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What Is the Difference Between ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC?

In the vast world of music, where creativity and commerce intersect, understanding the role of Performance Rights Organizations (PROs) becomes paramount. Keep in mind that there are three key players you need to know: BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC. Think of them as the guardians of musicians' rights and earnings. BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.), ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers), and SESAC (Society of European Stage Authors and Composers) are like the referees in the game of music.

Today, we will try to make you briefly understand the ins and outs of these organizations and how they shape the music business.

What Are Performing Rights Organizations (PROs)?

A performing rights organisation (PRO) assists musicians in managing their work's rights and licensing so that they can earn a continuous income from radio stations, television ads, film or stage performances that use it. These are known as performance royalties.

PROs earn and give away performance royalties to both songwriters and publishers. Any songwriter or publisher can sign up with a PRO and begin collecting royalties (less the PRO fee).

BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.)

BMI stands as a cornerstone in the music industry. Established in 1939, it has a rich history of advocating for songwriters, composers, and music publishers. Offering a range of services, BMI has become synonymous with supporting the livelihoods of artists. Whether it's performance rights licensing or royalty distribution, BMI plays a crucial role.


Pros of Joining BMI

Robust Performance Rights Licensing

The PRO excels in performance rights licensing, employing a blanket licensing system that ensures comprehensive coverage. This technical prowess simplifies the process of royalty collection and distribution for artists.

Data-Driven Royalty Distribution

BMI's data-driven approach optimizes royalty distribution, leveraging market share data to ensure precise compensation for songwriters and composers.

Supportive Services

Beyond royalties, BMI offers a suite of supportive services, contribute to the livelihoods of musicians. This includes advocacy, industry insights, and invaluable resources.

Cons of Joining BMI

Standardised Licensing System

While effective, BMI's reliance on a blanket licensing system may be perceived as less tailored compared to the personalized approaches of other PROs.

Membership Accessibility

While generally inclusive, BMI operates on a non-exclusive membership policy, which might be a drawback for those seeking a more exclusive or selective affiliation.

ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers)

The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, or ASCAP, boasts a legacy dating back to 1914. As a collective of music creators, ASCAP has been instrumental in protecting the rights of artists. Beyond the traditional functions of a PRO, ASCAP focuses on championing artistic freedom and ensuring fair compensation for creators.


Pros of Joining ASCAP

Artistic Freedom Advocacy

Beyond its PRO functions, ASCAP actively advocates for artistic freedom, ensuring that creators have the autonomy to express themselves. This commitment resonates well with artists seeking a platform that values creative independence.

Fair Compensation Assurance

ASCAP's focus on securing fair compensation for artists is a significant advantage. Its efforts in negotiating licensing agreements contribute to ensuring that creators are justly rewarded for their work.

Inclusive Membership Policy

ASCAP operates on an inclusive membership policy, welcoming songwriters and composers from various genres. This openness fosters a diverse community of creators, encouraging collaboration and cross-genre interactions.

Cons of Joining ASCAP

Less Selective Membership Approach

ASCAP's inclusive membership policy, while beneficial for many, may be considered less exclusive compared to the invitation-only approach of SESAC.

Standardized Licensing System

ASCAP employs a blanket licensing system, which, while effective, may be perceived as less personalized compared to the approach of SESAC, which considers individual performances.

SESAC (Society of European Stage Authors and Composers)

SESAC, though less known than BMI and ASCAP, has carved a niche for itself. Unlike its counterparts, SESAC operates as a for-profit organisation, offering personalised attention to its affiliates. With a business model distinct from traditional PROs, SESAC provides a platform for artists seeking a more tailored approach to their careers.


Pros of Joining SESAC

Distinctive Business Model

SESAC operates as a for-profit organization with a distinctive business model, providing a more personalized approach to its affiliates. This unique structure can be advantageous for artists seeking tailored services.

Personalized Attention

Unlike its counterparts, SESAC offers personalized attention to its members. This individualized support can be beneficial for artists looking for a more hands-on and customized approach to their career development.

Selective Membership

SESAC operates on an invitation-only basis, creating an exclusive community of members. This selective approach can enhance the prestige of affiliation and contribute to a more curated network of artists.

Flexible Licensing Agreements

SESAC's for-profit nature often allows for more flexible licensing agreements, potentially offering artists greater control over how their music is used and compensated.

Cons of Joining SESAC

Exclusivity Challenges

SESAC's invitation-only approach may pose challenges for artists who do not receive an invitation, limiting accessibility compared to the open membership policies of BMI and ASCAP.

