How To Get All of the Royalties You Never Knew Existed

SoundExchange, BMI, ASCAP Royalties
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A 2015 Berklee College of Music report found that anywhere from 20-50% of music payments do not make it to their rightful owners.  The indie publishing powerhouse Kobalt calculated that there are “over 900,000 distinct royalty payments for artists and songwriters.”  What are these royalties?  Where do they come from?  And most importantly, how do you get them?

I’m not gonna lie, it’s complicated.  But I’m going to attempt to lay all of this out as simply as possible.  In plain English.  I’m here for you.  We’ll get through this together.  Bookmark this page and take a deep breath.

Ok, let’s go.

‘Artist’ vs. ‘Songwriter’

As you study more about the music business, you’ll see the distinction over and over again between “artist” and “songwriter”.  It’s an important distinction to make because the royalties for “artists” and the royalties for “songwriters” are completely different.

The reason I’m putting quotes around “artists” and “songwriters” is because so many of us are both.  And many of us use these terms interchangeably.  And back in the day, when labels started signing artists who also wrote their own songs (which, at the time, was quite unique), they put in clauses in the contract to limit the royalties they’d (legally) have to pay out to their newly signed artists/songwriters.  One of these clauses is the infamous Controlled Composition Clause.

The major labels have always tried to screw artists out of money.

They look out for their own best interests and use artists’ ignorance (and blind pursuit of fame) to manipulate and deceive.  This is part of the reason why so many established artists and songwriters have jumped ship from their major labels (and major publishers) and headed over to Kobalt.

And I’m not just writing that.  Just take a look at their roster.  It’s a who’s who of music.


A quick history lesson.

Before the digital age, royalties were difficult to track.  But there were fewer platforms to consume music, so there were far fewer royalty streams to worry about.

With physical sales plummeting, and people shifting from downloading to streaming (like Spotify and Apple Music) and the rise of digital radio (like Pandora and Sirius/XM), there are suddenly more royalties out there.  But they can be tracked much easier through sonic recognition and content ID software.

We’re not quite there yet, but we’re getting closer every day.

For indie artists without a label or a publisher, you have to know what these royalties are and know where and how to get them.

So let’s break them down.

First, some terms you need to understand:


Artists record sound recordings. Rihanna is an artist. She did not write her song “Diamonds.”  So she is not the songwriter. Record labels represent artists.  A band is an artist.  A rapper is an artist.  A singer is an artist.  Typically whatever name is on the album, is the artist.


Songwriters write the compositions.  “Diamonds” was written by 4 songwriters: Sia Furler, Benjamin Levin, Mikkel S. Eriksen, and Tor Erik Hermansen.  Publishing companies represent songwriters.

Sound Recording

Some call this the “master.”  It’s the actual recording.  The mastered track . Traditionally, labels (because they own the master), collect royalties for sound recordings.  Sound recordings are not to be confused with compositions.  Artists record sound recordings.


This is the song.  Not the recording.  Traditionally, publishing companies (because they own the composition and represent songwriters) collect royalties for compositions.  Songwriters write compositions.


Performing Rights Organizations.  In the US, these are ASCAP, BMI and SESAC.  In Canada this is SOCAN.  These organizations represent songwriters NOT artists.  These are organizations that collect performance royalties (NOT mechanical royalties – we’ll get to those in a bit).

The way these PROs make money to pay their songwriters and publishers royalties is PROs collect money from thousands of venues (radio stations, TV stations, department stores, bars, live venues, etc) by requiring them to purchase “blanket licenses” which gives these venues permission to play music in their establishment (or on the air).   The PROs then pool all of this money up and divide it amongst all of their songwriters and publishers based on the frequency and “weight” of each song’s “public performance.”   The PROs then pay the publishing companies their 50% and the songwriters their 50%.

PROs split “publishing” and “songwriter” royalties equally.  50/50.  This is not a deal you negotiate.  This is just how they do it for everyone from Taylor Swift down to you and me.  50/50.  Any songwriter in the US can sign up for ASCAP or BMI without being invited or having to apply.  ASCAP and BMI are both not-for-profit organizations, SESAC is for profit and you must be accepted.


American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers represents 550,000 members (songwriters and publishers) and over 10 million compositions.  ASCAP is owned and run by its songwriter and publisher members with an elected board.  They have paid out over $5 billion in the past 6 years.  They represent songwriters like Katy Perry, Dr. Dre, Marc Anthony, Chris Stapleton, Ne-Yo, Trisha Yearwood, Brandi Carlile, Lauryn Hill, Jimi Hendrix, Bill Withers, Carly Simon, Quincy Jones, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Duke Ellington, annnnnd Ari Herstand.  That’s me.  Duh.


Broadcast Music Inc. represents over 700,000 members (songwriters and publishers) and over 10.5 million compositions. They represent songwriters like Taylor Swift, Lil Wayne, Mariah Carey, John Legend, Lady Gaga, Eminem, Maroon 5, Michael Jackson, Linkin Park, Sam Cook, Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Fats Domino, Rihanna, John Williams and Danny Elfman.


SESAC is not an acronym… really.  It represents over 30,000 members (songwriters and publishers) and over 400,000 compositions.  They represent songwriters like Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, RUSH, Zac Brown, Lady Antebellum, The Avett Brothers, Shirley Caesar, Paul Shaffer and Thompson Square.

You can only sign up for one PRO.

