We all know that composers and songwriters are paid royalties when their music is used in various ways right? But how those royalties are collected and distributed is far less understood. As a composer/songwriter, the thought of having to keep track of every time your music is used is enough to make you consider a new career, that’s where Performing Rights Organizations (P.R.O.s) come in.
For most of our music buyers, this will have no effect whatsoever. As a creator or business owner who uses P.R.O music (that’s any musical work registered with a P.R.O.) in your work, you have to understand what it all means for you. Luckily, that’s exactly what we are about to explain!
What is a Performing Rights Organization?
A Performing Rights Organization collects and distributes royalties on behalf of its members when their musical works are used in various ways.
This includes being performed in public, broadcast, streamed, downloaded, reproduced, or used in film and television.
Performing rights organizations exist to protect their members and make sure they receive everything that is due to them.
Protecting members isn’t only about making sure they get paid, it involves actively fighting music piracy in an ever-advancing digital world.
Protecting P.R.O. Members’ Music
As a songwriter or composer, it would be impossible to track every single use of your music if it became widely successful.
For a P.R.O, the first step in protecting its members’ is to make sure they can accurately collect and process data relating to the use of music.
This becomes increasingly more difficult each year due to the rise of digital music platforms.
For example, in just one year, the PRS (UK) processed over 4 trillion uses of music.
In order to correctly match data to their members’ work, performing rights organizations are working together to develop advanced tracking systems.
Data is matched by linking International Standard Recording Codes (ISRCs) and music work International Standard Work Codes (ISWCs).
These codes are what enable a P.R.O. to link the use of a recording to a registered musical work.
As an example of organizations working together, the PRS (UK), ASCAP (US), and SESAC (US) are working together to develop a new blockchain peer-to-peer system.
This system will create a shared music industry database of musical work metadata.
The database will have real-time update and tracking capabilities making for more accurate tracking.
Performing rights organizations collect royalties by providing licensing agreements that allow the use of P.R.O. music for a fee.
There are different types of licenses that allow the use of P.R.O. music in various ways.
The cost of a license varies depending on how you want to use the music and how many people it is expected to reach.
For example, the size of a venue and the number of speakers used will factor in determining the license fee.
Similarly, the type of TV/radio station and its reach will factor in determining the license fee.
Pricing structures also differ from one P.R.O. to another with some offering pay monthly services and some requesting annual payments.
Here are some of the available license types in broad terms.
Online licenses cover a wide range of services like music downloads and streaming, video on demand, podcasts, and ringtone providers.
Broadcast licenses cover TV stations/networks, radio stations, and production companies, etc to use P.R.O. music in their shows/films/broadcasts.
Public Performance License
A public performance license covers venues and businesses to use P.R.O. music whether it’s a live performance or playing music through a speaker system.
A product license covers the reproduction of P.R.O. music in physical forms such as CDs or DVDs.
Each license type has many variations. Here, ASCAP clearly identify licenses for different types of venue or business.
Not all performing rights organizations supply all types of license, some only deal with the performing/playing of music but not physical reproduction.
The license fees collected by a P.R.O. are distributed accordingly to its members’ in relation to where and how often their music was used.
Distribution of royalties also differs from one P.R.O. to another but it’s common that members’ will be paid quarterly on set dates.
With each payment, members typically receive a complete breakdown of where, how, and when their work was used.
While Performing rights organizations are always working to advance technology in collecting data there is one older method that remains.
Cue sheets are what producers of radio/TV/Live shows submit to the P.R.O. to keep track of the music that was used during their production.
A cue sheet is a simple form that lists various details about each piece of music used and can be submitted online or by mail.
You can check out an example cue sheet here or even download a blank template courtesy of ASCAP.
P.R.O. Music and Audio Buzz
As you know, we provide royalty-free music from some truly awesome composers.
P.R.O.s allows composers to generate more income from their work and lets you add great music to your project stress-free for a one-time payment.
Adding P.R.O. music into the mix might seem like a complicated process but it’s actually pretty simple.
The first thing you should know is that whatever music you license through Audio Buzz, we will never require further payments from you.
So, our entire library, P.R.O. music or not, is always royalty-free!
P.R.O. music in our library does need to be used under a P.R.O. license when being played/performed in a public setting but it’s very unlikely that would be your responsibility.
As a creator showcasing your project in public, the venue would need to have a P.R.O. license.
Any venues that play music, live or recorded, will already have a blanket P.R.O. license that allows them to legally play all P.R.O. music.
This means you can showcase your project there with no responsibility regarding a P.R.O. license.
