Aside from the distributors and retailers of music, there are a huge number of societies, organisations and companies that collect and distribute the many other revenue streams in the music industry.
Some of them are the source of the revenue, like in the case of “Collective Management Organisations” (CMOs) in the areas of Performing Rights and Neighbouring rights, others are middle-men who collect from the various sources and then distribute to their members.
So which should you join?
This all depends on what revenue you are entitled to, which depends on what roles you performed and what agreements are in place with the rightsholders, or if you are a rightsholder yourself.
If you write your own songs then you are the rightsholder of the composition copyright sometimes loosely referred to as “the songwriting”. If you contributed to the composition of the music or the lyrics to the songs then you may also be* entitled to some of the songwriting revenue.
*NOTE: There are circumstances where you may feel that you contributed but won’t actually be entitled to a share. Traditionally, the copyright that protected a song just covered the melody (sometimes referred to as the “top line”) and the lyrics. It doesn’t cover drum patterns, basslines or chord progressions (unless they are demonstrably unique), although quite often with modern music it is accepted that all the audible elements could be considered integral to the song.
It’s definitely a good idea to confirm, in writing if possible, if you will be credited as a writer and what your share will be.
If you are credited as a writer/composer then you will need to join a performing rights organisation (PRO). They collect license fees from broadcasters and other businesses that use music in their business, as per the laws of that territory, and distribute the revenue to publishers and/or the songwriters.
This revenue includes; live performances, radio play, in-store playlists, background music, telephone hold music, jukeboxes, gym classes, in-flight entertainment, previews on music retailers such as iTunes and plays streaming sites like Spotify (most of the revenue from streaming goes to the owner of the sound recording, but a small portion is paid to the writers via a PRO).
There is usually at least one such organisation in each country, and most of them have bilateral deals with each other which means that you only need to join one in order to collect all the revenue due to you from all over the world, in fact you are only permitted to join one society at a time, you can resign your membership at one society and join another but there will be notice periods to adhere to, usually around a year. You don’t have to be a resident or citizen of that country in order to join a society there, you can join whichever is the most practical.
Things to consider when choosing which PRO to join
Where is your music played the most?
Aside from your location, this should probably be the primary deciding factor. If you have a strong following in a particular territory it may be a good idea to join a society in that country, this will mean you get the money sooner, by at least one payment period (between 3 and 12 months depending on how frequently that society distributes revenue). If you are just starting out and do not know yet where most of your following will be then it probably is best to start with your local one, unless you have a better option, you can change later if really needed.
How efficient is the society?
The task of gathering and processing all the data required to effectively distribute performing rights revenue is enormous. The revenue from hundreds of thousands of license holders has to be accurately divided between tens of thousands of rightsholders who collectively own the rights to millions of songs. Many of the license holders provide detailed reports on every second of music they play and songwriters also report usage, the reports then need to be matched to the registered works, meanwhile, more reports are coming in and new works are being registered.
Some of these societies are large organisations with specially designed computer systems and hundreds of staff working full time to collect and distribute the revenue, others are quite small with more limited resources. How efficiently they operate will have a major impact on the speed and accuracy of your payments.
The larger more established societies like PRS for Music (in the UK) are also a driving force in the industry and are often instrumental in getting new laws passed and negotiating new licenses to better protect and remunerate writers and more recently they teamed up with GEMA (Germany) and STIM (Sweden) to create ICE Services who just last year agreed on a landmark multi-territory license with Facebook. This should also be a major factor as the better your society is at negotiating licenses, the more money you are likely to receive.
Most of the societies have plenty of information on their websites about their size, their history and current initiatives they are involved in, the functionality of their website can also be an indication of how good their systems may be.
How easy is it to communicate with the PRO?
What timezone are you in, compared to the PRO? What languages can you communicate with them in?
From time to time it may be necessary to contact your PRO by phone, in which case the time-zone is crucial, even if you will be communicating via email you are more likely to get responses in a timely fashion if they are in a similar time zone. It’s also obviously better if they can speak the same language as you, often at the European societies such as GEMA the staff are sometimes multi-lingual so this is less of an issue.
If songs you wrote are available on physical formats then you will also be entitled to “mechanicals”. This is a license fee paid by the owner of the sound recording to the owners of the composition copyright to make physical copies of the song. If you are the only one making physical copies of your tracks then you can grant yourself a waiver to avoid having to effectively pay yourself the money via the collection society.
If other people record and release covers of your songs, or your songs are featured on a compilation album then you will need to join a mechanical copyright society to collect this revenue, quite often they are merged, or at least work in alliance, with a local PRO making joining easier and they usually share song data.
Joining a PRO doesn’t replace the need for a publisher or publishing administrator as not all PROs can collect all of the revenue relating to the composition copyright and they don’t perform other tasks a publisher would such as pitching your songs for “sync” (when a song is used in a tv show, movie, advert or computer game it is said to have been synchronised, for the producers of the new works to own the copyright they need to obtain a sync license and this is usually administered by a publisher), some PROs do offer track clearing and sync licensing services for TV, Movie and Advert producers.
Similarly, having a publisher doesn’t remove the need to join a PRO as most societies account to the writers and publishers separately.
There are a number of publishing administrators and sync agents offering their services online, or you can look for a more traditional publishing deal.
