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Posted by on Sep 18, 2012 in Diymb Blog, Music Licensing | 72 comments

Understanding The Differences Between ASCAP and BMI? You’ll Need One To Collect Royalties

 

ASCAP vs BMI, which is better? We can all agree this popular question amongst many artists, producers and writers who are new to the business side of music.

Here’s what generally happens:

As a music creator you may have stumbled across an article, video or some type of seminar that spoke about an artist or producer getting their music placed and multimedia, generally film or TV sometimes even video games.

From there you conduct research and find out that that you need to be signed up with a performance rights organizations in order to collect royalty payments. That research will lead you to two major companies, BMI and ASCAP. Both do the exact same thing, but slightly different.

Your next question is:

“Which is best for me BMI or ASCAP?”

So you continue researching only to find yourself confused by the hundreds of articles and debates involving the two corporations, but no definite answer about which PRO is better. Does this sound familiar?

Here’s why:

In order to have a semi accurate answer, you’ll need to track a broad portion of users from both agencies (which isn’t realistic). You need data such as: number of gigs, which venues, times cue sheets were sent, stations that licensed your music, times of air play, length of air play etc.

All those little factors make a huge difference and without them, debates are a waste of time.

Now, the intent of this post is not to start another debate, but to educate, giving you what you need to make your own decision.

Before I go into the Pros and Cons of each PRO, I’ll explain what a performing rights organization is.

 

Lets get started:

 

What Is a Performing Rights Organization?

 

A performing rights organization (PRO for short) is company who’s sole purpose is to collect it’s members royalties. These members consist of, artists, composers, producers, publishers etc.

Once the royalties are collected, the PRO takes their fee and then sends the remaining amount to the member(s) (writer, publisher and so on).

PRO’s collect royalties from establishments such as: retail stores, TV networks, video game companies, film companies, restaurant chains and any other franchise that uses music in their place of business.

The method of tracking this activity is done through the use of cue sheets. Cue sheets are documents that outline: songs used, how long, when, by who and so on.

It’s similar to an invoice, once that cue sheet is filled out it has to be sent to the respective PRO. Pretty high tech tracking method right?

Feel free to ask me any question(s) you may have about PROs and how they operate, I’ve been doing this for years and have tons of experience with them..

 

Ascap vs BmiWhat Is ASCAP Who Are They

 

ASCAP stands for “American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers”. It’s a performing rights organization that contains over 430,000 members throughout the United States. ASCAP was created in 1914 by a group of writers/composers and till this day, is still operated by it’s own members. In fact, it’s the only PRO in the US that is run by it’s members, and broad members are elected from within.

ASCAP’s primary goal is to make sure their members are compensated for the use of their creations.

Some of the biggest names in the music business associated with ASCAP right now are: Usher, Bruno Mars, Ryan Tedder and countless others.

 

How Much Does Ascap Cost?

 

ASCAP has a one time fee of $50.00, to some this is too much and trust me, I understand. You’ve already spent money on your recording time, recording studio gear as well other things and here comes another fee. It seems like everyone wants your money at this point.

In my opinion the $50.00 fee is worth every penny spent because they offer some great benefits. Oh, and it’s a tax write off 🙂

 

Benefits Of Being An ASCAP Member

 

There are a lot of good benefits to being a member of ASCAP such: discounts, medial insurance, gear insurance, and all types of service based things that will help members in their music careers. The most beneficial imo would be the WORKSHOPS. I like to flash my ASCAP card whenever I rent a car, go on vacation, check into a luxury hotel etc.

Some places know about your discount and others don’t, so you’ll have to educate them.

 

ASCAP Workshops & Conventions Great Places To Network

 

What I love about these workshops is the people! You get to network and shake hands with a lot of people in the industry. The panelist have a lot of great knowledge to share and you actually learn something.

I remember the 1st convention I went to, I met a young woman (16yrs) who made a living scoring video games and placing music in TV commercials.

She had over 1,000 placements, knew no music theory and did everything with SONY ACID and her laptop. Most of the room was full of people just like her (older and younger) and I hadn’t heard of any of them!

They weren’t quote on quote superstar musicians/writers, but they pulled in a very nice income.

 

Bmi vs AscapWhat Is BMI & Who Are They?

