By NSAI Membership Representative, Kayleigh Shoemaker
“When should I join a PRO?” As an NSAI membership representative, I meet with members all the time and this is one of the most frequently asked questions. The answer is it depends on you and your goals. First, of all what is a PRO? PRO stands for Performing Rights Organization. The three main PROs in the United States are ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers), BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) and SESAC (Society of European Stage Authors and Composers). Simply put, they collect and distribute performance royalties on behalf of their members. The specifics on how each of them do this differs, which is why it is important to research all three to decide which to join when the time comes. It’s worth mentioning that you can only be affiliated with one PRO at a time.
Many people say to join when your songs are being performed publicly because the main function of a PRO is to make sure you get paid the performance royalties your songs earn. This can be a good rule of thumb, however there may be other considerations. PROs can do more than solely collect royalties on your behalf. For example, your membership with a PRO may come with other benefits, such as free website services from a third party, discounts on music gear, travel discounts, and more. All three PROs offer discounts on various products and services, so it’s worth checking out their websites! These types of benefits might be helpful to your situation, whether your songs are being publicly performed yet or not.
Additionally, you might think about joining a PRO to build relationships and hopefully connect with people there that will become champions of your music. Forging genuine relationships with these folks and others within the music industry are essential to getting a foot in the door. Each PRO has different methods of meeting with their membership representatives. For example, ASCAP’s Nashville office accepts a small group of people, both members and non-members, on Wednesday mornings for what they call “Straight Talk” where you can learn more about ASCAP and what they do. This is something you must arrange to attend in advance, so it’s best to call them to schedule. BMI’s Nashville office has walk-in hours on specific days as well, but it’s best to call them directly and find out when it’s best to visit if you plan on doing so. You must be invited to join SESAC, so to meet with a representative there, you must be referred to their creative staff. You can still visit SESAC’s website and call them for more information on how they operate. Again, it’s important to research all three and decide which would be a good fit for you.
Each PRO also has different contract lengths and conditions. The application/processing fees for each one differ as well. Make sure you’re aware of all these items before signing up. This information can be found on the PROs’ websites. Remember, no matter which PRO you join, you will be signing a contract, so be cognizant of what you’re getting into. If you decide you want to switch PROs, there is a specific window of time in which you have the opportunity to terminate your contract, otherwise, your contract will automatically renew for the next term.
Much like NSAI, the PROs also provide educational materials like videos, blogs, and frequently asked questions on their websites. Most of this information is available to anyone. This is a great resource to understand topics like how royalties work, copyright issues, tips for songwriters and artists, and more. In summary, it is certainly worth considering joining a PRO if you are serious about earning a living as a songwriter. Check out all the PROs at their websites below to decide which PRO is suitable for you and to determine when it makes sense to join.