If you collaborate with other artists on your music it may be a good idea to join a PRO as a publisher (as well as a writer), this will enable you to register songs and contributions by other people as well as your own. By signing the publishing rights of other people’s contributions to your songs you will have 100% control overall, making negotiating syncs easier.
Record Label/Recording Rights Holder
If you own your sound recordings (sometimes referred to as “master rights” or simply “masters”) then as well as the direct revenue from selling the music and streaming you are also entitled to revenue derived from the recording rights, this is known as “neighbouring rights” as it only exists in conjunction with the composition rights.
Neighbouring rights societies collect license fees on behalf of the owners of sound recordings (recording rightsholders) and any audible contributors (performers).
This should not be confused with Mechanicals, which is collected from the manufacture of physical copies and paid by the recording rights holder to the composers, neighbouring rights is paid to the recording rights holder from businesses that use recorded music.
In addition to the license issued by PROs, businesses in most countries** are also required to have another license if the music they play is from recordings rather than performed live, this has caused a little bit of friction in some countries where businesses don’t see the difference between the two licenses and feel like they are being charged twice for the same thing. As a result in some countries, the performing rights and neighbouring rights societies have joined to together to issue a joint license to businesses while remaining separate to their members. An example of this is the PPL/PRS joint venture The Music License in the UK.
This revenue includes; radio play, in-store playlists, background music, telephone hold music, jukeboxes, gym classes, in-flight entertainment. Basically, most things that you would get money from a PRO for with the exception of movies, adverts and certain TV programs.
Which one of these to join is slightly more complex, the same considerations for which PRO to join also apply to choosing a neighbouring rights society as well, the main difference is that it is possible to join more than one, in fact, you could even join every single one as long as the mandate at each one didn’t conflict with another. In other words, as long as they aren’t trying to collect the same money in the same place. It’s even possible to have worldwide mandates as a rightsholder member but limit the scope of collections at a song level, I’ll cover this and other more advanced aspects of neighbouring rights in a dedicated article.
**The laws around this are consistent around Europe thanks to the Rome Convention however in the USA and other countries that didn’t sign the Rome Convention the laws have a narrower scope for remuneration.
The advantages of joining multiple societies
You will get paid sooner
Each society has their own payment schedule and will generally pay their members and other societies at the same time, the society receiving the money will then pay their members in the next payment window, usually about 3-6 months later. By being a direct member of a society you don’t have this delay in receiving payments.
You will get paid more
All the societies can collect internationally for you, but they will deduct a commission for doing this, anything between 7% and 20% depending on the country being collected from and the society doing the collecting, by collecting your revenue directly you will no longer have this amount deducted and your payments will instantly increase.
Also, some societies favour their own members when distributing the so-called “grey money” or “black box money”, basically the revenue they don’t have enough data on to allocate, so being a direct member could get you a larger share of this revenue and further increase your payments
You will get paid more often
Each society has different payment schedules, so by joining more than one society, you will be spreading your payments across the year. Instead of a few lump sums, you may end up getting more regular payments which may help cash flow.
Performer (on a sound recording)
If you make an audible contribution to a sound recording then you are considered a performer and are entitled to a share of the neighbouring rights royalties.
In which case you need to join a neighbouring rights society as a performer. In some countries, like the U.K., the recording rightsholders and performers are both looked after by the same organisation, PPL. If you own the recordings and perform on them you will need to join twice, once as a recording rightsholder and again as a performer. In some countries, like France, the rightsholders and performers are taken care of by different societies, in fact, they have two societies for recording rightsholders and another two for performers. The two rightsholder societies perform the same role so its a case of choosing one over the other, there is no need to join both. The performer societies, on the other hand, take care of different types of performers.
There are two main divisions between performers, they can be either “featured” or “non-featured”. Featured artists/performers are the artists whose name appear in, or alongside, the artist name or in the song title on the release. Non-featured artists are the session musicians and other studio personnel that made an audible contribution, programmers and sometimes producers but not engineers or mixers.
Back to the two performer societies in France I mentioned, one looks after featured performers (ADAMI) and the other looks after non-featured (SPEDIDAM). Likewise in the USA, there is SoundExchange for featured performers and AFM & SAG AFTRA for non-featured.
Remixers, producers and programmers are all considered to be non-featured (unless you have an agreement in place with the rightsholders and/or featured artists), so if you release your own music and do production or remixes for other people make sure you join a society that collects for both types of performer or you need to join two societies.
Joining the dots…
…so to summarise
- If you write music/lyrics then you need to join a PRO (performing rights society) as a writer.
- Do you own the master rights to any recordings? Then you need to join a Recording Rights CMO (collective management organisation)/Neighbouring Rights Society as a “recording rightsholder”
- If you make any “audible contribution” to sound recordings then you need to join a Recording Rights CMO (collective management organisation)/Neighbouring Rights Society as a performer.
- When your songs are performed live you will receive payments from a PRO
- When recordings of your songs are played in public or broadcast on TV or radio you will receive payments from both a PRO and a recordings rights CMO
For most musicians and independent artists, registering with the right organisations and managing works is a confusing, complicated and time consuming task.
Not many people relish the task, so Traxploitation offers registration and administration services. We can act as your representative for performing rights, neighbouring rights and publishing.
Contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org for a free consultation.