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Performance Rights Organizations

Learn all about PROs and why they’re important for artists

Last Updated: June 2023 | Article Details: 2628 words (14 – 16 minute read)

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If you’re an aspiring music artist you might have heard of Performance Rights Organizations or PROs. But you may still be confused as to what they are and what they do.

In this beginner’s guide, we’re going to explain everything you need to know about what a PRO is, how it can help you, and how you can join one in your country.

Just one quick note before we begin – none of this should be considered financial or legal advice in any way. This is educational information to help you get a lay of the land.

Also, be sure to read our complete guide on how to upload songs to Spotify and other streaming sites.

Ok, let’s get it…

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What’s a Performance Rights Organization (PRO)?

Technically speaking, a PRO is an intermediary organization that works on behalf of copyright holders with anyone who’d like to publicly use a copyrighted work. They don’t release music for you like the companies TuneCore (learn more) and Distrokid (learn more).

They’re organizations that grant licenses for public music use, track public music use and collect royalty payments on behalf of music artists, songwriters and music publishers (i.e. “rights holders”) for songs that are performed (or simply broadcast) in a public setting. They also distribute that money to their members, based on how much their work was used.

Every time a song is played/performed in a public setting, those “public performances” must be paid for.

Performance Rights Organizations may also take any businesses that violate their artists’ rights to court or lobby government on behalf of their members. Since they have so much data on what gets “performed” publicly, they also publish music business statistics for the public.

PROs are also sometimes referred to as Performing Rights Societies, Copyright Collectives or Copyright Collecting Agencies.

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What Exactly Are Performance Rights?

Performance rights are legal ownership rights that are granted to and held by music creators, songwriters, composers, and publishers once they’ve created and copyrighted a work (i.e. a song/composition).

The rights give these creators/publishers the ability to control how, where and when the work is used in a public setting. They have the exclusive right to authorize uses of their music and collect fair compensation for those uses.

Performance rights come in two shades – public performance rights and private performance rights.

Various Performance Rights Organization Logos

A public performance right is related to whenever a piece of music is performed in a live show (learn more) or broadcast in public, for public consumption. In those cases, the rights holder is owed fair compensation (i.e. royalties) for the public use of their work.

They’re different from private performance rights. Technically, when you buy a CD/vinyl/MP3 you are not “buying the music” itself – you’re buying a copy of the music, plus a license to privately perform that music whenever you’d like. But you can’t do it publicly for commercial use, since you don’t actually own the music itself. That would require a “public performance” license.

These are different from Reproduction Rights which includes putting music on a medium like CDs, vinyl or even digital downloads like MP3s. Those rights are often manged by other organizations.

What Royalties Do PROs Collect?

PROs are concerned with managing “public performance” rights of the works their members hold the rights to. They only collect public performance royalties (as opposed to mechanical royalties which are for the reproduction of a copyrighted work).

They are often most concerned with the use of music where it’s an “incidental” usage (i.e. the music is not related to the main purpose of the business using the music). But they can also help to collect royalties from public performances that are non-incidental uses like from radio stations.

It’s also important to note, that although they’re mostly associated with public music performances, they can also work on behalf of other types of artists, like digital video artists for example.

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What’s Considered a Public Performance?

Any usage of music that occurs in a public setting, is subject to royalty payments. For a PRO, any of the following would be considered a “public performance”:

  • Live music performances in any public venue like concert halls, bars/clubs, restaurants/cafes, stadiums and more
  • Music broadcast on television or radio stations (whether terrestrial, internet or satellite based)
  • Background music broadcast in restaurants/cafes/bars, department/grocery/retail stores, hotels, elevators, waiting rooms and more.
  • Music streaming sites (learn more) like Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and others.
  • Music broadcast on digital platforms like TikTok, YouTube, podcasts or digital advertising
  • Music performed or played at public events and gatherings like parades, sporting events, conferences and the like
  • Music synced to other media like movies/documentaries, TV shows, video games or commercials (when they’re publicly exhibited/broadcast)
Public Performance Venue With a Bar

Of course, this can all mean different things. For instance, at one point PROs in the US were trying to get the Girl Scouts to license the campfire songs they’d sing. Naturally, they backed down because of negative public opinion.

How do PROs Manage Rights and Collect Royalties?

Managing these rights is a pretty intensive task, and that’s exactly why PROs exist – to take the burden off of the rights holders from tracking their music’s use and collecting the royalties they’re owed.

