ASCAP or BMI, which is better? We can all agree this is a 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 that you need to be signed up with a performance rights organization in order to get paid (collect royalty payments). That research will lead you to two major companies, BMI and ASCAP. Both do the exact same thing, but slightly different.
In short, you need them in order to get paid/collect royalties
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?
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 the number of gigs, which venues, times cue sheets were sent, radio stations that licensed your music, times of airplay, length of airplay, 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 and why you need to be signed up with one.
Let’s get started:
What Is a Performing Rights Organization?
A performing rights organization (PRO for short) is a company whose sole purpose is to collect its member’s 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).
ASCAP & BMI 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 and digital monitoring.
What Are 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?
Unfortunately, these aren’t 100% accurate. Clerical errors are made all the time (easily corrected) and some licensees (users) can be late sending their sheets in, thus delaying royalty payments.
Feel free to ask me any question(s) you may have about PROs and how they operate, this is an ever-changing field and some things can be complicated.
What Is ASCAP Who Are They
ASCAP stands for “American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers”. It’s a performing rights organization that contains over 700,000 members throughout the United States. ASCAP was created in 1914 by a group of writers/composers and to this day, is still operated by its own members. In fact, it’s the only PRO in the US that is run by its members, and board members are elected from within.
ASCAP’s primary goal is to make sure its members are compensated for the use of their creations.
Some of the biggest artists and producers in the music industry are associated with ASCAP.
Here’s a shortlist of ASCAP Members:
- Bruno Mars
- Max Martin
- Jermaine Dupree
- Bad Bunny
- Ryan Tedder
and countless others.
How Much Does Ascap Cost?
ASCAP has a one-time Membership 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 and they offer some great benefits. Oh, and $50.00 is a tax write-off if you have your business set up correctly :).
Benefits Of Being An ASCAP Member
There are a lot of good benefits to being a member of ASCAP such as discounts, medical insurance, gear insurance, and all types of service-based things that will help ASCAP 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 (discounts).
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 music industry. The panelist generally have a lot of great knowledge and information to share.
I remember the 1st convention I went to, I met a young woman (16yrs old) who made living scoring video games and placing music in TV commercials.
She had over 1,000 placements, knew no music theory, and did everything using 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-unquote superstar musicians/writers, but they pulled in a very nice income doing what they loved, making music.
Cons Of Being An ASCAP Member
Here where it gets a little sticky. How could anyone have anything bad to say about a company set out to ensure that you get paid? Well, unfortunately, ASCAP pays based on a ‘sample survey’. What this means is, if your music wasn’t utilized when they conducted their survey, you don’t get paid for the music placement(s).
This would be the equivalent of clocking into work, your manager sees you working but doesn’t pay you because he didn’t witness you clock in when he did his rounds.
What 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 its organization and is continuing to grow. Like other PROs, BMI collects royalties for its members, takes a small percentage, and sends the rest 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 to sign up as a publisher. 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 company based on price, pick the company based on what it can do for you. And remember, fees 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 gander.
Amongst the many benefits, BMI offers the #1 that stands out to me is the conventions. Their 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 most 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 signup process for both of these companies takes a few minutes to do on their websites. It will take a couple of weeks to a month to receive your packets in the mail.
When I signed up for BMI I got a 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 by using a credit card. I had a 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 honesty, 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.