ASCAP vs. BMI vs. SESAC: What’s The Difference?

When it comes to public performance of music, every copyright owner is entitled to certain royalties from each performance of their created work. Performing Rights Organizations, (PRO’s) are entities that are set up to provide royalty collection functions for copyright holders such as songwriters, lyricists, composers, and publishers. This includes radio and TV performance, use in other forms of media, and public performance (live or on a jukebox). For a small fee, the PROs track, license, and collect fees, and distribute royalties.

Presently, there are three major PRO’s: (ASCAP, BMI and SESAC). Any artist who has ever had their material performed before a public audience should register with a Performing Rights Organization (PRO). Basically, the services that PRO’s provide are the same, but membership requirements vary across all three organizations. Here are some of the things you should be prepared for when registering with each PRO:


THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF COMPOSERS, AUTHORS AND PUBLISHERS (ASCAP) contracts exist on a year-to-year basis for both writers and publishers, and are terminable in any given year. The contracts automatically renew from year to year if not terminated by the artist. Also, there is a one time, nominal processing fee of $35 to apply for ASCAP membership, but there are no annual dues. You can join as a writer or a publisher or both – the processing fee is $35 for each application.


BROADCAST MUSIC, INC. (BMI) collects license fees on behalf of songwriters, composers and music publishers and distributes them as royalties to those members whose works have been performed. For writers, BMI standard agreements last 2 years. For publishers, the standard agreement lasts 5 years. It’s important to know that the contracts will automatically renew themselves if not terminated with certain windows designated for resignation. There are no membership costs to join BMI, and no dues are required. Although some performing right organizations collect annual dues, BMI does not. Instead, there is a one-time application fee of $150 to register a publishing company that is owned by an individual, and $250 for a publishing company that is a partnership.


(SESAC) is a selective organization, taking pride in having a repertory based on quality, rather than quantity. Writer and publisher contracts exist in 3 year spans, and similar to BMI, renew automatically. SESAC must be notified of any resignation no more than 6 months or less than 3 months in advance of the contract’s renewal. SESAC does not charge fees or dues those who are offered a SESAC affiliation. The selection process usually consists of a screening and an interview.

Calculating Royalties:

Each PRO has its own set formula for royalty collection. As you might imagine, the formula for each company is complex, and the final royalty owed when it’s all said and done will fluctuate based on a number of factors.

Do Your Research

If at all possible, take a moment to talk to or meet with representatives from each PRO about their services. Talk to other musicians, artists, publishers and writers to find out their experiences with each. It will help you figure out which organization is best for you. For more information on each PRO, visit their websites: