BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC are all performing rights organizations, where business owners can license music to play in their businesses. There are pros and cons to each of these entities, but there are also alternatives that allow you to stream music easily and cheaply.

What Is a Performing Rights Organization like BMI, ASCAP, or SESAC?

Musicians, songwriters, composers, and other music performers or managers are professionals, and they are paid for their work.

A performing rights organization (PRO) helps music business professionals manage the rights and licensing of their work, so they can get consistent income from radio stations, television commercials, or film or stage performances that use it. These payments are called a performance royalty.

In the North American region, there are four major PROs, three of which work largely in the United States market. They are Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI); American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP); and Society of European Stage Authors and Composers.

If you are a music professional looking for a PRO to license your work, which of these should you choose? Each has their own benefits and detriments. The right choice will be based on your needs as a professional, working artist.

Other types of professionals interact with PROs too. If you run a restaurant or retail location, you must pay specific licensing fees to play music in your store. Similarly, theaters, offices, and other businesses that want to play music need to pay licensing fees.

PROs work with these organizations on the best prices for licensing, based on business need and size. The exact catalogue offered by a certain PRO may be more appealing to you, as a business owner, compared to another catalogue.

men shaking hands after licensing agreement deal

What Are the Differences Between BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC?

PROs help businesses like restaurants, theaters, retailers, and gyms access popular music to set a specific ambiance for their customers. Many medium-sized and larger businesses pay all three of the biggest PROs (BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC), but you may decide you only need one for certain scenarios. Here is an overview of the three biggest PROs, so you can determine if one catalogue is enough for your business or if you need access to all three options.  

  • BMI: This is a nonprofit organization with one of the largest available catalogues. They boast more than 15 million musical works from over 1 million songwriters, composers, and publishers.

    The company was founded in 1939 to protect the public and recorded performances of artists in new musical genres like jazz, blues, and country. BMI still proudly protects new music artists and styles to this day.

    As a licensing organization with a massive music catalogue, BMI works hard to bridge the gap between companies that need music, and the musicians who produce popular or appealing songs. BMI has services geared toward a range of businesses. Although their focus is on the U.S. and North America, BMI works internationally, so their understanding of copyright issues around the globe can benefit licensees. They also focus on how music is used on new technologies, from phones and tablets to games and streaming.

    As a business owner, you can get a blanket license for the entire BMI catalogue, giving you access to popular artists like Shakira, Dolly Parton, and Sam Cooke. You pay once to access 15 million musical works.

    As a performer or musician, you do not pay a sign-up fee. Your annual membership fee varies based on whether you are an independent musician or working with a record label.
  • ASCAP: One of the original PROs, ASCAP launched in 1914 as a not-for-profit organization to protect members’ copyrights for public performance, including on radio and television broadcasts, live performances, and other opportunities. Like other PROs, ASCAP collects membership fees from businesses that want access to their large catalogue and distributes this money back to member artists as royalties.

    Since its inception, ASCAP has protected musicians and composers in a wide range of genres. Currently, they offer selections from some of the most popular artists like Stevie Wonder, Leonard Bernstein, and Beyoncé.

    Unlike SESAC and BMI, ASCAP is owned by its members. ASCAP’s Board of Directors is made up of artists represented by the company, who are nominated every two years. The organization collects more money for royalties for their artists, and they collect more international royalties than the other PROs.

    If you are a musician, writer, or composer, being a member of ASCAP makes a lot of sense. Best of all, there is a one-time joining fee of $35 for new musicians, but no annual dues after that.

    There are over 735,000 artists who are members of ASCAP. While the ASCAP catalogue may be smaller than BMI’s offerings, this is still a wide range of music options, including many of the most famous performers in modern music. Your membership will self-renew if you do not terminate it, but the organization offers a lot of information on how payments are distributed and your payment is calculated.
  • SESAC: This organization goes only by its acronym since it stopped using the full name in 1940. The company was founded in 1931, and the SESAC catalogue has remained small, with 30,000 members and about 1 million songs. This means that SESAC can focus on their exclusive catalogue, with famous artists including Bob Dylan, Adele, and Mumford & Sons.

    SESAC operates on a for-profit basis, rather than a nonprofit basis like BMI and ASCAP. They may charge you, as a business, more for their catalogue than other PROs since their focus is collecting income and distributing it to their artists.

    If you are an artist, this can be a benefit. The organization fights for your licensing rights so you can make more money.

Cloud Cover Music Is Your Music Copyright Solution Without Stress

Although each PRO is a unique, separate business, they often overlap in catalogue. Many of the most famous artists work with two or three PROs at a time, so their music can be more widely distributed. This may make it seem like you, as a business owner, can become a member of just one and still get the specific music you want, which is not entirely true.

Modern pop music and some other genres work with multiple songwriters. While there may be one performer or one band performing a specific song, there could be as many as 10 people behind the scenes, writing lyrics and music notes. The composers and writers of a song may not work with the same PRO. Some writers may work with one, others may work with a second, and the performers may work with a third, or all three of them.

None of the performing rights organizations collaborate for crossover on their catalogues. If someone has a license with them and only them, you need to pay the PRO to use that song. This means it is important to pay for access to all three of these major PROs. This covers your bases and ensures you are not violating any copyright laws if you play music in your business.

However, this can get pricey for you as a business owner, especially if you are a small or new business. What you thought would be a simple subscription to one performing rights organization quickly escalates to three subscriptions. There’s a better solution.

To make this as easy as possible for business owners, Cloud Cover Music works with several major PROs while also providing your technological access to a large catalogue. Cloud Cover Music works like Spotify or Pandora, providing a large catalogue that you can stream with our specific service.

But we specifically focus on your company’s needs for music licensing, whether you need background music to create ambiance for your store or foreground music for a commercial you filmed. By collecting everything in one place, Cloud Cover Music is convenient for you, ensuring you are within copyright laws without stressing too much over these details.

Let us handle the specifics, so you can easily and legally stream music in your place of business for a reasonable cost.

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