Royalties are the life blood of the music business, and a huge reason so many artists aspire to make it big. The right song, registered correctly, can pay your bills for the rest of your life if you’re lucky. The problem is that music royalties are complicated, and many artists don’t know where to register to collect all the royalties they may be owed. Here are the 5 places you need to register to ensure you’re being paid properly:
1. The U.S. Copyright Office: Technically, a copyright is created as soon as you release your work in a tangible form. However, if you don’t register your music with the U.S. Copyright Office, you’ll have a very hard time proving that someone may have infringed on your rights. Before you release your music, be sure to file your copyrights legally to avoid any drama that may arise later.
2. Performing Rights Organizations: Performing Rights Organizations (P.R.O.’s) collect performance royalties on your behalf whenever your music is played in public. This can be as background music on a TV show, music you hear when shopping in the mall, or even on the radio. To get those royalties, you’ll have to be affiliated with one of the PRO’s. In the United States, your options are ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. ASCAP and BMI are open to the public, but you’ll need a private invitation to join SESAC. [Note: You can only be affiliated with one PRO at a time.]
3. Songtrust (for Publishing Administration): While your P.R.O. will be responsible for a large majority of the royalties you’re paid, they don’t cover everything. Another large piece of the pie are your Mechanical Royalties. This is the royalty paid to a songwriter whenever a copy of their song is made (read: Sold). You also get a mechanical royalty each time your song is streamed on one of the interactive streaming providers (Spotify, Apple Music, Etc). Your publishing administrator collects this royalty on your behalf. If you write your own music and haven’t signed a publishing deal, this registration is a must. Both CD Baby and Tunecore offer these publishing administration services as add-ons to their distribution, but we recommend signing up directly with Songtrust.
Another bonus of these Publishing Admin services is that they collect on Neighboring Rights. This is a fancy way of saying they collect your international performance royalties. This is important, because normal PRO’s can only collect royalties from the countries they’re based in. Songtrust has agreements with hundreds of Foreign PRO’s and have a network that covers 90-95% of the globe!
4. SoundExchange: SoundExchange collects royalties for the owner of the master recording (this is you if you’re an independent musician) as well as the artist who sings on the track whenever a song is played on Satellite Radio or a non-interactive streaming platform (ie Pandora). If your music is available on streaming services, chances are, you have unclaimed royalties from SoundExchange. Check out their database to see if your name’s on the list, then sign up to claim those royalties and make sure you don’t miss any others.
5. Audiam: Have you ever searched for yourself on YouTube only to find that someone is making money from an unauthorized upload of your song? Audiam uses YouTube’s Content ID system to track down each usage of your music on the platform, and gives you a percentage of the ad revenue, even if the video isn’t on your YouTube channel!
As an independent musician, it is important for you to stay on top of all your possible revenue streams to find success. Properly registering for your music royalties is the best way to ensure that you continue to be paid in the future for all the hard work you’re putting in today. Have you had experiences of your own with royalty collection? If so, leave your thought in the comments below! I’d love to hear your stories.
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