You cannot be a member of ASCAP and BMI.  So you have to make a choice.  Find out what the PROs are in your country and pick one and sign up.

 **It’s important to note that if you sign up with ASCAP as a songwriter, you also need to register a “vanity publishing company.” That means, just make up a name (mine is Proud Honeybee Music) and register your publishing company with ASCAP. You must do this to get paid all of your money. If you don’t have your vanity publishing company registered as a corporation, or have a bank account under its name, make sure to tell ASCAP you are “doing business as (dba)” the vanity publishing company so they can write the checks appropriately. You can also sign up for direct deposit which expedites this entire process. ASCAP pays out 50% of the total money to the songwriter and 50% to the publisher. If you don’t register a publishing company, you will only get half of your money.

If you are an unaffiliated songwriter with BMI, you don’t need to register a vanity publishing company.  BMI will pay you 100% of the money.

HOWEVER, If you sign up for an admin publishing company (like SongTrust, CD Baby Pro or Tunecore Publishing), they will collect your publishing money from ASCAP or BMI, take their commission (10-15%), and pay you out the rest.  So, you don’t need to register a vanity publishing company (if you’re with ASCAP) or register it as an LLC or open a bank account.  This is a far easier option.

CD Baby Pro vs Tunecore Publishing (Full Report)

I recommend you make sure all of your songs are registered with ASCAP or BMI (or SESAC) and that you work with an admin publishing company.

If you distribute through CD Baby, use CD Baby Pro.  If you don’t, use SongTrust or Tunecore Publishing.  And if you haven’t registered with a PRO yet, signup for an admin publishing company FIRST – they will then register your songs with a PRO (save some time and steps!)

Digital Distribution Company

Some people call them digital aggregators. These companies are how you get your music into iTunes, Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, Google Play, Deezer, Tidal and 80+ other digital stores and streaming services around the world. The biggest digital distribution companies for indie artists are CD Baby, DistroKid and Tunecore. I reviewed them and 6 others in this piece.


Harry Fox Agency.  HFA handles US mechanical royalties (what are mechanical royalties? Patience young grasshopper. We’ll get to it).  They are hired by companies like Spotify to calculate and pay out mechanical royalties to publishers.  HFA represents 48,000 publishers.  They have streamlined licensing services (their program is called Slingshot) for companies needing to license music.

HFA calculates, collects and pays mechanical royalties.  They also issue “mechanical licenses.”  You can’t signup for HFA unless you are a publisher and have songs released by a third party label (not self-released).

BUT, you don’t need to signup with HFA to collect mechanical royalties.  Admin publishing companies like SongTrust, CD Baby, Tunecore and Audiam will collect mechanical royalties for you if you signup for their publishing programs.  Read my comparison between CD Baby Pro and Tunecore Publishing.

Fun fact: HFA was recently bought by SESAC.

Admin Publishing Companies

Admin stands for administration.  All publishing companies have an admin department.  They also have a synch licensing department.  An A&R department.  And many other departments. But, admin publishing companies have started popping up over the past few years to help unrepped songwriters (like you and me) collect all the royalties out there from around the world.

Again, companies like SongTrust, CD Baby, Tunecore and Audiam are some admin publishing companies who will do this. (Note, Audiam technically describes itself as a digital rights management company – but they will collect your mechanical royalties and YouTube money).

Synch Licensing

Synch stands for synchronization. A synch license is needed to synch music to picture.  TV shows, movies, commercials, video games all need a sync license to legally put a song alongside their picture (get it? “synching” audio to picture).  Technically, so does YouTube (and you, when you make a cover video and upload it).

Fun fact: virtually every YouTube cover is illegal.

A publisher (remember, publishers represent songwriters and compositions), could legally get YouTube to remove your cover if they wanted.  But no publishers are really doing this because they realize how great the promotion is.  And, YouTube is now monetizing cover videos and getting the publishers (and songwriters) paid through ad revenue.

Some musicians have expressed to me their reluctance to put up covers on YouTube for which they have not obtained the proper licenses.  The honest folk of the world.  Those who wouldn’t dare fill up their free water cup at Chipotle with soda.  I applaud your ethics.  However, it’s virtually impossible for an indie artist to obtain a synch license from a major publishing company.  Believe me, I’ve tried.  They don’t make it easy.  There’s no streamlined way to do this.  But, there IS a very easy way to release cover songs, like on iTunes (not videos, songs).  Read about how to do that here.

Licensing Company

Licensing companies work to get your music placed in TV shows, movies, trailers, commercials and video games.  Independent licensing companies have been popping up left and right over the past 10 years.  Before that (and still currently) all the synch licensing was done within publishing companies.  All publishing companies have synch licensing divisions.

Licensing companies typically take 30-50% of the up front synch license and master use license fee.  Some take a percentage of your PRO backend royalties as well, others don’t.

Licensing companies typically only represent artists who are also the sole songwriters.  Licensing companies are one stop shops for music supervisors.  They want to make it easy as possible for the ad agency or TV show to use the song.  Licensing companies can clear the songs immediately for the music supervisors.

So if you co-write with anyone, FIRST make sure they are NOT signed to a publishing company (if they are, it makes things very difficult and will almost certainly prevent a licensing company from working with you – or rather repping that song).  And make sure you get in writing (email is fine), that you have full rights to the song to license without getting permission from your co-writers.

