What is a PRO?

April 15, 2016

Performance Rights Organizations (PROs) are societies that collect performance royalties for the public performance of music on behalf of their affiliated writers and publishers. The means by which they accomplish this is by offering blanket licenses to venues and services that publicly perform music and dispersing royalties collected from the licenses according to reported usage to each rights owner affiliate.

While most countries may have only one such society for music creators to affiliate with, the US has four: ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and GMR. If you as a rights owner do not affiliate with one of these then it is implied that you are willing to license directly to any venue or service involving the performance of your works directly, an impossibly daunting task for any individual or small company. If you find yourself in this situation, you will likely not receive royalties when your music gets performed if you do not affiliate with one of these PROs.

When considering which PRO to affiliate with, it is important to understand the differences between them and what each will offer should your application for affiliation be accepted. As an example, ASCAP and BMI are both non-profit entities and are further regulated by the government by consent decrees from the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice. While ASCAP and BMI are both older and larger, SESAC and GMR are progressively newer, smaller and established as for-profit companies. Affiliating with ASCAP or BMI makes you a member while affiliating with SESAC or GMR will make you a client. There are benefits to both side of this coin and each organization has specific distinctions that may be better suited to your needs than others.

ASCAP, an acronym for American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers, is the oldest and largest of the four PROs operating in the US. It is under a 1941 consent decree restricting its “competitive power”in the music performance market because it represents the aggregate rights of a large percentage of all the authors and publishers in the country. What this boils down to is limiting ASCAP’s ability to negotiate the value of music with venues and services outside of a DoJ court decision, a process that can take years. However, as part of a large organization, there are certain benefits to affiliates with a coordinated voice in matters such as lawmaking interests and other things like insurance and discounts for professional musicians. Affiliation applications to ASCAP are rarely denied.

BMI, an acronym for Broadcast Music Inc., is second in age and size to ASCAP and is also governed by a similar consent decree. While the consent decrees are similar and originate in the same year, some revisions have occurred at separate times and there are some differences between the two. These differences do not change the main purpose behind the decrees themselves, but understanding the differences could be important to deciding with whom to apply for affiliation. BMI offers similar benefits to members and rarely declines affiliation applications.

SESAC, an acronym for Society of European Stage Authors and Composers, is younger than the previous two and was originally established to help European rights owners handle their performance rights in America. While not exclusively European anymore, SESAC has maintained their distance from the structure of ASCAP and BMI. In recent years, they have taken steps to become the largest MRO (music rights organization) covering more than just performance rights through their acquisition of both the Harry Fox Association (HFA) and Rumblefish. There are similar benefits to affiliating with SESAC, but the selection process for affiliation can be difficult to complete successfully.

GMR, an acronym for Global Music Rights, is the youngest and smallest of the PROs by a very wide margin. While SESAC has taken steps to becoming an MRO, GMR was founded as a Globally focused MRO from the beginning. GMR is in a very volatile position today because of its appropriate focus in digital rights but a lack of large market share of authors and publishers to represent. There are very few benefits similar to the other PROs mentioned here and are much more selective in their clientele than SESAC.

As you can see, there are significant differences between the PROs available for affiliation in the United States. Much has changed and is changing recently but the need for these organizations to represent authors and music publishers remains strong.

If you need help with PRO affiliation or would like to know more please review our Basics to Publishing fact sheet or contact us directly at INDIEadmin.com.

Jonathan Bryce is a musician, songwriter and blog writer, who has been working in the music industry for several years. As a part of CCS, he has excelled at wearing many hats and currently manages all things INDIEadmin. At home he is daddy to three awesome boys and husband to his lovely wife, Marissa.

About Christian Copyright Solutions: CCS’s quest is to help churches and Christian ministries “do music right.”  CCS is an expert on church music copyrights and our primary focus is providing licensing and clear educational resources to churches, as well as representation, administration and advocacy for copyright owners. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. The information contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel.

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