Becoming a Pro at the PROs featuring ET Brown

Allison Asks

Becoming a Pro at the PROs

A Blog Series By: Allison Barrett




[ALLISON] Everybody welcome back to Allison Asks.  I have ET Brown at SESAC joining us and we're going to become a pro at the PROs.  So, I've got some of your questions here that we're going to talk about.  So, ET, will you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got into the industry?

[ET] Yeah, absolutely.  Thank you for having me.  First of all, just always happy to engage with the NSAI membership.  I used to do a lot of pitch to publisher and feedback and judging the Song Contest.  So, it is just a lot of great things y'all do for songwriters over there.  But yeah, I got into it, first of all I went to Belmont, did the music business program.  I grew up in Birmingham, AL, where the music industry seemed 1,000,000 miles away, but thankfully it was only just a couple hundred miles away.  I ended up in Nashville and I initially wanted to be working in studios, being a production engineer and things like that.  I just love the creative environment.  You know, making records is kind of the coolest thing ever.  So, I spent a lot of time in school studying for that and then second semester, senior year, I ended up sort of recognizing that I had a lot of classmates who were just kind of working at it harder than I was and they had no problem being in the dungeon basement studios for 18 hours a day staring at waveforms on a computer screen.  Whereas I like to go to shows and go to parties and socialize with people a little bit more and so started recognizing that, you know, when the good gigs came up, like all these people should be getting them and not me.


So, all of a sudden I had to figure out, well, shoot, what am I going to do then?  Thankfully I met somebody from SESAC at an internship fair at Belmont and just kind of clicked and they offered me the internship.  At the time it was like, I really only honestly took it because it was a paid internship, and I was like working at Blockbuster at the time and wanted to do like less of that.  So, you know and of course at the time which I'm sure a lot of the listeners here can relate, I was like ‘PROs like what is that?’  That seems like the least sexy side of the industry, but I don't know whatever at this point I'm just looking for a toe in the door anywhere on Music Row and figure it out.


So, I took the internship and was in the Licensing department for a little bit and really from there though, that's when I learned a lot of what PROs do, the function that we play in the general landscape.  And you know, when I heard like, ‘oh wait, there's a creative job at a PRO, what does that do?’  When I eventually kind of talked to some people and I was like, wait, so you're telling me there's a job where your day is just trying to help songwriters however you can? Those are my people. I could probably do something like that, so I ended up sticking around and working part-time in the Admin department for about a year after I graduated, trying to always kind of waiting for a position to open up in creative and you know making relationships in that direction.  Then thankfully towards the end of 2010 a Coordinator position opened up in the Creative department and I went for it and got it and just really been climbing that mountain ever since.  Spent a few years doing a lot of the admin work as a Coordinator for the reps as they were bringing on new writers and helping songwriters with their song registrations and a lot of the nuts and bolts of the mechanisms of what we need to function.  Then it was 2015 when one of our older reps retired and I got moved up into his office from there and became a full-fledged Rep and since then just been carving out my role as primarily the not-country guy for Nashville, so all the all the riff raff of Nashville are my people.  I really run in the rock, pop, TV, film, and Americana scenes are the main ones.  And yeah, it's never a dull moment.


[ALLISON] And I'm so glad we have someone on the team that is the “not country person,” because I feel like everybody says Nashville is country and it's like no, there's so much more. So, I'm glad that that role exists.  What is your day-to-day like over at SEASAC?


[ET] Yeah, so my days are completely driven by people calling and emailing me and looking for help with what feels like everything under the sun.  So, I mean it really ranges from, like I said, the nuts and bolts of what we do of song registration help and account maintenance and statement questions, you know based on the general function of what we perform.  But a lot of the more fun stuff and fulfilling things and what I'm sure is the most mystifying part to a lot of the songwriters out there is that creative element of, you know, just being more of a team member based on really the level of relationship that's able to be established of helping connect dots and offer advice and guidance on how to pursue career goals.  So, I spend a lot of time at coffee shops and bars just sitting down with songwriters and them saying, ‘Oh my gosh, these are the problems I'm running into just pursuing my career.  What do I do?  Where do I go?  Who do I talk to? and a lot of them just being like, ‘hey, have you heard about this?  Do you know these people?’ And me saying let me send some emails around, let me help you put together some links or a pitch sheet and let's get you on the radar of some publishers or some managers or whatever it may be.  And that part is never the same for any two people, you know.  So that's part of what's kept me in it for so long is that you know, no two days are the same.  It's pretty wild.