Word to the wise: NEVER pay a licensing company money up front to go pitch you.

If they believe in your music, they will pitch you and work solely on commission.

Some of the biggest and best independent licensing companies out there include:

  • Secret Road
  • All Media
  • Cellar Music
  • The Music Playground
  • Razor and Tie
  • Big Yellow Dog
  • Words and Music
  • Catch The Moon Music

However, there are literally hundreds more.  You can purchase a music licensing directory containing most licensing companies, publishing companies, music libraries and music supervisors from The Music Registry here for $100.  The above licensing companies mostly won’t take submissions directly from artists (they’re too big).  It’s best to get someone they trust to refer you (like another artist on their roster, a manager or lawyer).

Music Library & Licensing Companies

Also, there are music library and licensing companies (like Triple Scoop Music, Audiosocket and Music Bed) that specialize in issuing inexpensive synch licenses for wedding photographers, corporations (for in house training videos) and indie film makers.  This can help you bring in some extra dough.

These kinds of companies are definitely worth looking into.  They don’t work to get you the $200,000 Verizon commercial spot, they’re soliciting wedding photographers to pay $60 to license your song in their personal use wedding video.  But these can add up.

There are a bunch of these music library companies out there.  Just Google around a bit “music for wedding video” or “license music for indie film” or “license music library” and these companies will populate.  Most are quite selective about what songs they bring on (to keep their quality up).  But they all take applications from unknowns.  If the quality is there (and it fits their format – they’re probably not going to take death metal or gangsta rap for a wedding video licensing business).  Most are non-exclusive, meaning you can work with a bunch of them.

Again, DO NOT pay anything up front. If any company charges you up front for these services it’s a scam. Run away (to this comment section and let us know who these scam artists are!)


A lot of people confuse SoundExchange with PROs. Because technically SoundExchange IS a performing rights organization, but I’m not including them in the “PRO” classification out of clarity.  And when most in the biz discuss PROs they are just referring to the aforementioned ASCAP, BMI, SESAC.

SoundExchange represent artists and labels whereas (the other) PROs represent songwriters and publishers. Over 110,000 artists and rights owners (labels) are registered with SoundExchange and they have paid out over $3 billion since inception.

“Non-interactive” means you can’t choose your song.

Unlike the 3 PROs in America, SoundExchange is the only organization in America that collects performance royalties for “non-interactive” digital sound recordings (not compositions).  “Non-interactive” means you can’t choose your song. So, Pandora radio is non-interactive, whereas Apple Music and Spotify are “interactive.” Beats 1 (within Apple Music) is digital radio (non-interactive). Spotify’s Pandora-like radio service is also non-interactive, but more on that in a sec.

But, SoundExchange has agreements with 20 foreign collections agencies.  When your music is played in their territory, they pay SoundExchange, and SoundExchange pays you.

Like the PROs, SoundExchange issues blanket licenses to digital radio (non-interactive) platforms (like Pandora and Sirius/XM) which gives these outlets the ability to play any song they represent. Like the PROs, the outlets pay an annual fee for the blanket license.

BUT, SoundExchange ONLY collects digital royalties.  The PROs collect both digital, terrestrial (AM/FM radio) and live royalties.

Broadcast radio royalties (or lack thereof)…

There’s a weird copyright law still on the books (and lobbied heavily by Big Radio) that makes it so AM/FM radio only has to pay composition performance royalties and NOT sound recording royalties.  Makes no sense.  The US Copyright Office has recommended that this law be changed, but thanks to the Big Radio, it hasn’t.

This, unfortunately, can only be changed by passing a bill in Congress. And our current American Congress doesn’t pass sh*t. Pardon my American English.

So, again, SoundExchange = digital sound recording royalties for non-interactive plays.

But, interestingly enough (I know this stuff is SOOO interesting – stay with me!), Pandora, pays BOTH digital sound recording performance royalties (to SoundExchange) AND digital composition performance royalties (to PROs), but, thanks to Consent Decrees (set by rate court judges and, once again, for which the practices can only be changed by Congress), pays about 10x more for sound recording royalties (to SoundExchange) than for songwriter royalties (to the PROs). The Songwriter Equity Act (bi-partisan) has been in Congress for about two years now to make this change. But Congress moves slower than an Adele ballad (but contains about the same number of tears shed).

And to just complicate matters worse, not ALL digital radio services work with SoundExchange (but 2,500 do). Some opt out (Spotify non-interactive radio has opted out) and they just negotiate rates directly with each label/distributor.

You can find a full list of who SoundExchange collects from here.

How To Signup For SoundExchange?

Go to If you are both the performer (artist) and the owner of the sound recording (meaning you don’t have a record label) simply select “Both” on the 2nd page of the registration when it asks you to select: Performer, Sound Recording Copyright Owner or Both. It’s a long process and you have to submit a full catalog list. When I did this, I had to email in a complicated Excel doc with lots of info. Plan a weekend to do all of this. It’s time consuming, but worth it.

Fun fact, I encouraged an Ari’s Take reader and children’s musician to sign up for SoundExchange and the first check he got was for $10,000!  Apparently Pandora had his songs included on all the most popular children’s music radio stations and he had no idea. Boom!

SoundExchange will hold your back royalties for 3 years, so register now if you haven’t already. And if you HAVE registered (maybe you did years ago), make sure you have also registered as the Sound Recording Copyright Owner (they previously called it “Rights Owner”). Because the “Both” option is very new, you may have missed it and are only receiving 45% of your total money.

