by Stephanie L. Carlin
Whether or not it’s been made apparent from buskers on the street or people asking friends to listen to their latest EP, a lot of the Berklee community is made up of writers. In fact, regardless of the major, 75% of students here consider themselves songwriters. While there are many ways to get music out there, there is one sure fire way to make a living off of music and that is going through a performance rights organization (PROs). PROs will connect artists to publishers who will pick up a song and sell it to certain companies, mainly for advertisements and restaurants but some also go through television and film.
There are many PROs that have thousands of companies looking for artists but two PROs stand out as the most well known: the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music, Inc (BMI). Depending upon the music that the artist makes, one may be suited for one more than the other. In honor of BMI day, we’ll compare these two giants’ benefits and membership requirements and see which one is better at getting our Berklee artists the profit they deserve.
SESAC is another PRO, that will not be discussed, mainly because a lot of their information is classified and it is an invitation-only PRO. But, if you’d like to know more, you can check out their website here.
Okay, I will be honest when I say that Berklee has a bit of a bias when it comes to which one is better, especially with the fact that BMI day was this past Monday (you can check out Ayanna’s coverage on the event here). However, bias aside, let’s first look at the facts for joining BMI.
Insofar as cost, BMI is somewhat reasonable. To join BMI as a songwriter or a composer, it is FREE. No annual fees or anything bizarre like that. However, as a publisher, there is a one-time fee of $150. In addition, to get a license on a song, there needs to be 50 payments of $3.33, or $166.50. Getting a license is important because it guarantees that an artist’s song will be played throughout the country and you’ll be paid fairly for its distribution. As for distribution, BMI allows users to catalog their performances throughout the country by certain dates within the past six months. There are due dates for these, however, and not meeting them could cost a penalty fee.
As for artists, there are 650,000 members and many of them are extremely popular artists. There’s Lady Gaga, Eminem, Rihanna, Nikki Minaj, Maroon 5, Mariah Carey, and even Taylor Swift. Say what you will about pop music, but there are still multi-BILLION dollar artists are attached to this PRO. There are locations in New York City, London, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Nashville, and Puerto Rico, but while meet-and-greets of artists and publishers are done every month or so, they are mainly done in New York City and Los Angeles.
Overall, BMI is great for standard pop, country, and even their television and film coverage is not that bad. Payment scheduling is a little tight and there are more songwriters than publishers in the organization.
The big thing with ASCAP is their workshops. While BMI may have some workshops and meet-and-greets every month or so, ASCAP has workshops seemingly almost everyday. Everything from meet-and-greets to conferences to workshops for every genre imaginable. Artists particularly have praised their film scoring and television workshops, allowing them to work with artists in the industry as well as make great recordings for publishers.
The cost to join ASCAP is only $50 so, again, there are no weird fees or additions. Unlike BMI, ASCAP pays writers at the beginning of the year, in addition to April and October. Writers will still have to catalog their payments, but not as often as BMI members. Plus, they’ve planned the schedule for the next two years, so an artist or publisher never has to feel insecure about when they’re getting paid or not.
ASCAP has fewer artists than BMI, but 500,000 is nothing to sneeze at. Artists in ASCAP include Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, Sara Bareilles, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Justin Timberlake, Vampire Weekend, George Gershwin, and Duke Ellington. So, there are some popular artists here and there, but the main concern of ASCAP seems to be composers and publishers rather than just songwriters.
Overall, it seems like ASCAP does a lot for their artists through workshops and scheduled payments, but it also seems to suggest that film and classical composers will be better off than songwriters and sound designers.