 

Broadcast Music Inc, also know as BMI, started in 1939 as a competitor and alternative to other performing rights organizations. (BMI) has over 500,000 members within it’s organization and is continuing to grow. Like other PROs, BMI collects royalties for it’s members, takes a small percentage and sends the rest the to the member(s).

Some popular writers associated with this organization are: Toni Braxton, David Bowie, Kid Rock, Janet Jackson and many others – I could name drop for days.

 

Is BMI Free Or Does It Cost Money?

 

You can sign up as a writer with BMI for free, but it cost for publishers. To sign up as a publisher with BMI you’re looking at paying $150.00.

Is the $150.00 worth it? It’s only worth it if you plan on sticking with them. Don’t pick the a company based on price, pick the company based on what it can do for you. And remember, fee’s are tax deductible.

 

BMI Benefits Are They Worth It?

 

BMI offers some pretty nice benefits such as: discounted services, insurance, education, healthcare plans, financial assistance and so on. If you’d like a complete detailed list of benefits head over to BMI and take a ganders.

Amongst the many benefits BMI offers the #1 that stands out to me is the conventions. There conventions are very informative and they are a great place to network.

In my opinion the only thing(s) you should be looking forward to is shaking some hands, meeting new people and getting a different outlook on the business.

You’ll want to have a business card, you want to dress to impress and you want to have an open mind. Remember 70% of the people at these conventions are where you’re trying to be (depending on your level of experience) so attend as many as you possibly can.

The 1st time I went to a BMI convention I was unprepared. I didn’t have any business cards, I didn’t have a website, I didn’t have anything. I wasn’t even dressed comfortably. It was just all wrong for me (on my part), but that didn’t stop me from connecting with people and walking away with a lot of connections.

 

Royalty Payments Who Pays More Ascap Or Bmi?

 

Between the 2 I haven’t noticed much of a difference in pay. I’ve collaborated on songs where we all had either ASCAP or BMI and the pay was exactly the same (for the most part). I do remember being shorted 3 cents (compared to the others) wasn’t that big of a deal though.

Payments are generally sent out every quarter along with your placement sheets. Some people claim BMI pays faster, I’ve gotten checks from both and they arrived around the same time (within a few days of one another). If you choose direct deposit payments are even faster than hard copy payment methods.

 

Is it Easy To Sign Up With ASCAP/BMI?

 

The sign up process for both of these companies takes a few minutes to do on their websites. It will take a couple weeks to month to receive your packets in the mail.

When I signed up for BMI I got membership packet in the mail and If my memory serves me correctly, it took 6 weeks.

When I signed up for ASCAP I got my membership packet in the mail with 1-2 weeks. Once you pay for the membership, you’re a member right then and there given that all the criteria you present is correct and your payment goes through.

The fastest way to make a payment is buy using a credit card. I had session player who mailed in a money order and he didn’t get his membership activated for close to 3 months it was a bit ridiculous.

 

So Which PRO Is Better?

 

That’s a hard decision to make. In all honestly it’s going to come down to personal preference. They both do the same exact same thing, which is, “making sure you’re compensated for your work” (when it’s used).

BMI is cheaper for a writer, but ASCAP is cheaper in the long run (if you look at it as a whole).

Both organizations have workshops and benefits but in my experience ASCAP has more workshops. That was a huge thing for me when I was looking for which one to join. I like learning and I love networking, so the more workshops the more networking I’m able to do.

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72 Comments

  1. Thanks for a peek inside the walls of the biz. This is a look that I otherwise would nwever get. Great info!

    • Kern,

      No problem, I’m glad I could expand your horizons 🙂

    • Hey Joe!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Share it with your members!

  2. THANK YOU!
    I’ve always wanted to join a performing rights organization but never got around to it. Most local artist in my area would suggest BMI, the others ASCAP but, no one could give me a reason why or how they differed. So again thank you and I’ve shared the post with everyone on my facebook page!

  3. Good analysis of both organizations. It is important to join one but you didn’t mention SESAC. SESAC is a great preforming organization but you have to be asked to join.

    • Hi Kathy,

      I’d glad you liked the article. I didn’t mention SESAC because Ascap vs Bmi was the more popular question I kept seeing in my inbox.

      I also try to only write about services and things I use and know personally. Seasac is invitation only, BMI/ASCAP little more feasible for others

  4. Timely info was just researching both.Where does MCPS rank in regards to BMI and ASCAP

  5. Accurate information dude. Thanks.

    • Hey what’s up Kevin!