Why 45% and not 50%? Keep reading.

Session Musicians

Session musicians can get some of this money too!

If you are a session musician, 5% of the total money earned for each song that you played on has been reserved for you. Contact the American Federation of Musicians (AFM union) to grab this moolah!

SoundExchange’s breakdown for payment is: 45% to Featured Artist, 50% to the Sound Recording Owner (label – or you if you self released), and 5% to session musicians or, how they put it, “non-featured artists.” Regardless if you have session musicians or not on your record, SoundExchange holds 5% of all royalties from everyone for them.



What About Canada?

If you’re a Canadian artist, you can signup with Re:Sound (which is Canada’s version of SoundExchange). And, best thing, Re:Sound (unlike SoundExchange) WILL collect royalties from commercial, terrestrial radio (and other non-digital venues) for you!

So, just to clarify, here is a breakdown for the royalties Artists and Songwriters earn (and how to get them):

Artist Royalties:

Sound Recording Digital Performance Royalties

These come from non-interactive (you can’t choose the song) digital platforms like internet and satellite radio.

How To Get Paid: SoundExchange

Register for SoundExchange here.

Download Sales

These come from when someone downloads your music on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, etc.

How To Get Paid: Your Distribution Company

See the list of who to use (and not use) here.

**note: BandCamp and Loudr also sell downloads, but unlike iTunes, they are artist managed stores and you get sales revenue directly from BandCamp and Loudr.

Interactive Streaming Revenue

There’s lots of different kinds of streaming revenue. But “interactive” (meaning you choose the song) streaming revenue (like from Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, Tidal) goes to the artist/label. But when these services claim they pay out 70% of all revenue, the 70% is for both the artist/label revenue AND the songwriter royalties (mechanicals). Streaming revenue to artists is WAY more than the mechanicals paid to songwriters.

How To Get Paid: Your Distribution Company

+ See the list of who to use (and not use) here.

YouTube Sound Recording Revenue

Technically there are a bunch of “assets” or streams of revenue for each YouTube video. To make it simple, we’ll just get into how you can earn money. First, for the sound recording (we’ll get into the composition in the next section). Any video that uses your sound recording you can make money off of (whether you uploaded the video or not) if you allow YouTube to put ads on the video (they call it “monetize”). Either videos you upload or fan made cat videos with your sound recordings can generate ad revenue that you can collect. YouTube splits the ad revenue 45%/55% in your favor.

How To Get Paid: Most digital distribution companies have this option via an opt-in check box. You can see which do and which do not on this chart. If your distribution doesn’t handle this, you can sign up for independent YouTube revenue collection companies like Audiam, AdRev or InDmusic. But it’s easiest if you keep everything under one roof.

Master Use License

Any TV show, movie, commercial, trailer or video game requires both a master use license (from the artist/label) for use of the sound recording and a synch license (from the songwriter/publisher) for use of the composition. These days, most music supervisors (the people who place the music), will just pay you (an indie artist) a bulk amount for both the master use license and the sync license (because most indie artists wrote and recorded the song).

But if you’re repped by a label and a publisher, the supe (that’s short for music supervisor) will go to your label and pay for a master use license and then to your publisher and pay for a sync license. Usually it’s the same amount, but not always. These monies range from a thousand bucks for background music on a cable TV show all the way up to hundreds of thousands of dollars for commercials and big movies/trailers.

How To Get Paid:

Directly from the TV studio, ad agency (for a commercial), production company (for a movie or trailer), or game company. It’s best to work with a licensing company for this.

TV Royalties

If your music gets on a commercial, TV show, trailer or movie, you can get residuals from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA). And these definitely add up.  I was recently in a Bud Light commercial (as an actor – yeah I do a bit of that too, hell it’s LA, why not?), and in SAG-AFTRA residuals, I got about $10,000 A MONTH for as long as it was on the air.  And that was for hanging out at a (fake) barbecue holding a can of Limearita and laughing on cue a lot.

So if your song gets in a commercial, you’ll make about the same because you’re treated as a voice over actor.  Many commercials run about 6 months, that could be $60,000 just in SAG-AFTRA residuals.

How to get paid: SAG-AFTRA.

If, however, SAG-AFTRA doesn’t have your mailing address, they won’t know who to pay.  You can check here to see if you have outstanding royalties.  Or, contact SAG-AFTRA directly and give them your info when you have music played on TV.  You don’t technically need to be in the union to get paid from the union.

Here’s how to join.

Songwriter Royalties

Composition Performance Royalties

These come from plays on the radio (FM/AM or digital), interactive and non-interactive streaming services (Spotify, Apple Music) live at a concert (yes even your own), in restaurants, bars, department stores, coffee shops, TV, literally any public place that has music (live or recorded) needs a license from ASCAP, BMI and SESAC to legally be able to play music in their establishment.  The o

nly exception is movie theaters. For some reason (politics), American movie theaters are exempt from needing a public performance license and no one gets paid when songs are played in movie theaters.  On TV, yes. Movie theater, no.  However, royalties are generated for Foreign (outside the US) movie theaters.  And for an international smash, it could add up to be some serious cheddar.  And oh: I’ve heard in the hundreds of thousands.