[ALLISON] That's awesome.  So, people always ask if they do want to get in touch with you, besides patience, what do you recommend to get a meeting with you?

[ET] Yeah, honestly with, you know, our end is a little bit different than the other options out there.  SESAC is set up pretty in contrast with how ASCAP and BMI are in the sense that they are, you know, very large government regulated entities.  Up until recently, they were both nonprofit, but BMI is for profit now and they both operate under something called the consent decree, which is like an antitrust agreement between the Department of Justice and them since they're so large.  Part of that is what mandates that they have to accept anybody who wants to be a member that's not already under contract with another PRO.  So as a songwriter, you can only be with one PRO at a time.  So that's why with the way their system works, anybody can go online, fill out a form, become a number in a system and then try to establish a relationship.  Which I'm sure people listening to this will have understood that can be a frustrating experience because as you mentioned they each have 7 to 800,000 songwriters and only a handful of reps who they're all great but there's only so much time in the day.  So, you know our vibe being a privately owned organization kind of the smaller bulldog in the corner, we are highly selective invite only. 


So, its kind of the opposite way. We have to establish a relationship first before pen hits paper and you're locked in a contract or anything like that.  So honestly most of how I get my meetings set up is through referrals.  So, whether that's with other songwriters that they're working with, I may be working with songwriters who will say, ‘hey, I've got this person I've been in sessions with lately and they're just crushing it.  They're great.  They're looking to explore options would you be down to chat with them.’  And it's always like yes.  Or industry contacts, you know, so whether it be NSAI reps or publishers, wherever it may come from, if somebody I know has an eye and ear for quality and they say, ‘hey, I want you to check this person out.’  Then absolutely.  So, I'd say 99% of the meetings I take with new people come from referrals like that.

[ALLISON]. Awesome, because I was going to ask, how do you get invited. I've always wondered that too.  I used to work at BMI back in the day and I was like, how do you get over there?  How do you get in?  So, I guess referrals of course, but is there any for our up-and-coming writers that you might recommend some ideas?

[ET] Yeah.  I mean, you know, honestly what drives everything in this industry is being able to establish relationships.  And you know, no matter who you're talking to in this podcast, I'm sure no matter what sector of the industry they come from, there will be some form of saying ‘you got to get to know people.’  Right? 


So, whether that's hanging out at Red Door, going to writer rounds, or you know, just kind of knowing where to be in the mix and in the flow is just a general big part of becoming successful in this industry, no matter whether you're a writer or an industry person.  So, you know, just kind of having that sort of wherewithal in that gumption to get out there and put yourself out there and start meeting those people.  You know, not all of the times that you go out are going to be fruitful, but the only thing that's guaranteed is if you don't go out is that nothing will change.  You know, so it's kind of one of those things where it's hard to define.  There's no like step by step process for it, which I think is frustrating for a lot of people who come into it and be like well, you know there's no like do this, this, this, this and have record deal.  There’s just like a million different ways it could happen, you know.  So, it really takes that sort of that drive and tenacity and you know that ability to adapt and change your way you're going about things to really succeed.

