Performance Rights Organizations: How PRO's Work to Help Musicians Get Paid

One question that comes up time and time again is, what does it mean for a musician to be affiliated with a PRO. Unfortunately there is a lot of misinformation out there but I'd like to take some time to properly explain it, dispel some rumors and give accurate information regarding Performance Rights Organizations.

First off, to get a good idea of how a Performance Rights Organization (PRO) works, you have to have a basic understanding of how music licensing and publishing works.

Say a music supervisor, editor, or whoever is looking for some music for a TV show which will air on ABC. They browse music libraries like Pond5 or Audiosparx and find some music they want to use in the show. When they find the music they want, they purchase a license to use the music. This license is called a "sync fee" or "sync license." From this point on the music editor is done paying fees and royalties.

When the show is finished and ready to air on ABC, a cue sheet is filed out and submitted with a list of all the music used in the show to the PRO's. By law, ABC pays blanket amounts of money to the Performing Rights Organizations every quarter for broadcast royalties, regardless of where the music comes from. The PRO's use the cue sheet information to distribute the money ABC has paid to the musicians listed on the cue sheets. The distributed money from the PRO's is called "back end money."

The term "royalty free" is kind of a misnomer but is typically used to describe paying one upfront sync fee and that's it. The opposite is a needle drop license where you pay every time the music is played. Broadcast companies pay blanket amounts of money to PRO's regardless of the license or whether the music is PRO affiliated or not.

The fact is if you're a musician and not affiliated with a PRO, you will never be able to collect back end money, even if your music is on TV.

Take two musicians, both having music on a show on ABC. Musician A is PRO registered and Musician B is not. They both license their music from Pond5 for $100 and collect their sync fee from the sale.

Now Musician B is done making money while Musician A waits for the cue sheet to be submitted for the show. After a while Musician A's PRO sends him money from ABC. Unfortunately for Musician B, ABC also paid money for him but since his music is not PRO registered he will never see it.

This is the benefit of being PRO affiliated. The person that paid the sync fee does not get charged any additional fees, and you're still able to collect royalties from the broadcast networks.

Some music libraries and publishers try to make a sales pitch saying they are so royalty free that they don't even accept PRO registered music. This is a gimmick and a bad business practice which hurts musicians. If you are a musician, it is in your best interest to to be PRO affiliated.

*It is important to know that PRO registered music will not flag a YouTube video for a copyright claim. That is a YouTube program called Content ID and has nothing to do with PRO Registered music.

Below is a list of Performance Rights Organizations:
Performance Rights Organizations

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