AM/FM vs. Sirius/XM

Of course if a coffee shop has the AM/FM radio playing, you won’t get paid when your song is played there.  But if they have Pandora or Sirius/XM on, this is tracked and you will (eventually) get paid on the plays.  The system is currently being worked out and not everything is tracked yet, but eventually, say, in a few years, it will be.

Kobalt is leading this front.  Hopefully ASCAP, BMI and SESAC follow suit and improve their tracking systems.  ASCAP uses a “sampling” method, where they use an electronic monitoring system, MediaMonitors/MediaBase, for sample performance data from commercial, NPR & NCR radio. The sample data is then loaded into ASCAP’s Audio Performance Management system where it is (mostly) electronically matched to the works in the ASCAP database. ASCAP states that they supplement this data with station logs and other technology vendors and methods that capture ads, promos and themes and background music.


BMI also uses sampling.  They say they use “performance monitoring data, continuously collected on a large percentage of all licensed commercial radio stations, to determine payable performances.”  They also use their “proprietary pattern-recognition technology.” They call it a “census” and claim it’s “statistical reliable and highly accurate.” For college radio, BMI pays a minimum of 6 cents “for all participants.”  Not sure if that’s per station or what.

How To See Your Listener Data On Pandora

Personal Anecdote: my song “Young Blood Dig Down” was played as bridge music on NPR’s All Things Considered (for 13 million people).  And I won’t be getting paid for this.  But, had ASCAP had a census (instead of sample) tracking system setup, I would have.  Hopefully, this will change soon. BMI doesn’t pay for “cue, bridge or background” music on radio, period.

How To Get Music On NPR

Tip: Both ASCAP and BMI have a program where you can import your setlist and venue information to get you paid for your live performance royalties (for performing your originals in a club, theater, grocery store, arena, wherever). They’re called BMI Live and ASCAP OnStage. Last I heard, most indie artists playing under 500 cap rooms were making about $10 a show. It ain’t much, but it can add up – especially if you’re a live act playing 200 dates a year. Who couldn’t use an extra $2K?

How To Get Paid: Your PRO (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, SOCAN)

Visit each website (linked above) to join. Remember you can only be with one.

Mechanical Royalties

Mechanical royalties are earned when a song is streamed, downloaded or purchased (like a CD or vinyl). In America, the rate is set by the US government. It’s currently 9.1 cents per download and it’s a very complicated formula to figure out what you get per stream. But you can check out HFA’s charts here to attempt to make sense of it. But, it’s AROUND $.0007 per stream – but of course varies based on the streaming platform’s user numbers, revenue, etc. Worldwide, it’s about the same – about 8-10% of the total sale/stream.

Worth noting: in the US, mechanical royalties get passed onto the label/distributor from iTunes.  However, for nearly everywhere else in the world, mechanicals get collected by local collections agencies BEFORE the money gets to your distributor.  And that’s why when you look at your statements, an iTunes download in the US nets you $.69:

70% of $.99 — Apple retains 30% from iTunes sales.

Whereas, a download in England nets you around $.60.  So, if you don’t have an admin publishing company you won’t get any of your international mechanical royalties from download sales.

Like SoundExchange, these international collections agencies will hold onto this money (for about 3 years) until a publisher comes and claims it.  You technically could try to do this by calling up collections agencies in every country, but I just recommend going with an admin pub company.  They already have all the relationships built (and they only take about 10-15%).  It’s worth it.

How To Get Paid: Admin publishing company.

See my comparison between CD Baby Pro and Tunecore Publishing. There’s also SongTrust and Audiam.  And of course, Kobalt (but you have to be “signed” — anyone can signup for the others).

YouTube Performance Royalties

Because your music is being played on YouTube videos, it’s technically a public performance.  And that includes any video on YouTube (by you or anyone else): cover, live performance, original recording lyric video, music video or cat video.  As long as it has your compositions in it, it earns a public performance royalty.

How To Get Paid: Your PRO

YouTube Composition Royalties

In addition to performance royalties, you can earn a percentage of the ad revenue generated from the video.  Again, any video on YouTube that has your composition in it (uploaded by you or anyone else) can get an ad placed on it and start generating revenue.  Your admin publishing company will handle this.

I know you’re wondering, ‘but how will my admin publishing company know when Joe Schmo from Lincoln, Nebraska uploads a cover of my song? Especially because my song title is “She Loves You” (and it’s not the Beatles song)?’  

Yeah, you can see the difficulty.  And YouTube’s Content ID program doesn’t catch these, because covers and live recordings are different sound recordings than the original.  Some admin publishing companies and YouTube collections companies are better at tracking this than others.  Some do manual searches/listen.  Others have other systems in place.  But you can always ask your company how they do it.

How To Get Paid: Admin Publishing Company

Synch License

Like the master use license, any TV show, movie, commercial or video game requires a synchronization (synch for short) license to put the composition alongside their picture.

How To Get Paid: Directly from the TV studio, ad agency (for a commercial), production company (for a movie or trailer), or game company. It’s best to work with a licensing company for this.

The Only Way To Guarantee Your Music Is Heard By A Film/TV Music Supervisor

53 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    “you can signup for independent YouTube revenue collection companies like Audiam, AdRev or InDmusic”

    No, that’s a common misconception.

    Most artists use samples in their records, either from legitimate sample libraries like Kontakt, BFD, etc. or from common keyboards.

    And when they do that, they can’t monetize UGC on YouTube via Audiam or similar companies.