So, that's similar to how you get in our door and then you know once the conversation starts, I think you know first for me the first sort of checklist if you will internally is do I connect with the music.  You know it really does come down to as simple as that.  You know, again, I am fortunate enough to be in a position where I get to pick and choose who I work with and it's so much more effective if I truly believe in and I'm stoked about the music I'm sending around to my contacts rather than, OK this this person got landed in my lap and now I've got to figure out a way to help them, but I'm not really into it so you know I'm going to half ass try.  That stuff never works.  So, you know, again my first gut check is am I into this.  Do I believe this person and what they're creating and if that's a yes then we do have some activity criteria that we look at.  So obviously what drives our business on our end is activity on radio, music placed in TV shows that are broadcast on television.  There's you know some streaming stuff, live performance stuff obviously.  So, we kind of look at what are one, is that activity already happening and if so, at what level?  And usually if there is stuff happening and I like the music, then that's an easy like ‘come on in.’  If it's not there yet, if it's still in the developing stage, thankfully I do have the ability a little bit to pull in some developing people.  You know, I always do try to keep my bandwidth balanced though in that sense that I don't want to be that person that doesn't have time to get back to somebody, you know.  So, a lot of it is, well, do I already have somebody who I'm already feeding into these channels?  I don’t want to clog it up and take away from, you know, again got to make it all work.  But the other things I'll look at will be who else are they collaborating with?  What team is forming around them, where are they hanging out?  What scenes are they a part of?

Because again as we talked about before, kind of the general ability to get in the flow and the swirl and the mix of what's working and you can kind of see you know different camps will pop off and you know it's really about finding your tribe of people and kind of moving with them.  So, that's a lot of it will be like OK, well this will help me if I can see who they're kind of in the swirl with, that'll help me determine the likelihood that they will eventually get to a place that will help drive our business.  So, all of that kind of goes in together to really at the end of the day it ends up being a gut check of do I think this is going to be worth my time or not?

[ALLISON] Yes, all of that makes so much sense.  I love it.  So, I told you a lot of our members are just getting into PROS, so these might be a little bit more just general to the industry, but what is the process of registering songs under a PRO?  So, it's kind of a little different for everybody. 


[ET] Yeah and the at the basis of it, it's all the same.  Really to register a song, which is very important.  Please do that because if you don't register your songs with your PRO, then your PRO has no idea what to be on the lookout for that.  That is how we know what we need to be searching for in the performance spaces.  There's no magic lamp that just, you know, if a song plays on the radio that doesn't tell us who wrote it, who you know who published it, where it needs to go.  So, you need to register your song and you need to know the full picture of ownership of that song.  So, and anytime a song royalty is generated, you're it's automatically split into two halves.  You have your writer share and your publisher share.  So typically, if you own your own publishing, which most people who are who are starting out do, you'll have a publishing entity kind of established.  I know BMI will let songwriters who own their own publishing register their publisher share through a writer account, but with both us and ASCAP you just set up a publishing entity in order to house that publisher share.

So it could be, you know, Allison's Tunes or whatever, you know it doesn't matter, but you set that up and then you need to ask when you're writing songs, it's a good habit to be in to when you finish a session, you're co-writing, get everybody else's information.  So, their name, publishing name, and the IPI numbers is what you're going to need, which you can always find that stuff in your PRO account pretty easily.  So, you want to have that information so that you can go in and say, OK, we co-wrote this, I have X percent, my publishing has the same percent, my co-writer has the rest of it and their publishing has that.  And again, it's always a good idea to get in writing at the end of the session what the split agreements are.  There's a lot of times, honestly most of the issues that we run into in the PRO space is all data related.  So, it's people either entering in the incorrect info or entering incomplete info and anytime there is a field that is left blank is just creating a hole that cents can fall into.  If you start thinking about it like that, then it becomes real easy to fill in those fields because nobody wants to be leaving money in the void, which happens all the time.

So yeah, like I said, you want to have your splits determined, you got to talk about that stuff.  I know it's weird for a lot of songwriters, but you just got to talk about it and get their information and then you go into your online account at whatever PRO you're at and you'll enter the song title and the writer info and the publisher info and their percentage of ownership and that's basically it.  There's some extra pieces depending on what you're doing.  If it's about to be released, then there's like a recording info piece where you'll add like the artist info or the ISRC code for the recording.  That just helps us, you know, track what's being played, you know.  If it's in a television ad, there's some jingle info that you need to find that you can usually get from whoever's placing that sort of stuff, the ad agency, but for the most part, that's you just got to put that in and then when it gets played, you get paid.