  6. Hi,
    can artist from another country join ASCAP? Thx

    • Yes and no, it would depend on which country the artist is in.

  7. I have a friend that has a rest./bar and is getting letters from both co.’s. I’m trying to figure out if she has to pay and if so, which one is better to register with. please advise, -GB

    • I would need more information in order to give you an accurate answer. It would depend on what type of music is being used.

      Is it Royalty Free? Is it not Royalty Free?. What type of contract did they sign with the artist/composers, was there a contract signed at all?

      Lot’s of different factors to consider, I would need more information

  8. I really liked your article. I have not been able to find an answer on any of these types of articles about how a “Band” signs up with these organizations. Do all of the band members need to sign up or can you create a membership by Band Name, say Japhy’s Descent and then have a contract with each band member (external to PRO)? Is that a possible approach? We all split payments equally.
    ms

    • Hi Martin, sorry I didn’t get to this earlier, but yes, a band could do it that way. I would personally want my own account as a band member.

  9. Hi Greg,

    Thanks for a great post. I appreciate your insight about these two organizations. I am still weighing my options but, I agree that networking is so important and I would love to have more networking opportunities. Could you explain what kinds of workshops you have found useful at ASCAP?

    Thanks!

    • No problem Kat.

      Glad I could help, I hope you pick the right one in the end.

      – Greg Savage

    • Kat, the workshops I attend are mostly based around music licensing as it’s responsible for most of my income.

  10. thanks Greg for breaking down the basics i was really kinda clueless about PRO’s and which to choose so this is awesome!

    • Thanks Miguel,

      glad I could help

  11. So im looking in to both ASCAP and BMI, but my real question is: As a beatmaker, Do I need to sign up as a writer AND publisher? Right now im just selling instrumentals, no vocals, 100% my work. I’d appreciate the insight!

    • That’s really up to you, and what you have outlined for your business.

  12. Thanks for the insight on the business. I new to the industry and still learning everyday. You couldn’t have explained it better.
    Thanks Bro

    • Hi Michael,

      glad you found this helpful. If you have any other questions let me know (here or email)

  13. As a writer focused on lyrics and unfamiliar with the business could you recommend a way to protect
    my work? And what is the best path to engage musician/collaborators to finish songs? Also what sort of split is customary between lyricists and composers of music?

    • As a writer focused on lyrics and unfamiliar with the business could you recommend a way to protect
      my work? And what is the best path to engage musician/collaborators to finish songs? Also what sort of split is customary between lyricists and composers of music?

      1) Learn the business, it’ll only help you in the long run
      2) Copyright your material
      3) There really isn’t a best path to engage with anyone, you just have to feel them out and see if it’s going to be a good fit or not. That’s the only thing you can do.
      4) It’s all negotiable, I’ve seen all kinds of splits 50/50, 70/30, 10/90. You have to sit and figure out what’s going to work for you and the composer. If it doesn’t feel write don’t do it.. Working with 1 composer I would go for a 50/50 split. You own your lyrics, they own their composition.

  14. Thanks,
    If what is created is authentic
    It will find the needed vehicle
    The task then, is to begin

  15. Nice overview.

    • thanks

  16. Hi Greg,

    I’m doing a research paper for school over BMI versus ASCAP. Do you know of any scholarly articles or sources in particular that could help me gather some professional opinions? I would appreciate any suggestions.

    Thanks,
    Cassidy

    • Hi Cassidy, I’m sorry, but I don’t. I’d say the best people to contact are those who make a living from music (like myself) as we work with these companies and alternatives on a daily, weekly and quarterly basis. There might be some good material on amazon. I’ve never looked for this personally, dove into the industry young and everything has been a trial and error life lesson. Might be a good idea to call and interview them (bmi/ascap) for your project – just a thought

      • Ok. Thanks, Greg. Would you mind sharing briefly in your opinion and experience why someone might choose to register with one or the other?

        • Hi Cassidy,

          I’ve shared this info in my post

  17. My question is why can one just not be a member of both ASCAP & BMI? Is there any legal conflict? Thanks, in advance for the post. The information presented here is really useful but I have not decided which to choose.

    • Hi Mars,
      It’s because it’s against their terms and conditions. There is a away around it though.

