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Performance Royalties
and Music Licensing

This page is divided into 3 parts:

1. Performance Royalties
2. Music Licensing
3. Places to Pitch Your Music


These royalties are what you are after as a songwriter, often referred to as backend money. Below I define what they are and how to put yourself in a position to start receiving them. These royalties are what you get every time your song is played on television or the radio.

In order to collect royalties from various media you need to first register with a performance royalty organization (PRO). In the USA it's really either ASCAP or BMI. They are very similar. Some say BMI pays more in the short term and that ASCAP pays more in the long term.

I belong to ASCAP and I have had no problem collecting performance royalties for my music over the last 10 years. It's a personal choice. SESAC is the other US option, but it's more for niche markets and often by invitation only.

If you live outside the USA go HERE to find your country and your (PRO).

In addition, SoundExchange is the non-profit performance rights organization that collects statutory royalties from satellite radio (such as SIRIUS XM), internet radio, cable TV music channels and similar platforms for streaming sound recordings.

Here's a short video that explains SoundExchange.

NOTE: There is some debate as to who you should have collect your internet royalties. Read Last.fm vs SoundExchange and decide for yourself.

As soon as you write a song, according to music copyright law, you are the legal copyright owner. You should however, register all works with the copyright office of the library of congress so that you can prove it in a court of law.

The fact remains that you are the owner of this intellectual property once you create it. In addition, you are also automatically not only the songwriter, but the publisher as well. 50% of the performance royalties of a song's use go to the songwriter and 50% go to the publisher. In this case, all 100% go to you!!!!

Now, the hard part is getting the plays on radio, television and film. This is where the publishing comes into play. In most cases if you can get a publisher or a music library to listen and they like it, they will ask to receive some or all of your publishing.

This way you split the proceeds with them. Let's look at various licenses and methods of getting licensed and see how these splits come into play.

NOTE: Mechanical Royalties differ from performance royalties, in that they are royalties received from units sold such as CDs or downloads.


I am going to focus on music licensing for television, film and internet radio, since the independent songwriter, artist or band can crack into these markets on their own. Commercial radio often involves big labels doing big business with big money.

Before receiving performance royalties you can first receive an upfront license fee. They are:

a) Sychronization License - license needed to use the song in tv or film.
b) Master License - license needed to use the actual recording of the song.

I started getting my catalogue of songs into music libraries in 2003. I had been on an indie label that went south. I began researching music libraries and pitching to them. I found it fairly easy to get my music into them with well recorded tracks. They are always looking for all styles for use in media of all types.

Let's look at some terminology so we understand what we're getting involved in:

NON-EXCLUSIVE - When a library is non-exclusive it means that you can place your music with other libraries, artists or publishers. They do not own any part of your song. What they own is a re-titling of your song which they register with your (PRO) so that if they place your song in some kind of media, it get's traced back to them and they get paid.

Generally they ask to be the publisher of the re-titled track. This way you split the performance royalties collected by your (PRO). It's a pretty standard deal.

Some companies will just split the upfront license fees with you and not ask to re-title your track. Non-exclusive libraries are best for cable tv, satellite tv and some network tv.

There is a bit of a controversy about re-titling as some feel that if several libraries are pitching your same song under different titles that the TV show or film will steer clear of it all.

I personally have many re-titled tracks and have not had a problem. However, this is a personal decision. I would recommend you google articles on re-titling and decide for yourself.

EXCLUSIVE - When a library is exclusive it means that you cannot have it with any other libraries, artists or publishers. It is exclusive to this library, thus it has no need to re-title you track. This is the best case scenario if they pay you some kind of upfront fee or they are a very successful library or publisher.

The problem is you reduce your chances of placement with just one company. The big companies like SONY and DISNEY like the exclusives, because they know no one else has this music.

ROYALTY FREE MUSIC - Royalty free means that a media outlet pays once for the use of a piece of music and can use it as many times as it likes without continuing to pay licenses for each use. However, they do still earn backend royalties if broadcast on radio or TV.

These are generally instrumental tracks and clips that won't find there way to tv, film and radio, but are great for websites, flash animation, school projects and other multi-media projects. You make less with these but you sell more of them. You most likely will not make performance royalties with these types of libraries.

I find that a balance is best. You want to have a diversified portfolio. I have tracks with non-exclusive libraries, I have sold tracks to exclusive libraries but kept my writer's share and I have tracks with royalty free music libraries.

a-z directory
A colleague of mine from the Berklee College of Music named Aaron Davison, developed a program called The A-Z of Music Licensing. I learned a lot from this program and I recommend this product if you are starting out in music licensing and you're not sure where to begin. He also gives a comprehensive list of music libraries, and music publishers to send your music!

3. PLACES TO PITCH YOUR MUSIC I have included a few places to pitch your music to get you started in receiving performance royalties. I have music with all of the following companies.
Music Library Report
In addition, I would recommend checking out the Music Library Report. This is an awesome site that not only lists almost 400 music libraries on the web, but it rates them. You can also network with other writers and composers and join in discussions. You can join the report for as low as $9.95.

Here are 4 FREE options to get you started in music licensing:

I. MusicSupervisor

MusicSupervisor is another non-exclusive library that doesn't take any backend so they don't re-title your music. This is the best deal you can get. They split the upfront license with you. It is easy to set up a FREE account. You then submit your songs and most of them get approved unless there are recording problems. They do have an upgrade which you pay for but only do this if you feel it is worth it.
II. Productiontrax

Productiontrax is a royalty free library. You can sell all kinds of content at Productiontrax. You can sell images, video and of course music. I have sold a number of instrumental tracks at this site. Again, this site is non-exclusive and you can place your material with other libraries.
III. YouLicense

YouLicense is a licensing service that connects indie artists with media outlets. You upload about 10 tracks for free. YouLicense provides a variety of opportunities for you to pitch your music to. They take 9% of any successful licensing transaction that they provide for you. They also have an opportunity for you to create a licensing store which does come with a fee.
IV. Audiosparx

AudioSparx is another non-exclusive library where you submit a few tracks and if you are accepted, you can upload your entire catalogue to the system. It is a long process in tagging and describing your material, but they have all kinds of opportunities for your music including tv licenses, but also ringtones, flash media, website background music and internet commercials. They also encourage alternate mixes and versions of your tracks.

Continue to Part 2b, My TV Show Music Placements

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