[ALLISON] I like that line.  I'm going to put that on a T-shirt.  And also I think you know my next question at every point because now my next question was, when do you register this song?  At date of creation, or demo, or after it's released.  So, you kind of touched on that too.  This is great.


[ET] Yeah!  And I mean there's different, I think there's, different advice that can be given about that.  I know some people don't register anything until it's about to be released and they have all of that info.  You know really the main thing is you just want to register it before it's generating income, so you know whatever level that's at.  So, I know with our system we have a reporting system where you can go in and notify of your own live performances or if other artists are playing your song.  So, even if you don't have a recording of the song yet, if somebody's out there playing it at a writer round or something, you can go in and just put in the title and the ownership splits and have that in your catalog so that you can be reporting it when you play it live, and then when you do have the recording that's going to be released out there, you go back in and add that recording information, which is I think the best way to go about it.  The only caveat is a lot of time songwriters will forget to go back in once they registered it and add the extra info, so you're just going to have to like, remember that, which I know it's like hard for a lot of songwriters, but you just got to do it, you know?

So yeah, that's generally how I advise my writers.  It's like, look, whatever avenue that it's about to be actually getting performances in, go in and put that information in before that happens.  You know, a lot of times we can't in certain mediums, streaming and TV and stuff, we can go back and find stuff.  Radio is a little bit harder depending on what information we had before, but it's just a good practice to be in, you know, whatever works best for you, just stick with it and get that information in before it's played.

[ALLISON] I feel like they need to routinely, maybe monthly or quarterly, go in and check those things because like you said, if you forget, maybe, you don't want that to be the song that really hits.

[ET] Yeah absolutely.

[ALLISON] So next up was going to be how do I register my set list?  So, you kind of mentioned you have a platform there.  What does that do?  How does that translate into money?


[ET] Yeah.  So basically our, our live performance notification system is really simple.  If you have the song registered in your catalog and it gets played anywhere, I mean primarily within the US because that's what we actually license. If performances happen in the in the international space, what happens then is, I mean I still tell people to turn that in, and then we have a team of people who reach out to the PROs and those individual territories and say, ‘hey, do you distribute on live performances?’  Because not all PROs around the world do, but if they do we'll reach out and say, ‘hey, we were notified of these that happened in your territory.  If you distribute on these, please send us money to give to that writer’ and that system often takes about a year to finally come through.  So, it's a little different, but shows within the US very simple depending on when you turn in the notification.  So, it's not necessarily based on when the performance happens, it's when you tell us that it happened.  So, people go in, sometimes they do it quarterly, sometimes they do it once a year, but we basically will go back up to one full calendar year from the date of the performance.  You have a year to go in and you basically fill out the venue info.  So, the main value driver for these is the capacity of the venue. So honestly, it's the same with all mediums.  Basically, it correlates to the listening audience size.  So, the more people that are hearing their performance, the more money it's worth.

So, you go in and you enter the venue info capacity stuff.  There’s a couple of little ancillary things about like whether you were the headliner or an opener, and then it'll pull up your catalogue of songs that you have registered, and you just click the ones that were in your set list and it kind of moves them over to the right.  And once you say, ‘OK, yeah, that was my set list,’ you hit submit.  Then the following quarter, you'll see that as live performance income on your statement.  Yeah, it's pretty simple.  You can save if you go out and do a run and you do the same setlist, you can just save that setlist so, you don't have to click all the song titles every time.  You just go put in the new venue info and say this was our October tour setlist, boom.  Then it automatically loads it and submits.  So, you can fly through them pretty quick, and our payment schedule is one quarter behind real time.

So, if anybody's submitting anything now it's February, it's quarter one of 2024, that distribution will go out at the end of June.  So, June 30th would be our Q1 reporting period distribution.  So, anything now until the end of March is that and then which is different again, ASCAP and BMI are one quarter behind that.  So, it's another advantage our songwriters feel like they have is getting paid 3 months faster than their co-writers, which is helpful.

[ALLISON] It adds up, yeah.  And I'm glad you mentioned international versus US shows because that's something I didn't have written down is we have members all over the world.  So, is there anything specifically you would say for our members who use people like SOCAN and the other PROs?