  18. Hello, do royalties get paid out on independent films? And if so, who pays them?

    • Hi Glenn,

      if that’s what you negotiate with the company, then yes, if not, then no. Whoever you negotiate your terms with is going to be the person or company responsible for paying royalties. Depending on how you negotiate the terms, the payments can go to you directly or be collected by a PRO.

  19. BMI tracks and pays on in-stadium plays at sports venues, ASCAP does not. I checked into it. I am switching to BMI. Thanks for a very informative post 🙂

    • Are you sure? Last time I checked, they did. I’ll double check, thanks

  20. Hey, Greg…So is it possible to be a member of both performing rights organizations?

    • Hi Marquaze,

      Yes, it’s possible to be a member of both.

      – Greg Savage

      • You could be booted out of both if the issue arose, which would freeze you out of royalties. But they probably would not care as long as you did not double dip on the same song.

        • Hi Dan,

          Booted for what Self publishing? Or negotiating with other publishers?

          • The potential double dipping would be the issue… at least on the BMI end there is all this turgid legalese which seems to boil down to your promise to register your whole catalog with them for the term in question. Broken promises are Bad Things to have to deal with, in general…

          • Dan

            Still confused, the double dip from what exactly?

          • Oh, and I don’t mean co-ownership like me being BMI and my collaborator being ASCAP and each having a half share. I mean like trying to get full royalties for the same song from both BMI and ASCAP… that would be dirty pool, and both agencies would rigorously cross check for that!

          • Hi Dan,

            I see what you mean, and there’s a simple way around that (legally) -> own another entity.

          • Even if you appeared as multiple entities, it would not be possible to hide the fact that someone had asked both BMI and ASCAP to furnish songwriter royalties for plays of “Mary Had A Little Turtle” (as a silly example). So you wouldn’t want to overlap catalogs in such an instance where shares added up to more than 100%. I think you’re talking about multiple roles, as publisher and songwriter? That would be different. There is no need for the songwriter published by ASCAP to be ASCAP himself.

          • Dan,

            Yes, I’m talking about multiple roles (songwriter publisher). No it doesn’t make sense to be on the same side, but it makes sense for the publisher and writer to be on opposite sides if that’s something you wanted to do.

          • Yes, this looks like another example of the diversity of representation that was recommended to me and my songwriting partner. If you publish as BMI but write as ASCAP then you get both agencies’ views into your plays, and if something is seriously out of kilter you can investigate. Anyhow I’m a relative newbie and just sharing my own war stories to this point. Once publishers come into the game and they like your stuff, the referrals are moot. They will not care if I wrote a BMI song and my partner wrote an ASCAP song. They get their piece of the action regardless.

          • I agree Dan. I had an issue where a friend and I collabed on a track and he was with BMI and his checks were bigger than mine (not by much). Didn’t make sense to me, so I joined both.

  21. I’m a writer in an aspiring collaboration with another writer, where he is ASCAP and I am BMI (the diversity of affiliation was suggested by someone who pointed out that if we ever made it big, the play frequency figures for a particular collaboration can be cross checked between the two agencies). Well, my partner sent a sampler to ASCAP several months ago, including two of our collaborations, and got some referrals, and in alerting BMI to this I learned something. ASCAP has a different system for that than BMI. Apparently true to its democratic roots, ASCAP will have a panel look at songs and vote on them before generating referrals. BMI basically lets one screener be the king of the hill. BMI also figures more heavily in the country-western scene. One wag critic pointed out early this year that in 2013, the top 10 country hits were all about pickup truck, country road, alcohol, and sex at night — and proved it with a pastiche video. Maybe the BMI method of recommending up-and-coming hit songs might have something to do with that? I don’t know. Now if you have your own deals with publishers and don’t use the referral system, then that point is moot.

    • Hi Dan,

      interesting information. No, I don’t use their ref system. I negotiate with publishers as well as self publish.

  22. Hi

    My daughter is only 12 and is a singer/songwriter. She just got recording equipment for Christmas and is more than anxious to record and send her music out into the world. What is the best route for me to take for her. Can she be the registered songwriter at her age? Can she also publish? Does she need a separate publisher? I’d love some guidance.

    Thanks!

    ~Joni

    • Hi Joni,

      that sounds exciting. What recording gear did she get?

      What is the best route for me to take for her

      For sharing music, create a soundcloud account or something similar

      Can she be the registered songwriter at her age?