Smaller Catalog and Market Share

SESAC, being smaller than BMI and ASCAP, may have a comparatively smaller catalog and market share. This could affect exposure opportunities, especially for artists aiming for widespread recognition.

How are BMI, ASCAP and SESAC Different

Choosing the right PRO involves considering various factors. From membership requirements to royalty distribution methods and genre representation, each PRO differs. Understanding these distinctions is crucial for artists seeking to align themselves with a PRO that best suits their needs and aspirations.

Membership Accessibility: BMI and ASCAP Open to All vs. SESAC's Selective Approach

BMI and ASCAP have an inclusive membership policy, welcoming all songwriters and composers. On the contrary, SESAC operates on an invitation-only basis, adopting a more selective approach. The choice between open accessibility and exclusivity depends on an individual's preferences and career goals.

Royalty Distribution Models: Varied Approaches to Payment

While all three PROs serve the purpose of collecting and distributing royalties, they employ different models. BMI and ASCAP use a blanket licensing system, collecting fees from users and distributing royalties based on market share. SESAC, however, operates on a more personalized approach, considering factors such as individual performances and airplay frequency.

Administrative Fees: Balancing Costs and Services

While joining BMI and ASCAP is typically free, SESAC may require an invitation and has a more selective process. However, all three PROs deduct a percentage of collected royalties as administrative fees. Professionals must weigh the benefits of each organization against these fees, considering factors such as services provided and individual career objectives.

Why Should I Join BMI, ASCAP and SESAC

Easier Royalty Collections

Joining BMI, ASCAP, or SESAC brings a welcomed relief to music professionals by offering streamlined processes for royalty collection. Rather than navigating the intricate details independently, these organizations serve as efficient intermediaries, allowing artists to concentrate on their craft without the burden of administrative tasks.

Global Reach for International Royalties

The global reach of BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC opens doors to international royalties, expanding revenue horizons beyond local borders. This advantage is especially valuable in an era where music transcends geographical constraints, offering professionals opportunities for exposure and financial returns on a global scale.

Maximizing Opportunities

Affiliating with BMI, ASCAP, or SESAC is not just a practical step; it's a strategic investment in career growth. These organizations negotiate licensing agreements, maximizing opportunities for exposure and financial returns. Joining any of these PROs is an empowering move, offering professionals a supportive network and reinforcing the indispensable role these organizations play in their success.

Are There Any Reasons Not to Join BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC

While joining performing rights organizations (PROs) like BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC offers numerous benefits, there are a few considerations that some music industry professionals may perceive as disadvantages.

Administrative Fees

PROs typically deduct administrative fees from collected royalties. While these fees support the services provided, they do reduce the overall payout to the artist.

Exclusivity and Invitation Requirements

SESAC operates on an invitation-only basis, which may limit accessibility compared to BMI and ASCAP. Some may find this exclusivity challenging if they do not receive an invitation.

Learning Curve

Understanding the complex world of royalty collection and distribution can be daunting for newcomers. There is a learning curve associated with navigating the processes and regulations of PROs.

Potential for Overlapping Memberships

Joining multiple PROs may lead to complications in royalty distribution coordination. It requires careful management to avoid conflicts or confusion regarding which organization should handle specific rights.

Despite these considerations, the advantages of PRO membership often outweigh the perceived disadvantages, providing essential protection and compensation for artists in the music industry.


In conclusion, BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC play pivotal roles in the careers of musicians. As artists navigate the complex landscape of the music industry, aligning with the right PRO can make all the difference.

This article has aimed to shed light on the distinctions between BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC, providing artists with the knowledge needed to make informed decisions about their musical journey.

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Frequently Asked Questions About BMI, ASCAP and SESAC

Q: Can I join multiple PROs simultaneously?

A: Yes, it's possible as each PRO operates independently, and joining multiple organizations can provide additional opportunities to maximize royalty collection. However, it's essential to keep in mind that while this approach allows for broader coverage, it may also require careful management of administrative tasks and potential coordination between the different PROs

Q: How often do BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC distribute royalties?

A: The frequency of royalty distributions by BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC varies, but all three organizations typically operate on a quarterly basis. This means that music creators and rights holders can expect to receive royalty payments every three months.

Q: Are there any genre restrictions with these PROs?

A: No, there are no genre restrictions imposed by BMI, ASCAP, or SESAC. These performing rights organizations are inclusive and represent a diverse array of musical genres.

Q: Are there any fees to join the BMI, ASCAP and SESAC?

A: Joining BMI and ASCAP is typically free, but SESAC may require an invitation and has a more selective process. However, all three PROs take a percentage of the collected royalties as administrative fees.

- Joseph SARDIN - Founder of - About - Contact

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