    However, YouTube itself does allow the use of cleared samples, so you can monetize UGC if you sign up with ContentID directly instead.

    • Data

      from common keyboards. And when they do that, they can’t monetize UGC on YouTube via Audiam or similar companies.”

      What are you talking about ? Sounds and samples coming from legitimate, royalty-free sample libraries ( like the ones you cited ) are already cleared for commercial uses. They are specifically made for other musicians to use them within a track, and to transform them again if they wich to.

      That is not to be confused with music libraries, where a piece of music is licensed to you for use with an accomapnying video or website or other media.
And not to be confused either with the act of sampling a bit of music to be used within a new piece of music ( and for wich you need to clear the sample first )

      • Anonymous

        “What are you talking about ?”

        I think I made it pretty clear — what it is you don’t understand?
        Again: You can not use Audiam, Tunecore or any other company to monetize UGC on YouTube if your music contains samples from the kind of legitimate libraries or keyboards we mention here.

        And again, I’m aware that this is news to almost everybody — Ari included — but it is true!

        Ask Audiam or any similar company if you don’t trust me…

    • Gary

      HI, thanks for the breakdown, very helpful.I have a question .I have a soundtrack album that is being reissued.Publishing structure is understood for PRO administration(BMI) but, for, the now, physical sale and downloads, am I not eligible for a mechanical royalty on the sale and/or download of the CD? (this would be in the HFA
      compartment I presume) I did contact the company that is re issuing this CD it is a different label and administrator ,so it(the label that the soundtrack is on) has gone through a couple of different Incarnations.Obviously everything is negotiable and my right to participate in their revenue is ,most likely, on ‘their radar’ at this point.

    • Data

      I don’t need to verify anything, because it’s complete and utter nonsense .Unless your music is 100% acoustic, 99% of music produced today contains sounds or loops from keyboards and legitimate professional soundlibraries. I’ve been making and producing othern people’s music for more than 25 years, and even making sound libraries for other synth/samplers.

      • Anonymous

        “I don’t need to verify anything”

        No — because I already did for you (and for everybody else)! And you are, unfortunately, 100% wrong:

        Here’s what Tunecore said:

        “You cannot submit tracks to YouTube for revenue collection that
-Contain any audio library samples, sound effects, or production loops (such as GarageBand loops)
-Contain any third party content that you do not have exclusively licensed (such as samples you do not have exclusively licensed)”

        I asked Audiam if they had the same rules as Tunecore?

        Audiam said: ” Yes, you must exclusively control the rights to the content you submit. These rules are not set by Tunecore or Audiam, but by Youtube.”
Audiam’s replya was not correct, however: As mentioned above, YouTube does indeed allow artists to monetize tracks that include the type of non-exclusive legitimate samples we are discussing here. But artists need to sign up with ContentID directly to do so.
        And CD Baby has similar rules:
“As far as YouTube goes you would have to monetize the content on your own as we can not monetize this type of content [i.e. legitimate and cleared but non-exclusive samples] as it is often disputed or removed”

        Please note that I explicitly asked all three companies about their politics on legitimate sample libraries, such as Kontakt and BFD and samples from common keyboards.

        Bottom line: Most artists can not use Tunecore, Audiam and CD Baby to monetize UGC on YouTube.

        • Paul Resnikoff

          “You cannot submit tracks to YouTube for revenue collection that
-Contain any audio library samples, sound effects, or production loops (such as GarageBand loops)

          Seriously? I can’t use a GarageBand loop and monetize that?

          I thought those clips were totally royalty-free usage. In fact, didn’t that Polow da Don-produced track for Usher feat. Young Jeezy, ‘Love In this Club’, use a GarageBand loop? I think it’s a blatant rip-off (of, whatever, it’s open for anyone to use) of one of the clips.

          That track has 75 million views, I think they’re being monetized.

        • No Name

          You are completely mis-interpreting what they are telling you. Go and read the license agreement with BFD or Spectrasonics – most tell you that as long as their sounds are used within a composition, and not exposed, i.e just repeating a loop over and over without any additional music or vocals, you have the right to use them and make money with it.

          I have released many, many songs using BFD, EWQLSO, Omnisphere, RMX, etc… through CD Baby, tunecore, and have monetized my videos with no issues whatsoever.

          Not only that but I compose for film and TV and let me assure you, they are far more anal about having cleared samples in songs.

  2. Bull

    LOL… that would mean NO modern music production whatsoever could be monetized, only music that is 100% acoustic. It’s clearly not happening, quite the opposite, so you are clearly wrong.

    • Anonymous

      “that would mean NO modern music production whatsoever could be monetized”

      Indeed! And that’s pretty much what I told Audiam, CD Baby and Tunecore. Here’s my last mail to Audiam:

      “I’m sure you’re aware that most – if not all – artists today use non-exclusive samples from common Yamaha- and Roland keyboards as well as non-exclusive samples from common libraries such as Kontakt, BFD, EastWest, etc.

      I’m certainly no exception. And that’s not a problem with YouTube/ContentID, as you can exclude time-stamped segments that contain longer loops, public speeches or similar kinds of distinct third-party content.

      But I can understand that your rules differ from YouTube’s in that respect and I’ll find another solution.

      As far as I can see, most artists will have to do that, too. So that’s pretty interesting, all in all.”

