Did you know that every time you play a venue, you are entitled to collect publishing royalties for the public performance of your original music? “Really”, you say? “Yes, really”, I say. The key to it all lies within that mysterious realm of the business we call music publishing.
You see, when you write a song that contains all original material, you own the copyright for it – even if you don’t register it with the Library of Congress (that’s another story). U.S. copyright law dictates that you have a right to profit from your creation for your entire life, plus 70 years (milk it, heirs of the future).
Being the copyright owner gives you certain exclusive rights, like having the right to collect royalties when your song is played for the public to hear. The source of that performance could be someone playing your commercially available recording over the sound system at a bar. It could be some band covering your song during their live show. The source could even be your band performing your song at a live music venue.
In fact, there are TWO streams of money for you to collect – commonly called the “writer’s share” and the “publisher’s share”. Collecting the writer’s share is fairly simple, but collecting the publisher’s share involves some business savvy and a bit of initial investment. Only a publisher can collect the publisher’s share (duh), so if you want it you’ll either need to sign with a publisher who knows the ropes, or create your own music publishing company (which is usually just a piece of paper, not a building).
Creating an independent music publishing company can be tricky, and it will cost you at least a few hundred dollars, so I won’t be addressing the publisher’s share in this article. However, if you are serious about your music career, I do recommend that you create a publishing entity for your own music as soon as possible.
Now, in case you took the short bus to work today, the question you should be asking yourself is this: “How do I collect my royalties after every gig?” Well, the answer is probably more complicated than you wish it was, but it’s not so complicated that you can’t nail it – even if you’re playing 25 shows a month.
Performing rights organizations (PRO’s) like ASCAP, BMI or SESAC all have the business mechanics in place to help you collect, and you’ll need it. You see, they collect money from live music venues in the form of what’s called a “blanket license”. The larger the business, the larger the fee. That money forms the pond you get to fish in.
If you, as a songwriter, aren’t affiliated with a PRO, that means your songs aren’t likely registered with a PRO – and that means you can’t collect on them. So, here are the steps you must take to FIX THIS!
- Copyright all your songs. Go to http://www.copyright.gov and do it yourself (very carefully), or hire someone else to do it for you. This step is optional, but in my opinion you have no good reason not to.
- Join a PRO and register your original songs with them. ASCAP and BMI are the two big shots, and they provide similar benefits for their members, although BMI is currently free to join as a songwriter.
- After every gig, login to your PRO account and file your setlist and venue information. All the PRO’s have easy-to-use systems for this, so make it an after-show ritual.
Bob’s your uncle, and there it is. Easy, right?
Don’t expect the money to come right away. Your PRO’s website should have information about their pay periods – read that information carefully so you know what to expect. It can be 9 to 12 months after a particular performance before you receive the royalties, so just be patient. Relish your new foundations, knowing that now you are in more control of your music career than ever before!
If you have personal experience with collecting performance royalties, either on your own or with a band, please share your stories and knowledge here so everyone can benefit.