ASCAP vs. BMI: Which One Should You Choose?
Episode 021 of The Indie Musician Secrets Podcast
INTRO: There are no secrets to success, just things you haven’t learned yet. And once you learn them, it’s up to you to apply them. I’m Jamaal, aka Boss Eagle, Billboard-charting hip hop artist and music business coach. Join me as we talk digital marketing, social media, technology and more, and share interviews with industry professionals to help you unlock the “secrets” and take control of your music career. Because we ARE the new music business, and this is the Indie Musician Secrets Podcast.
What’s up, what’s up, what’s up? And welcome to The Indie Musician Secrets Podcast. I am your host, Jamaal aka Boss Eagle, Billboard-charting hip hop artist and music business coach at Business Minded Musicians. I want to welcome you to today’s episode where we will be talking about ASCAP versus BMI, and which one you should choose. But before we do that, I want to remind you that you can check out the podcast on all of your favorite platforms. Don’t forget to rate, review, download — all that good stuff — to help us continue to push the podcast forward.
Today, we are going to be talking about joining a PRO, Performance Rights Organization. This is something you need to be doing as an independent artist. We’re going to be utilizing some of the information from a blog post on the website: careersinmusic.com. I love being able to find resources to help us grow as independent artists. So again, thank you to careersinmusic.com. I’ll go ahead and post a link to the full blog post in the description.
View the full blog post here: https://www.careersinmusic.com/ascap-vs-bmi/
We’re going to be talking about two of the main PROs here in the United States: ASCAP and BMI. There is also a third called SESAC, but I’m not going to be sharing about SESAC because it is by invitation only. If you’re looking at registering with a PRO outside of the U.S., then you’ll want to go to those websites and check out their processes for doing that. So we’re gonna dive right in and talk about ASCAP versus BMI.
It’s important to understand what a PRO is and what they do, then we can start to break down some of the nuances between the two and which one may stand out to you.
The first one is ASCAP, and it stands for the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. You can just go to ascap.com There is some information right on the first page. It tells you a little bit about them and what they do. There are links for music creators and music users, you can check their repertory, etc.
Then there is also BMI which stands for Broadcast Music Incorporated. You can scroll through their website and kind of see what their highlights are, what they’re promoting, and find out more information about them at bmi.com. Check out both of those websites as you start to do some of your own research.
Before we get into what are kind of some of the differences between the two and what makes them unique, it’s important to understand, in general, what a PRO does.
A Performance Rights Organization collects public performance royalties on behalf of the songwriter and the publisher. It’s important to understand that this does not include the artist. If you are also an artist like myself, your PRO is not collecting on your behalf. PROs are only collecting public performance royalties on behalf of the person or people who write the song and the person or people who publish the song.
The types of royalties they collect are for song when they are:
- Played live (which means your live performance)
- Streamed in public (coffee shops, hotels, etc.)
- Use in TV, commercial video games, films…
- Radio plays — which probably doesn’t pertain to a lot of independent artists these days, but it’s just good to know that.
It’s important to note that there are royalties that they do not collect.
One of them is mechanical royalties. That is for when your music is sold either digitally or physically. PROs also do not collect for sync licensing fees. Say your song gets licensed for a Honda commercial. The fee itself, not the use of it (the “use” is the public performance of it that’s going to be collected by your PRO), but the fee that they pay you, probably upfront or somewhere hopefully near upfront, is actually going to be paid directly to you. Or, if you’re going to a sync licensing agency, they’re going to pay through the agency, which then will cut the check to you. And lastly, PROs do not collect for digital performance royalties. So that’s for sites like Pandora or Sirius XM satellite radio (non-interactive streaming sites). SoundExchange collects for those digital performance royalties, so you want to make sure that you’re signed up for SoundExchange.
Some of the similarities between ASCAP and BMI are:
- They both have a 50/50 split between the songwriter and the publisher. That means they’re collecting the royalties on behalf of each of those entities. Half of the song is owned by the songwriter or songwriters (50% of it is) and then 50% of it is owned by the publishers.
- They each pay upwards of about 88% of their collections to their members. Because they are doing admin on your behalf, they do need to get paid. This is not something you need to freak out about. This is just kind of how it works.
- They also both pay out for playing your own songs live. They don’t pay artists, but if you are the songwriter and the publisher and you’re performing your own songs, you can actually go into the websites and register your live performances. And because, again, they’re collecting for public performance royalties, those can come back to you. (Which also means they both allow you to register your performances online as well.)
- Lastly, neither one of them have a recurring membership fee, which I think is really great. And we’ll talk about membership fees in a little bit here.
According to the article, it’s best if you have your songs registered all under one roof. And I personally would agree. However, you can have different songs registered with different PROs. If some of your catalog is under ASCAP, and then you decide you want to move over to BMI, you can register new songs over there, and you can move your [old] songs after your contract is over. We’ll talk about terms in a second here. But just know that you can’t have the same song registered under two houses at the same time.