Basically, businesses are required by law to apply for a license to use any music commercially. They will negotiate with a PRO to obtain this license for use, and pay fees associated with the use. That can mean paying a small fee every time they use an individual song.

More often, though, a PRO will offer a “blanket license” which means a company can play any and all of the music that PRO licenses for one flat fee. The PRO will then distribute royalties to it’s members based on how often it was used overall. That information is all tracked by the PRO with special software, like in the case of radio stations.

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Why You Should Care as a Music Artist

Simply put, if you make music independently (outside the major label system) for public consumption you should be a member of your country’s (or state’s) Performance Rights Organization.

That means, whether you’re a songwriter, artist or producer (and if you’re a publisher as well) you should consider joining your local PRO.

You want to be paid all of the money owed to you for the use of your music, right? Well, you can’t possibly manage all the various potential uses of your work by yourself. So let a PRO handle it.

You simply become a member and register your publicly released songs (learn more) with the organization. Then, if something you release happens to hit and you’re getting thousands/millions of streams or great sync opportunities you don’t have to worry about collecting your own royalties.

You’ll already be setup to have them collected on your behalf. So you can focus on creating and promoting your music (learn more) – because that, in itself, is often like 2 full-time jobs already!

Which Performance Rights Org Should You Join?

The answer to this question is largely dependent on where you live. Each jurisdiction (either country or state) will have one or more organizations that handle these performance rights for artists that live there.

Here’s a list of some of the major PROs around the globe:

There are some minor differences between how the various collection agencies track/calculate/payout royalties, so be sure to familiarize yourself with how each one in your country does things.

How to Join a PRO and Register Your Music

Joining a PRO in your home country should be relatively straight forward. Nowadays you should be able to join the organization online and register your music fairly easily through their websites and web portals.

If you’re an independent music artist and you don’t have a separate music publisher you work with, then be sure that you register twice.

You’ll need to register as an artist (i.e. a songwriter/composer) and as a music publisher as well. Otherwise you may lost out on half of any royalties owed to you, since the PRO pays out a 50/50 split to artists and publishers.

You don’t need to sign up to more than one PRO in most cases (unless you’re a music publisher working with several different artists).

Some PROs may have sign-up fees or annual dues, but most of the major ones do not.

Simply visit the website of the organization you wish to join, and there will be a sign-up form you can fill out.

Here’s some tips to keep in mind:

  • Be sure to use your FULL LEGAL NAME when signing up (your “artist name” will be asked for in a separate area).
  • Have any necessary documents ready (i.e. SIN/SSN/Tax ID numbers, Government ID, etc)
  • Use the address you want your royalty checks sent to
  • Once you’ve been accepted, keep note of your membership number (given to you by the PRO).

Registering Your Songs With a PRO

Once you’re an official member of the performance rights organization of your choice, it’s time to actually register your musical works with them.

You need to register each individual song you release, not just an overall album/EP.

Remember, it’s YOUR responsibility to register any music that you release publicly with your PRO. There are companies that can handle this for you, but you can do it all yourself fairly easily.

You should be able to log into your PRO’s website and register a musical work directly online.

Here’s some tips to keep in mind before registering:

  • You’ll register the song name as well as the artist name and any featured artists on the track
  • You should use real LEGAL names (the same name you signed up with to the PRO) when entering songwriter or composer/producer information
    • Use the real names of all of your collaborators as well (songwriters, featured artists, producers, etc).
  • Be sure to include your publisher (or yourself as the publisher if you don’t have one)
  • Have your song’s meta data handy as well
  • Double and triple check for spelling errors (especially in names and song titles).

Should You Officially Copyright Your Songs?

Remember, this isn’t legal advice…. It may make sense to reach out to an entertainment lawyer to answer this question for you.

But whether or not you “officially” copyright your music with the government is a choice you have to make. Technically speaking, your work is automatically copyrighted once it’s been published. Your work becomes published once it’s available for public consumption.

However, this may not be enough for your to prove ownership in a court of law. So that’s where the official copyright protection would come in to play. You can register your song (or collection of songs) with the government for “official” protection fairly easily and for a small fee.

Don’t be fooled by the “poor man’s copyright” of mailing yourself a copy of your music and not opening it. Most people agree that won’t be enough in any court case.

Getting Paid from Your PRO

This is fairly straightforward.