      • JTV Digital

        These are the rules (set by YouTube) surrounding the use of Content ID:

        Any other restrictions mentioned above are, to say the least, ridiculous, considering that all modern music is totally or partially produced using audio snippets / loops / beats / sounds, etc. from libraries.

        • Ronald T. Jones

          I need help collecting my royalties. My name is Ronald. Timothy Jones. Will someone please help I’ve been hacked so much I can’t remember my

          • Barbara L. (Bateman Geiger)

            same here: yahoo, cellular LG Trackphone hacking, car burglarizations, govt. routing calls to counterfeit receipient voices. Song stolen by WTA&M, and Texas A & M University, Bryan, College Station, Tx, and stove gassing to murder students who are the song writers. Reported that Tx A & M have stolen songs for years and published at the publishing office without their knowledge.

      • Anonymous

        JTV Digital:
        “Any other restrictions mentioned above are, to say the least, ridiculous, considering that all modern music is totally or partially produced using audio snippets / loops / beats / sounds, etc. from libraries.”

        Ridiculous, but correct: I asked Audiam, Tunecore and CDBaby, and they all have the same restrictions.

        So again:

        Audiam, Tunecore and CDBaby can NOT be used by most artists for monetizing UGC on YouTube — no matter how often Ari repeats this nonsense.

  3. Paul Resnikoff

    Ari, exhaustive review. Maybe this is for another piece, but what is your opinion on giant, un-matched or non-distributed royalty accounts that agencies like SoundExchange and the PROs sit on, waiting months, quarters or more before they are distributed? I’ve always felt this is dirty business, because unmatched royalties often get re-distributed to the biggest content companies, even if they don’t own the content. SoundExchange is one of the worst on this — if an artist doesn’t claim his/her royalties, why should it just sit on SE’s books while they collect millions in interest? Why should Pandora bear that burden?

  4. Anonymous

    “I can’t use a GarageBand loop and monetize that?”

    Paul, those clips are indeed totally royalty-free — just like all the other samples I mention in my posts.

    So yes, you can certainly monetize them without any problems. But like I said:
    You have to do it yourself on YouTube, using ContentID directly.

    Audiam, CD Baby and Tunecore will not help you. Your only option would be to violate their rules, and that would bite your ass sooner rather than later. YouTube is a dispute-magnet, and you want to be in the strongest possible position at all times legally.

    • JTVDigital

      They have absolutely no way to detect this.
      And it would mean not a single song created over the last 20 years can be monetized…

      • Anonymous

        “They have absolutely no way to detect this”

        …and you have no way of knowing that so you’ve gotta ask yourself one question:

        Do I feel lucky?

        Well, do ya, punk? 🙂

        Because if you don’t, you’ll lose every single cent in court.

        Personally, I’m a coward so I stick to the rules. but ymmv.

  5. Anonymous

    Also, Paul — just to be clear:

    Tunecore were referring to their own services when they said that you “cannot submit tracks to YouTube for revenue collection that contain any audio library samples”.
    They never said that you can’t monetize cleared non-exclusive samples on YouTube in general. Only Audiam said that, and they simply didn’t know what they were talking about.

  6. Bull

    I think this whole matter can be safely ignored, because :

    1- It is ridiculous.

    2- It is absolutely inapplicable in the real world : They would have to verify that EVERY single sound in EVERY single track in EVERY single album uses only sounds that are 100% acoustic, that no piano sounds is coming from a synth, an electronic keyboard ( good luck with that ) or a semi electric piano, etc.. that all string sounds are coming from real violins, etc.. It is simply IMPOSSIBLE to prove or verify.

    3- Even if point 2 was possible ( in a parallel world inhabited by superhuman beings ) , that would disqualify 90% of their clients, and they might as well close shop overnight.
    Bottom line, this was probably drafted by a young lawyer on coke knowing very well that it was 100% inapplicable in the real world, and you should just ignore it and deliver your music as usual.

  7. Anonymous

    Sound Exchange seems like needless bureaucracy. Why weren’t the existing pros given the ability to collect non-interactive royalties?

    • Ari Herstand

      SoundExchange collects royalties for the sound recording. Existing PROs collect royalties for the composition. Two different sides. Two different sets of royalties. Different laws and different computations. SX represents artists and labels. PROs represent publishers and songwriters.

  8. Anonymous

    “I think this whole matter can be safely ignored”

    That would be fraud. Meaning you may lose all your money.

    It is ridiculous

    Yes, Audiam and Tunecore could avoid the majority of meaningless claims/counterclaims by excluding clips shorter than a few seconds from monetization.

    “It is absolutely inapplicable in the real world : They would have to verify that EVERY single sound in EVERY single track […] Even if point 2 was possible ( in a parallel world inhabited by superhuman beings )”

    Superhumans, trained monkeys or algorithms…

    • Anonymous

      P.S. Ari messed up the order of the comments when he reprinted this old article for the n’th time, so some of the replies may be a bit hard to understand.

      He also forgot a few quotation marks and html-codes along the way (around “It is ridiculous” in my comment above, for instance)…

  9. Sasha

    Thank you for this very helpful summary article. Clearly much research and effort went into it.

    A question: How should a self-releasing producer/artist arrange matters when bringing in featured vocalist/co-writers? Clearly there will be a songwriter split. What about publishing, and other payments? I assume the producer/artist will want to own the master, so must he or she pay a session fee and obtain a written release (work-for-hire) from the singer? How to then manage and divide any income the resulting song generates? Thank you for any clarification.

