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Professional Rights Organizations (PRO) Affiliation
By Cyrus Rhodes - 08/26/2010 - 11:47 AM EDT

So we’re not talking about PRO as in “music professional”. The PRO we’re going to look at in this installment is an acronym for Performance Rights Organization.  A PRO is one of several organizations that are highly beneficial to producers, songwriters and musicians and if you’re a studio owner or operator, you should definitely have some background on them and what they can do for you.

Simply put, a Performance Rights Organization is an entity that operates on behalf of songwriters, authors and composers to collect information and ultimately royalties for their registered works.  There was a time when PROs were more difficult to join due to certain requirements and monthly or yearly dues were the norm.  Those times have passed however and if you are a songwriter (music and/or lyrics), composer or author and you are not a member of a PRO, you should be.  Likewise, if you take a percentage ownership of the songs you produce as part (or all) of your compensation then you would be well-served to look into joining a PRO.

The benefits of joining a PRO are many but the primary reason you should look into one is because their function is to collect performance royalties on your works!  For instance, if you were a co-writer on a song and that song was recorded by an artist and ended up being licensed for a television show, you would receive royalties through the PRO you are affiliated with.  No PRO affiliation = no performance royalties.  Get it?  In fact, it’s very likely that the song in my example would even have been licensed in the first place unless the writers were affiliated with a PRO.  There are other benefits to joining a PRO as well – sponsored showcases, networking options, health and insurance benefits via partnerships obtained through the PRO and many seminars and events that only members can attend. 

Who are the PROs?  In the U.S. there are three main PROs (and you’ve probably seen one or more if you’ve ever read the liner notes on a CD):  ASCAP (American Society of Songwriters, Composers, Authors and Publishers; BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated) and SESAC (Society of European Stage Authors and Publishers).  All three operate in a similar manner by using a variety of polling and information-gathering methods and formulas to determine how often and where registered songs are being used and then directing the calculated royalty payments to the registered authors of those songs.  Note that this is different from song ownership.  The ownership of a song ultimately comes down to the copyright – whomever created the original work (be it one person or many).  Oftentimes the owner and author are the same person(s) but it’s still an important distinction.  By registering a work with a PRO, the writer’s share percentage (the amount of the song each writer was determined to have contributed) is input along with the song details.  When a royalty check is cut it is then divided according to the percentage specified for each writer.  The three main PROs use different percentage calculations but the net effect is essentially the same.  Another aspect of how the PROs work is by using a numbering system for each writer.  The numbers are simply to identify the writer within each PROs system.  ASCAP and BMI use the term “CAE” or “IPI” number while SESAC simply calls it the “affiliate number”.  The key is that the numbers are all cross-referenced between the PROs so that registering a song when 3 writers each belong to a different PRO is no problem at all. 

This is just the beginnings of the information that’s available regarding PROs and the benefits of affiliating with one (note that you should only affiliate with one PRO at a time). 



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