As long as you’re registered with a reputable PRO with a history of working in the business, you shouldn’t have to worry about this.

The PRO will distribute any money owed to you on a regular basis. This is usually a few times per year for most organizations. However, the royalties may take a while to start rolling in. And don’t expect to live off your royalties, unless you have a major smash hit in your country or around the world.

Royalty payments are pretty damn small and often take months to start coming in. They are collected over a period of time and then distributed through check or direct deposit into your account.

Global Royalties

Depending on the PRO you’re signed up to, you may need to join region-specific PROs as well.

Some organizations have partnerships with other PROs around the globe and work with them to collect royalties wherever your music may be played around the world.

However, in some instances you may need to join a particular country’s PRO if your music is getting a lot of play there, and your existing PRO doesn’t have a relationship with that particular country’s PRO.

It’s a good idea to get in touch with the reps at your organization to ask about global royalty collection.

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How to Maximize Benefits of PRO Membership

There are a few things you can do to try an maximize the benefits of PRO membership for your music career.

Although the PRO will handle the monitoring of your music’s public performances, it can be a good idea to keep track of this stuff yourself as well. You can then compare your own data, to that of the PRO and make sure everything is correct. This includes keeping track of performances and set lists, airplay you get, cue sheets from sync opportunities, and more.

Your PRO will also often host events and workshops that you should consider attending. Not only do they offer great educational opportunities, they also serve as a way to build your network within the music business of your local country/city/state. You may find new collaborators and co-writers at these events too.

Finally, it may be a useful exercise to learn more about international partnerships between PROs (reciprocal agreements), license types, performance weightings, royalty distribution models and other more advanced concepts that may impact your ability to get paid.

Don’t be afraid of asking your PRO reps/support about these things. Try to be involved as much as you are able to. You don’t have to attend every event, learn every nuance or even meticulously track your music’s use, but these tips can help keep things on the level and maximize your benefits.

Take advantage of any opportunities that present themselves as a result of your membership with a Performance Rights Organization.


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Frequently Asked Questions

How do Performing Rights Organizations Make Money?

PROs collect and distribute royalty payments from public & commercial users of music to the rights holders (i.e. owners) of that piece of music. Many of the organizations are run on a not-for-profit basis and may receive funding from partner companies in the industry or government and non-government organizations.

Which Performance Rights Organization is Best?

Which organization you join will be up to you as an artist/publisher. Most of the various PROs out there operate on a similar basis overall but may have differences in the way they collect, report and distribute royalties. It’s a good idea to learn how each organization works within those areas and choose what you find to be most beneficial or comfortable for you.

How Many Performing Rights Organizations Are There?

Globally there are several dozen major PROs out there. Each one represents a specific geographical area. Even within certain jurisdictions there can be several organizations that collect performance royalties. For example, there are two or more PROs that service places like Canada, the USA, Australia and the UK. Wikipedia has a decent list of all the performance rights organizations around the world.

Is a Performance Rights Organization a Publisher?

No. A PRO is not considered a publisher. It is a royalty collection agency whereas a publisher make music available for public consumption and holds certain rights related to that music. A music publisher is owed royalties for public uses of the works they “publish,” and they will often partner with a performance rights organization who will then go out and collect those royalties on the publisher’s behalf.

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    Final Thoughts

    No matter what stage you’re at in your music career, if you’ve got music out there for the public to consume, it makes sense to join a PRO.

    Once you’ve joined, register all your existing songs. And then every time you release a new song, be sure to register it as well.

    But remember this – just because your song’s are registered with a PRO, DOES NOT mean you’re entitled to royalties right away.

    Your music actually has to get played/performed in public for you to start earning any money from music (learn more).

    And that comes down to how good you are at marketing and promoting your music. (NOT SPAMMING YOUR MUSIC TO PEOPLE WHO DON’T CARE, but ACTUAL marketing/promo!)

    If you have music that’s ready to be released, I highly recommend you use TuneCore to do it – they’re an affordable way to release unlimited music to Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and more!

    There’s a lot to learn about the music business, but hopefully this article helped clear up a few things about Performance Rights Organizations. Thanks for reading!

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    About The Author:

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    Omar Zulfi

    Omar Zulfi is a music producer, rapper, singer, songwriter and digital entrepreneur. He is the founder and head writer at Deviant Noise. Learn more about what he's doing by clicking here.