Music Publishing 101: How to Get Started With A Performance Rights Organization (PRO)

Now that you know what a Performance Rights Organization (PRO) is and that they’re an integral part of the music industry and in getting public performances licensed, tracked and then royalties paid to songwriters, SESAC Creative Services Manager, Diana Akin Scarfo shares her top tips for how to get started with a PRO.

1. Do your homework/research.

  • Doing this is important because this is your intellectual property and essentially your business.  If you do this, it will allow you to ask the right questions when needed and if you want to build a solid team of people around you or you already have a team developing, then you can understand what they should be doing for you. Then you can hold them accountable for what they should be doing for you. This will also free you up to do the important part of creating music which will help the business and administrative side (this includes your team if you have one) continue to flow well and work for you instead of against you and nothing will fall between the cracks. A solid and organized foundation is key!
  • Research each PRO to see which one would fit you best. They are all tasked to do the same thing essentially, but there are differences and benefits depending on which one you sign up with. They are all looking to be the best at what they do and stay ahead of the curve when it comes to paying their songwriter and music publisher member affiliates.
  • Some of the ways that SESAC Performing Rights differentiates itself from our competitors are:
    • We Pay Faster: SESAC pays our affiliates a quarter faster than the other U.S. PROs and in some cases we pay monthly for terrestrial radio performance royalties.
    • Better Payments: SESAC has historically paid better than the other U.S. PROs. SESAC affiliates continue to generate higher radio royalties across major formats.
    • Live Performance Payments: We were the first to implement a live performance royalty payment program and we give our members up to one year from the performance date to submit live performance notifications to us. We also boast the most comprehensive live distribution methodology.
    • Cutting-Edge Technology & Forward Thinking: We continue to distinguish ourselves as the most progressive and innovative PRO which is now a part of and under the umbrella of SESAC Holdings which is the only U.S. based Music Rights Organization (MRO for short) that administers public performance, mechanical, synchronization, and other rights.  This offers efficiency in licensing for music users as well as enhanced value for music creators and publishers.
    • Better Personal Service: We are more exclusive which helps us have a smaller affiliate/member base and more personalized relationships with our affiliates/members.
      • Make sure you understand what the role of a PRO is and that they are NOT a publisher, attorney, record label, manager, booking agent, etc. and will not act as any of these things on your behalf. There are ways they can help with making sure your songs are registered properly, answering questions about your performance royalties, possibly introducing you to other songwriters or people in music industry and other events that pertain to helping their songwriters flourish, but you should not expect your PRO to act in any other capacity but the one they are made for and tasked with…to track and license your songs/compositions to pay you performance royalties.
      • Learn and understand the different kinds of rights that are attached to a song/composition so you can exploit them properly to maximize your royalty income (see the question in part 1 of this Q&A blog post about the difference between registering with a PRO and a music publisher).
      • I recommend reading Donald Passman’s most recent (9th edition) book “All You Need to Know About the Music Business”.

2. Remember that the business/administration side is important too.

  • Obviously the creative side of making music is very important and there would not be a music industry without it, but the business/administrative side is crucial as well.
  • If your catalog is not maintained and songs registered properly and timely, then you will not maximize the royalties you should be receiving on the performance right side.
  • If you understand and build a solid foundation on this side of your business (your songs/compositions = copyrights), then everything will grow more easily from here. And when/if you are ready to hand these parts to other people (manager, attorney, business manager, music publisher, publicist, agent, etc.)  it will be seamless and easy to keep things moving in the right direction.  You will also know the right questions to ask when needed.
  • Not knowing these things can hurt you and often times you cannot go back to find royalties from the past or it is very difficult. Due diligence now will help keep mishaps, regrettable decisions, bad partnerships, and agreements to a minimum.

3. Ask questions and network!

    • Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand something or if you know people who are members of different PROs.  This can all be complicated and confusing so don’t feel like you should automatically know all of the things discussed in this Q&A.
    • I recommend going to panels/events about the music industry and music conferences. Many organizations are now offering their panels, events, and workshops in an online or streaming capacity so even if you are not in one of the hotbeds or major markets for music, you can still have access to this important info.
    • Here is a list of organizations and conferences you can research and check out:

 

Miss Part 1? Read it here.

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Diana Akin Scarfo is a member of the SESAC NY Creative Services team (formerly called Writer/Publisher Relations) and has been with the company for over 10 years. As a Manager, Akin Scarfo works with many talented songwriters and artists in varying levels of their careers as well as music publishers of varying sizes. Much of this work includes guiding and educating these songwriters through the ins and outs of maintaining their song catalogs and how this translates into performance royalties via their PRO. She also acts as one of the main SESAC contacts for the partnership between SESAC and CONNECT Songs.

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