So now let’s kind of take a look at both of these at a glance and what makes them unique from each other.
- Membership: ASCAP was founded in 1914 and has about 715,000 members. BMI was founded about 25 years later in 1939, and has 900,000 members.
- Payment: Songwriter payments for ASCAP take about six and a half months after the quarter in which the song was played. And songwriter payments from BMI take about five and a half months after the quarter in which the song was played. So you’re looking at about the same amount of time in terms of when you’re gonna get paid out from when they’re collecting your royalties.
- Terms: ASCAP and BMI are a little bit different in their terms. According to the article, the contract with ASCAP is a standard one year and it renews automatically (unless you decide to move your your music) and the contract for BMI is two years (standard deal).
- Signup fees: ASCAP is $50 for songwriters, $50 for publishers, or $100 for both. These are one time fees. For BMI, there actually is no application fee for songwriters. However, BMI does have a $150 fee to register for publishers that are owned by an individual. Those are one time fees. So again, you’re not paying anything recurring annually.
Alright, now let’s get to some of the fun stuff because there are tons of perks with having a professional membership. Just keep in mind that these perks are subject to change. I actually found one that wasn’t on this list and it’s because I just discovered this recently!
ASCAP puts on the I Create Music EXPO in LA every year. This is a fantastic music conference and expo. In the COVID years they’ve actually done this virtually, so you still get access as a member which is really, really cool. So that’s something to consider too. If you want to be able to have those opportunities to go and do networking and all that good stuff, you have access to that. There are different award shows; a credit union membership; discounts on health insurance, dental insurance and insurance for your instruments (especially if you’re traveling and gigging); hotels and rental cars. One thing that I found out recently is that ASCAP members get six months of Bandzoogle for free. Bandzoogle is a web hosting platform. You can have six months free to have your website hosted on Bandzoogle, plus you get 15% off for the lifetime of your website on any plan that you choose after your six month trial is over.
On the BMI side, they offer songwriting camps, workshops, showcases, access to award shows and chances to perform on their branded stages at big music festivals. That’s awesome! They have a Songwriters Hall of Fame discount, and discounts on conferences, award shows and music products and services. I’m sure there are a ton of other benefits that you can find once you become a member, or if you call someone on their team.
Keep these things in mind, because these are benefits that you have with being a member of your PRO!
Lastly, I wanted to talk about famous friends, because isn’t that just a fun thing to talk about? These are just some of the artists that are songwriting members of each of these PROs. At ASCAP, you have Ariana Grande, Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson, and of course yours truly (me)! And then at BMI you have Kendrick Lamar, Lady Gaga, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, Sam Smith. Just know that whether you go with ASCAP or BMI, you’re going to be in good company as far as songwriters are concerned. And these are just a few just a handful of artists at each of these organizations.
At the end of the day, should you go with ASCAP or should you go with BMI? The reality is is that it really comes down to personal choice. I would encourage you to do your research, ask questions, call, get a vibe/feel of them and talk to other people who are in your music community and ask which PRO they’re affiliated with. How do they like it? How what’s their experience been like? What are the things that they’ve participated in, or have taken advantage of, being a member of one of these PROs. That’s really how you’re going to know which one works best for you. Just something to think about when you’re deciding which one you want to go with.
And remember, you can switch once your contract terms are over. Just make sure that you [know] when you need to make your notifications by, or how you have to go about doing that. But it is possible.
What I would leave you with is that the most important thing is that you become affiliated. If you’re serious about being a professional musician, you need to be just as serious about being a music professional. A music pro, or music professional, is someone who takes this seriously. They’re going to take the job seriously — what we do, being part of a professional organization, making sure that we have all of those things in place that we need to, being registered with a PRO or SoundExchange, making sure our website looks good, etc. We need to be professional about our music business.
Your action item for today is to choose a PRO to join if you haven’t done so yet. If you’re not a member of ASCAP or BMI, or one of the PROs in your region or your country, start doing your research today. Start figuring out the ins and outs of them and decide on a PRO to go with. And if you are a member of a PRO, whether it’s ASCAP or BMI, then I want you to log in, start going through the system. Learn about what’s available to you (benefits/perks) and also start to register your live performances if you’ve had live performances recently. They’ll allow you to retroactively register some of those live performances depending on how far back [they were]. So go back through and register your live performances and start to take advantage of all of these things that are available to you by being a member of a PRO, okay? So with that, go to your action item. God bless and I’ll see you when I see you. Peace!
OUTRO: Thank you for listening. Don’t forget to follow the Indie Musician Secrets Podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen. And make sure to leave us a rating and review. Also share this episode with other indie musicians who you think it would be beneficial for. And for more helpful resources to help you grow your music business, visit us at: businessmindedmusicians.com. I hope this episode has served you we’ll talk to you on the next episode.
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