Ultimately, unless you are responsible for the setting the music will be played in, whether that’s a venue, business, online platform, or network, you don’t have to worry about a P.R.O. license.
When you search our collection of amazing royalty-free music you can easily filter your search to include or exclude P.R.O. music.
However, as you can see, choosing P.R.O. music won’t incur any extra cost for you or cause any extra issues.
The great thing it does do is that it makes sure composers will get their fair share of P.R.O. license fees that are already being paid by venues, businesses, etc.
In a situation where you are responsible for the setting the music is being used in (for example, as the business or venue owner), you will need to obtain the correct license.
We will take a closer look at this below.
When Do You Need a P.R.O. License?
As we have shown, almost all of our users will never have to worry about a P.R.O. license but we will look at some examples where you do.
For the sake of keeping things simple, if you happen to own a TV or radio network, we will assume that you are already aware of your responsibility with regard to obtaining a P.R.O. license.
Here are some more realistic examples of when you need a P.R.O.license as a business owner.
Playing Recorded Music (CDs, Streaming Services) in Your Business Through a Speaker system.
- Playing music in your office space
- Playing music in your warehouse
These are places of business that are not generally accessible to the public.
In these situations you would need to have a suitable license in place, you can see here an example of ASCAP’s blanket Music in Business license agreement.
It’s worth noting now that while some online platforms like YouTube have blanket P.R.O. agreements, streaming services such as Spotify don’t. They are what is known as consumer streaming services.
If you wish to use that kind of service to stream music in your place of business you still need to acquire a P.R.O. license.
Playing Recorded or Live Music in Your Retail Business.
Playing music in your clothing store
Playing music in your convenience store
These are places of business that are open to the public for the purpose of selling products.
You can check out an example of ASCAP’s blanket Retail Business license agreement here.
Playing Recorded or Live Music in Your Entertainment Venue.
Playing music in your bar/nightclub
playing music in your restaurant
The simplest way to differentiate these examples from the business examples above is to think about what they are providing.
These settings are offering an experience rather than just a product and that adds the entertainment element.
Music in these settings plays a much larger role in the monetary value of the business, therefore a different type of license is required.
Here you can see here an example of ASCAP’s blanket Restaurants, Bars, and Nightclubs license agreement.
Besides the examples we have listed, there are many more variations of license agreements depending on what kind of business you have and the licenses offered in your country.
You can see here a full list of license agreements offered by ASCAP.
As we touched on earlier, the license fee that you have to pay for as a business not only depends on the type of business but also the size/capacity of the establishment and the number of speakers used in playing the music.
For more information on specific requirements, you should contact the P.R.O. in your region (list below).
Do I Need a P.R.O. License as a Creator/Performer?
In short, no you do not.
When we discussed P.R.O. music in relation to our royalty-free music we explained that you don’t need to worry about a license unless you are responsible for the setting in which the music is being played.
To clarify, here are some examples of when you don’t need a license as a creator/performer.
If your project is being broadcast on radio or television – The network/station will have a blanket P.R.O. license.
If your project is being performed/played in a venue/theater – The venue/theater will have a blanket P.R.O. license.
If you are uploading to YouTube or Soundcloud – These platforms already have a blanket P.R.O. license
However, there are situations where you have to do some research.
For example, if you have personally arranged a performance or screening/listening party for a project taking place in a venue that does not usually have music playing then you should consult the appropriate P.R.O. to find out if you are responsible for obtaining a license agreement.
It’s also sometimes a misconception that DJ’s, performers, artists, etc, come with a license for the music they are playing.
So, if you are playing music (or having a DJ play music for your event) at a venue you feel may not have the correct license agreement you might want to look into that before going ahead with it.
You can check out the FAQ section of BMI’s website for some helpful information on licensing criteria.
How Do I get a P.R.O. License?
In general, performing rights licenses are administered by the appropriate P.R.O. and not directly from the songwriter/composer.
There are some performing rights organizations who will allow their members to directly provide a license to users for certain situations but this isn’t common practice.
One reason for this may be that you want to obtain the rights to use a single piece of music for a one-off event/project and don’t want the expense of a blanket license.
There are many performing rights organizations, covering many different regions worldwide.
Here is a list of performing rights organizations and their respective regions.
A word about non-P.R.O. Music.
While Non-P.R.O. music isn’t affiliated with a Performing Rights Organization, you might still be obligated to pay additional performing rights fees in some countries, depending on the rules of the P.R.O./s in your country, local laws, and how you use the music.
It will ultimately be your responsibility as the music buyer to be aware of these laws and pay any such fees that may apply in your country.