The future of music

BMI vs ASCAP vs SESAC: Which PRO is Right for You?

June 15, 2023
ascap vs bmi

PROs (Performance Royalty Organizations) play an important role in the career of every music artist.

They are responsible for collecting royalties on behalf of songwriters and publishers, so they act as an intermediary between right holders and those who wish to use their work.

In the US, there are three major PROs, and which one you should join depends entirely on you.

To help you make the right choice, let’s take a closer look at each organization –  it’s BMI vs ASCAP vs SESAC. 

What Are Performance Royalties? 

Before telling you more about the main performance royalty collectors in the US, let’s clarify what performance royalties actually are.

There are, in fact, two types of music royalties every musician needs to understand: mechanical royalties and performance royalties.

Mechanical royalties are earned through the reproduction of music in digital and physical formats – so, whenever your copyrighted work is played or streamed, you will generate money. 

And performance royalties refer to payments made to songwriters and publishers whenever their music is played publicly.

Performing right royalties include:

  • Public and live performances
  • Radio airplay
  • Public broadcast
  • Digital streams

Venues, bars, and radio stations have to pay for a license when they play your music – and that license comes with a fee.

Whether venues have a license to play music or not is usually checked by Performance royalty organizations. 

PROs also collect performance royalties from music users and then pay registered songwriters and rights holders. 

So, if you want to get what you’re owed, you need to register with a PRO. 

PROs also help artists manage the rights and licensing of their work, and they make sure everything is used properly. 

Not all musicians are signed on with a PRO though.

But if your music is being performed publicly and you want to ensure you are getting paid fairly, joining a PRO would be a good idea. 

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As you already know, there are three major PROs in the US: BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC.

And choosing a PRO is a personal choice.

So if you’re wondering what is the best PRO, there’s no clear correct answer – you need to opt for a collector that suits you best. 

Regardless of what you choose, a PRO will collect performance royalties from licensees like bars, venues, and radio stations and then make a payment to all the right holders.

These payments usually happen once a month, and some organizations pay their members on a quarterly basis.

In any case, you’ll get what you’re owed, and you’ll be sure that your intellectual property is used appropriately.

Main PROs in The US – Which One Is For You?  

ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC are the largest PROs in the world – they manage millions of songs and deal with tens of thousands of recording artists.

Although they’re similar in how they operate, each PRO pays royalties to their members in a slightly different way. 

So, let’s take a look at each option.

1. BMI

BMI

Broadcast Music, Inc., commonly known as BMI, is a non-profit organization founded in 1939.

BMI is now a leader in music rights management, representing over 20.6 million musical works created by more than 1.3 million songwriters. 

They advocate on behalf of music creators of all genres and support successful musicians as well as emerging artists. 

And they operate internationally, so you can affiliate with BMI no matter where you’re from. 

If you’re a songwriter, you can join BMI for free, and for publishers, there’s a $150 fee for individuals and a $250 fee for companies. 

BMI membership comes with a variety of perks, including:

  • BMI online services
  • The possibility to apply for BMI Music License
  • Songwriting camps and workshops for musicians
  • Discounts on Billboard Latin Conference, Billboard touring conference, and Video Games Live

2. ASCAP

ASCAP

Along with BMI, The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) is the largest PRO in the world.

Founded in 1914, ASCAP is the oldest of the Big Three.

They represent more than 900,000 music creator members in all music genres

And what’s unique about this PRO is that it’s founded and governed by our members.

To join ASCAP, you can submit an online application.

Songwriters can join for free, while publishers have to pay a one-time $50 application processing fee.

As a member of ASCAP, you would have the following benefits:

  • Instrument and studio insurance
  • Discount on ASCAP Web Tools, a set of marketing and sales tools 
  • Discounts on music-related retail products and services
  • Education opportunities 

3. SESAC 

SESAC

Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC) is a bit different than its competitors. 

For starters, SESAC is a much smaller PRO than BMI and ASCAP. 

However, the company has a great reputation, and thanks to its smaller size, it manages to focus on the needs of its members. 

In terms of payments, it operates in a similar way as its competitors. 

But unlike BMI and ASCAP, SESAC is an invite-only for-profit organization. 

So, SESAC doesn’t accept unsolicited submissions.

But if you do get an invitation to become a SESAC member, you’ll get the following benefits:

  • Discounts on products, memberships, and magazines
  • MusicPro insurance discount
  • Free 3-month Musician’s Atlas online account

BMI vs ASCAP vs SESAC – How to Choose? 

BMI and ASCAP are very similar in how they work, although they differ in size and fees. 

And SESAC is a bit different because it’s invite-only. 

However, all of them offer top-notch services and benefits.

So which one you should opt for depends on your goals and priorities.

Joining BMI is free for songwriters, while publishers benefit a lot from ASCAP.

Payout speed usually varies, but BMI has a reputation for being slightly faster.

Also, BMI offers 2-year contracts, while ASCAP generally offers 1-year contracts. 

On the other hand, SESAC’s smaller size allows them to be a bit more flexible and focus on the individual needs of their members.

So, it all comes down to what you believe is the right fit for you. 

How to Join a PRO?

Once you decide which PRO you want to affiliate with, you can visit their official website and submit an online application.

Both BMI and ASCAP have simple application processes.

Plus, anyone can become a member of ASCAP or BMI regardless of nationality.

With BMI, you will be signing a 2-year agreement, while ASCAP offers one-year contracts. 

Person using Laptop

Unlike BMI and ASCAP, SESAC doesn’t accept unsolicited submissions.

Therefore, if you want to become a SESAC member, you’ll have to wait for an invitation.

Can a Band Join a PRO?

When it comes to joining ASCAP or BMI, anyone is eligible to join.

However, if we’re talking about a band, each member must submit a solo application. 

So, bands cannot register with a PRO as a group, but all band members can be represented by the same publisher.

BMI vs ASCAP vs SESAC – Final Thoughts 

We hope this article helped you understand what major PROs do and what might be the best option for you.

BMI and ASCAP are the largest PROs in the US, and both of them are great options for songwriters and publishers who want to join a reliable PRO and collect their royalties.

SESAC, on the other hand, is intentionally smaller and works as an invite-only.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to your goals and preferences. 

The most important thing is to join a PRO that suits you best and ensures you get paid fairly. 

You may also like: Best Music Publishing Companies

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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