there to protect the authors, composers, and publishers (more on this topic in another article) of a musical work. The songwriter, music composer, and the publisher each have certain rights and royalties to any song they contribute to creating and it’s the PROs job to make sure all parties are paid for any public performance of the song. This includes when a song is played on the radio, in the mall, in a restaurant, etc.

There’s the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and the Broadcast Music, Inc (BMI). Both generally boasts offering the same protection and support to new artists and publishers in their own unique way. We’ll share our highlights and allow you to form your own opinion on which works best for you.

BMI was founded in 1939 by the National Association of Broadcasters as an alternative to ASCAP, who at the time had been the dominant PRO option available for at least 20 years. BMI has been known for sporting relationships with some pretty heavy lifters such as Rihanna, Eminem, Maroon 5, and Lady Gaga. Back then, BMI sought to work with and compensate the independent artists that ASCAP overlooked in genres like blues, gospel, jazz, country, and R&B.

To become a member, you either register as a songwriter, publisher, or both. If you’re an indie artist who plans on publishing your own work (and possibly the work of others as an independent label), you should go ahead and register as both to ensure you claim all royalties (and rights) and not just the songwriter portion. It’s free to join as a songwriter or composer, but there is a one-time fee of $150 for publishers. For most, BMI’s monthly meet and greets seem a bit stand-offish and not as engaging with its members compared to ASCAP. They are also pretty strict on meeting timelines for cataloging performances, or you can get hit with a penalty fee. Their payment schedule of royalties is on a quarterly basis, so that means artists are paid four times out of the year. Unless you’re on a trailblazing path to collecting a significant amount of royalties we don’t recommend you quit your day job.

You can only be a current member, represented by one PRO at any given time and when you sign up with BMI, you’re probably looking at being locked into a contract agreement of a minimum 2 years. It’s recommended that before joining any PRO you ask around and speak to individuals who are already a member.

Here are a few of our Pros & Cons:

PROs

  • We liked the video tab where they share insider industry knowledge from industry leaders. Click “Video” then “Education & Advocacy”.
  • Their site is relatively simple to navigate.
  • You can view and download important information concerning new changes in the music industry with the passage of the 2018 Music Modernization Act under the “Advocacy” tab. A MUST read for prospective members.

CONs

  • You may get hit with other unanticipated fees to license your song(s).
  • As mentioned previously, the consensus is that BMI could use a little more work in the consumer relations department, suggesting that they may give the main focus of their attention to their well-established artists vs. the newbies

As always, it’s important for you as an independent artist to do your own research to understand how the industry works and affects you! Be sure to check back for our take on ASCAP and more upcoming articles on this subject. Happy researching!

Have questions or comments? Be sure to ask or mention below!

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