BMI vs ASCAP vs SESAC – What’s the Difference?

BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC are three performance rights organizations (PROs) based in the United States. Any artist or publisher can join BMI and ASCAP by paying a sign-up fee, while SESAC is an invitation-only PRO. They’re in charge of collecting licensing fees that are redistributed quarterly.

Every time a song is featured in a movie, played on the radio, or streamed online, the song’s copyright holders (artists and publishers) are entitled to a fee. The job of PROs is to collect the licensing fees of the songs in their register and redistribute them fairly by the copyright holders.

The way music royalties are collected and redistributed by copyright holders varies from country to country, label to label, and contract to contract. You can learn more about how music royalties work in this in-depth article. In a nutshell, though, this is what you should keep in mind: if you’re not registered with a PRO, you’re missing out on some important passive income.

BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC are the three top PROs in the United States and they all pay artists and publishers quarterly. Their function is similar, but they offer different benefits to their members. If you’re still deciding which PRO you should go with, I will hopefully help you to make an informed decision.

What do you need to know before joining a PRO?

Before analyzing the differences between BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC, it’s important to keep a few things in mind:

  1. You can register with a PRO either as an artist or as a publisher.
  2. Licensing fees are redistributed according to the percentage of ownership over any given copyrighted work. For example: if you own 50% of a song and your publisher owns the other 50%, then each party will get half the earnings of that song.
  3. If you’re a self-published artist, you can and should register your work both as an artist and publisher.
  4. There are four main types of royalties: mechanical, performing, sync, and print royalties. This means that a fee is owed to the copyright holders any time a song is featured in a physical record (mechanical), publicly performed (performing), featured in a movie, TV show, or videogame (sync), and printed (print—mainly associated with sheet music).
  5. In the United States, copyright ownership expires 70 years after the creator’s death.

BMI vs ASCAP vs SESAC

BMI and ASCAP are the two largest PROs in the United States and they are very similar. The biggest difference is that BMI is cheaper to join if you’re an artist, while ASCAP is more accessible for publishers. BMI is slightly larger than ASCAP, while ASCAP is older (founded 25 years earlier than BMI).

As for SESAC, it’s an exclusive PRO that’s not accessible to the general public. To join, you need to be invited. Does this mean SESAC should be left out of the discussion? Not really. If you’re not registered with a PRO and you have an invitation from SESAC in hand, you should still compare it against BMI and ASCAP to make an informed decision.

The overall differences

BMIASCAPSESAC
Year founded193919141930
Signup fee (Artists)Free$50Invitation-only (free)
Signup fee (Publishers)$150$50Invitation-only (free)
Signup fee (Publisher Corporations)$250$50Invitation-only (free)
Payout speed5.5 months6.5 months90 days to 3 months
Yearly licensing fees collection$1.1 billion$1 billion$400 million (approx.)
Number of songwriters1.3 million875K30K
Number of compositions20.6 million11 million1 million

For more information on how BMI operates, please check out “What is BMI Music?

Benefits

PRO benefits are often viewed as “extras,” but they happen to be the reason why many artists and publishers opt for either BMI, ASCAP, or SESAC.

BMI benefits

  • Discounts on multiple Billboard conferences, events, and award ceremonies.
  • Free access to ArtistShare and ConvertKit (formerly known as FanBridge).
  • Songwriting camps and workshops.

ASCAP benefits

  • Access to ASCAP’s annual Expo.
  • A membership to the MusicPro Program (with discounts on health, instrument, dental, and life insurance).
  • A membership to the U.S. Alliance Federal Credit Union.
  • Discount on ASCAP Web Tools (an online marketing service).
  • Hotel and rental car discounts.

SESAC benefits

  • MusicPro Program discount.
  • Up to 33% discount on Songtrust, Sprint products, Berklee Music online, and American Songwriter Magazine.
  • Airport parking and rental car discount.

The verdict

BMI lacks truly enticing benefits but is the largest PRO in the United States for a reason. It’s trusted by more than 1.3 million copyright holders and collects more than $1.1 billion in licensing fees annually. It’s also free for artists, which is great for independent musicians looking for their first PRO.

But while BMI is still number one in the United States, ASCAP is a super-close second with a list of benefits that’s mouth-watering for artists looking to save some money on insurance and finding connections in the music industry (attending ASCAP’s annual Expo is a major networking opportunity).

Finally, there’s SESAC, an option most people can’t consider but that should be on every artist’s mind. The big downside of SESAC is obvious: you can’t join unless you’re invited. However, if you happen to receive an invitation from SESAC, you should consider this PRO because of its fast payout speed and exclusivity. Fewer members result in SESAC paying more attention to each.

To sum it up, you’ll be in good hands regardless of the PRO you choose. In a business where so many artists struggle to make ends meet, it’s important to find sources of income wherever you can.

Brian Clark is a multi-instrumentalist and music producer. He is passionate about practically all areas of music and he particularly enjoys writing about the music industry.

Leave a Comment

Leave a reply

Musician Wave
Logo