      Yes, she can

      Can she also publish?

      Yes

      Does she need a separate publisher?

      Yes and no. It would depend on which performing rights organization she joins and if she’s doing this for money or for fun.

      Please let me know if you have any other questions.

      – Greg Savage

  23. If I were to register with
    one or the other PRO’s and I have a song that was about to receive radio
    airplay, do they pay the same? If I had a song that was going into a TV
    show or film, do they pay the same? (whether or not it would be a background
    song)?

    • Hi Michael,
      Yes and no, it really depends on more factors than you’re providing in your scenario. The best thing to do is visit each site and check their rates based on air play vs station

  24. What type of licensing does a group of musicians who play for no fee as a fundraiser need.

    • I’m still waiting on response to my first inquiry. Look forward to responses.

  25. I am a diy musician just starting out. I would like to submit songs to certain companies for tv, film, etc. (I’m the only writer/musician and own all the rights to everything.) I understand you need to join a PRO to get certain royalties. I was considering joining ASCAP. I know I can join as a song writer to get the writer’s share. I’m confused on the publishing side. To collect the publisher’s share, do you have to start your own publishing company?

    Some articles I’ve read make it sound like you do, that you have to get a company name approved through ASCAP, and then go to some government agency to get a DBA “Doing Business As”, and then get a separate bank account in that new business name so you can cash royalty checks, and maybe do other things like get a business license.

    When I click join on the ASCAP website for publisher (just messing around without typing in my info), I see options to join as an individual/sole proprietor, or other corporations.

    If you don’t have to start your own publishing company to collect the publisher’s share, do you still have to provide some kind of company name, subject to there approval?

    And If you do have to start your own publishing company, would it be easier just to go thru songtrust?

    (Note, I’d only be interested in my own songs, not publishing anyone else’s. Again primarily making music for licensing opportunities and/or music libraries.)

    Any help is GREATLY Appreciated!

    -Brad

    PS – One company I was considering submitting music to is Broadjam. Any thoughts or experiences with them?

    Again, thank you so much!

    • Also wondering about BMI. It appears if you sign up with BMI as a writer/composer, and list no publisher, the writer gets both shares – “excess writer’s clearance”. If I sign up with them, is this a viable solution to not having to establish a publishing company just to collect my portion of publishing shares? Would I have problems with companies like Music Dealers who take half of the publishing, (hoping that by default I would get the other publishing half by “excess writer’s clearance”, and hoping they understand why I don’t have a publisher listed. Would other libraries and music supervisors understand this? Is this common?

      Again, I really appreciate your help so much!

      -Brad

      • If I don’t need to create publishing company, do I need a business license just to create music for music libraries and music supervisors?

        -Brad

      • BMI operates a little differently in that scenario. They pay the writer both the writer and the publisher share if there isn’t a publisher appointed. Yes, music supervisors and experienced libraries understand this. The only time you’ll run into a problem as if the paperwork is filed incorrectly or you’re dealing with an inexperienced company

        – Greg Savage

    • Hi Brad,

      if you’re going to use ascap, you will need to sign up as a publisher as well. In my experience, it’s best to have the entity a.k.a. your business separate from yourself. Give it its own identification number and open up a bank account with it. I’ve never used companies like SongTrust, so I am not qualified to speak on their services.

      No experience with Broadjam either, sorry.

      – Greg Savage

  26. Great info…. whats confusing is, how were you able to sign up for both? I was told that that wasn’t available.

    • Hi Omar,

      thanks for stopping by, glad you like the information I’m providing on the site. Pay attention to the wording on the contracts, not what people say.

      – Greg Savage

  27. This was a very informative article and some great comments as well. I wish you could educate the reps at CD Baby because when I asked them the difference between ASCAP and BMI, he just said “oh they’re pretty much the same”. Well after reading your article and some of the comments I can see they’re not the same. Thanks

  28. You said in your article “BMI is cheaper for a writer, but ASCAP is cheaper in the long run (if you look at it as a whole).”
    what did you mean by that? If bmi is free and ascap is $50 one time fee, how would ascap be cheaper in the long run?…because of the extra conventions you got to attend maybe?

    • Hi Nate,

      look at what both companies offer and compare and contrast.

      – Greg Savage

  29. In the article, you said, “You can sign up as a writer with BMI for free, but it cost for publishers.” What is the difference between a writer and publisher?

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