[ET] Yeah, I mean obviously the information flow is pretty good between the ones you would expect, you know a lot of the, the more culturally similar ones, you know you got PRS in the UK, SOCAN and Canada, APRA in Australia.  Those are again pretty steady with their reporting.  You know, and there's some other countries around the world that are still like basically using MS-DOS and like just takes forever to do stuff.  So, I'm not familiar with the details of how to report live performances in those individual scenarios.  I'm pretty sure, again, APRA, PRS and SOCAN have something to that effect, but I've never seen those forms, so I don't know what sort of info they asked for.


[ALLISON] Yeah.  All right!  So, the last question I had planned is what is the exit process like, if you want to switch PROs.  How does that go?

[ET] Yeah, so that process works the same at all of the PROs.  Basically, when you sign up, you sign an affiliation agreement and that agreement is going to be for a specific amount of time, but they all operate on an auto-renewal basis.  So, you don't have to like go in and re up once you've signed up, but if you do want to terminate, there's a window of time that is specified within that agreement and for all PRO agreements it's basically one full quarter before the next effective date which is what we call the end date of that agreement.  So, the effective date is going to always going to be at the end of the quarter.  It's going to be December 31st, March 31st, June 30th, September 30th and then once you know, if you're agreement your next effective date is December 31st of 2024, then you would roll back one full quarter before that, so between three and six months before that date.  So, your window to notify that you want to terminate would open up July 1st, then it would close September 30th.  And if you send in a notification within that window of time and say, ‘hey, I don't want my agreement to renew at the end of this term,’ then you wait till that December 31st in date rolls around and then it’s done and you can sign up elsewhere January 1st, the following year.  So, like I said, that's how it works all the way around.  You just have to find that end date, scoot back three to six months, and that's your window. 


Our agreements, both writer and publisher terms are three-year terms.  BMI, their writer agreements are two years and I believe their publisher agreements are five years.  ASCAP just changed, they were one year on their writer side, but they just changed to two years so that both ASCAP and BMI are two-year writer terms now and I believe their publisher agreements are four-year terms.  So, you got to know, it's staggered a little bit.  Ours are both the same and that three-year mark because you can move as a writer whenever your term comes up, but unless you're terminating your publishing at the same time, the catalogue will be retained.  So, when you move to another PRO and you have catalogue registered and the publisher term is not coterminous, then they'll hold on to that song and those songs will still be paid and licensed by that PRO until you jump through those extra hoops to move the catalogue.

[ALLISON] Wow.  All right!  Well that this has been so awesome.  I know these are a lot of questions that our members have.  Is there anything else you think they need to know about writing or the PROS, anything industry, you've got the knowledge.

[ET] Yeah.  I mean I think you know a lot of it is, it's very interesting times in PRO land right now which is I know it's a weird statement to say because most times people are like there's nothing interesting about PROS, but there's a lot of moving pieces, you know, with BMI being sold and again ASCAP changing their agreement terms.  It's just I've never seen it be.  For me it's exciting to see all- there's a lot of evolution taking place and I think it's indicative of the music industry in general.  This is not an industry where things stand still for very long unless you're waiting on payments and then it can take forever, but it's one of those things that, you know, you really need to be paying attention to how all the moving pieces are playing together and playing off each other and what's affecting what in order to really navigate your career in this industry.  Because there's a lot of misinformation out of there.  There's a lot of outdated information out there.  And yeah, I think it's just one of the things that you really have to just get in the mix, pay attention and meet people.

Whenever I have writers who are new to town or looking to get into certain areas that they haven't tapped into before, it really does come down to the best advice is just like go identify what scene you want to be a part of and just start showing up.  Like you just have to show up and it may take a minute.  It may take longer than a minute, but if you consistently show up and put in the work, it'll eventually happen for you.  Just meet new people.  Meeting new people is the fuel that propels everything forward and if you can just do that, then sky is the limit.

[ALLISON] Awesome!  Well, thank you so much for chatting with me today.  Thank you so much!

[ET] Yeah, absolutely. Happy to. Thanks for having me.