Full disclosure: to go into this topic in detail could take a minute, and would also have to be adapted depending on where in the world you are based or releasing your music…
Thankfully, PROs (Performance Rights Organisations) worldwide operate on the same fundamental principle. But what is this principle and what does it mean? And why is it important for you to register with one of these organisations?
Performance Rights Organisations have been set up to represent artists, advocate for the rights of artists and songwriters, and also collect royalties on behalf of individual artists or artistic entities.
PROs came into being after artists and their allies recoognised that there’s value in music beyond it just being sold to one listener.
Let’s bring all of this information into perspective. Say I sold my album to a radio DJ, who, in turn, plays a couple of singles on his radio show. In this case, my songs would be heard by the people who tune in.
Again, without PROs, the only income I would have generated from my music would be the initial sale to the radio DJ. This would be particularly unfair, especially considering the fact radios use the music that they play to attract advertisers.
So the PROs – PRS, PPL, ASCAP etc. – negotiate systems whereby any business or premises that use music pay a licence fee, which is distributed – to a greater or lesser degree of accuracy – to the people who made the music, who wrote the music, or who played on the recording of the music.
In the case of the radio example that we’re using, legit radio stations pay a blanket licence that covers the works registered to a specific PRO. When a radio station plays a particular song, this is earmarked using a specific piece of software. The broadcaster then has to pay a fee every time that particular track is broadcasted to an audience.
PROs vs Publishers: What’s the difference?
First off, it’s important to establish that PROs are not publishers. However, they work with publishers on behalf of artists – since publishers usually have the right to sell the licences of the artists on their roster.
The publisher registers the works with a PRO – and the PRO works as the publisher’s money collection agency and makes sure that the publisher is paid every time a song is broadcasted/played in public. After this whole process, the publisher distributes some of the money to the artist – after taking a cut, of course. In most cases, it’s 50-50 split – but this largely depends on the intricacies of the publishing contract.
If you’re an independent artist or songwriter who wants to maximise their songs’ monetary potential, it may be a good idea to register with a PRO. However, there are several “hurdles” that need to be overcome: first, the membership cost. The PRO PRS gives an overview of how many times your song needs to get played to recoup the initial fee, i.e. one play on a BBC 1 primetime show, five plays on BBC Radio 1 and 150 plays on an independent local radio station. Furthermore, you might want to consider the fact that the PRO is legally acting on your behalf. This might lead to some legal challenges if you’re suing someone for copyright infringement etc. Read the T&Cs before registering, and make sure that you’re at a stage in your career where the pros of joining a Performance Rights Organisations outweigh the cons.