  10. Deborah H

    Excellent article! the only thing is you don’t need to form an LLC to get publishing royalties from ASCAP. Unless things have changed in the last 5 years a simple DBA is sufficient

  11. Corey

    Very nice article – one clarification regarding collecting in Canada on the artist/master owner side of things: to be eligible to receive neighboring rights royalties for commercial/terrestrial radio play and other public performances, a sound recording needs to be made in a country that signed the Rome Convention (not the US), or the maker of that recording (label or artist) needs to be based in a country that signed the Rome Convention. So, sound recordings made in the US by US labels are not eligible to receive royalties for radio play in Canada.

  12. Versus

    “BUT, you don’t need to signup with HFA to collect mechanical royalties. Admin publishing companies like SongTrust, CD Baby, Tunecore and Audiam will collect mechanical royalties for you if you signup for their publishing programs”

    Are you sure about SongTrust? From their FAQ:
    “Songtrust uses the Harry Fox Agency in the US to handle mechanical licenses for our clients. We do not provide any services related to direct payment of mechanicals from a third-party to our clients.”

  13. Lynne Conner-Smith

    My husband was killed in 1999 -his stage name was Sherrick and his birth name was F. LaMotte Smith. He had a self-titled album in 1987 on Warner bros. He wrote some of the songs including JUST CALL.

    I have been unable to locate where is royalties are going, if any, for me and our children. I wrote countless letters to Warner Bros to no avail.

    Can you offer some direction?

    • james

      You need to get in touch with the PRS organisation. They are based in London, and any royalties that were due to your husband – if he is a writer, as you say – will be on record with them. Don’t waste your time with the record company or the publishing company: for the most part they are useless and unhelpful in such administrative matters.

  14. SongTraction

    Song Traction is definitely a “publishing company” that charged a fee and is a FRAUD company by the likes of a guy named Joe Conte or “Joe Gabriel.”

  15. Batphink Reynolds

    So after 30 years(yes I’m getting old ) I finally got one of my songs and they want more placed in a TV show in British Columbia! I won’t mention it until I get it ‘aired’ soon because obviously scared of being pushed out I dunno.

    It is a non payment deal for national and eventually global exposure so I don’t mind letting them use my music.Do I still qualify for some type of Royalty.I think I need to contact Socan but they will ask me which show and I worry about getting pushed out I nuts?

  16. mandy

    man! So much to learn. Thank you for all of your articles I am getting quite the education!

    I am Canadian, and have signed up with SOCAN (as an artist/composer and as a publishing company) and reSound (as an artist and a label), and chosen BMI as my US PRO – do I need to get CD Baby PRO or can I just pay the per album rate, or will I be able to collect all of the publishing through these two registrations. I hope I’m using the correct terminology. I own the publishing for all of the songs on the album and they will appear on tv. I’d like to have them all sent to itunes, amazon, pandora etc. With these three registrations – will I have covered all of my bases? I also plan to use bandcamp to sell the album.

    Please help – everytime I think I know what I need to know there seems to be more to know! I’m worried that I will sign up in multiple places that do the same thing!

  17. NeedDirection

    how do i start receiving royalties that I have not received for the past 8 years.. was registered and no matter how i try to communicate have not received my royalties.. also what if i suspect that a label I was signed with was collecting my royalties but I never saw a cent?

  18. Mark

    I recently recorded for a very popular metal band, that is on a major label. how can i collect any royalties for playing on the cd? (note: i did not write the music, but i performed on 12 songs)

    • Lavonne

      @Mark or other hired recording musicians and vocalists: In the US, the AFM & SAG-AFTRA Intellectual Property Rights Distribution Fund distributes the non-interactive digital performance royalties to non-featured performers, i.e., session musicians and backing vocalists. (SoundExchange pays the featured artist(s) and label/owner of master). Go to to check for your name on the unclaimed list or check the list of songs with royalties accrued for any missed credits.

  19. Mack N

    SESAC actually stands for Society of Europian Stage Authors and Composers.

  20. Shlomo

    900,000? yeah ok- less than 15 which are addressed in this article- music industry always wants to confuse stuff –

    Hey artists and songwriters there are about 15 main revenue streams you have to worry about collecting. Not 900,000

    Don’t be overwhelmed- not that hard

  21. Chuck Hughes

    The problem with hiring a publishing admin. is that they also want to admin. your performance royalties, which is something you can easily do yourself. I let Tunecore do it for two years and the performance royalties they adminned more than offset the new mechanicals they found.

  22. Anthony Bailey

    Hello all
    After reading all the article and the comments, i am confused as if I should register with an admin publishing company like audiam for my mechanical royalties or directly register with youtube contend ID.. any help please ? thanks

  23. Jeff

    I am smart enough to know that I need to hire someone to navigate me through all of this. Moreover, I don’t want to deal with this but I don’t want to be screwed or screw anyone else over.

    I am re-recording another band’s music and am changing the lyrics as well as most of the melodies. I have hired studio musicians. I want to be on all the YouTube’s and Spotify, etc.

    For simple math, should I assume the split, with Synch licensing, will be a 20% for the musical section, 20% for me, 50% for publishing and 10% for “other fees”? If I hire a manager he would take 15% of my 20%?

    BTW, Is this what a legitment business manager would do? Is 15% standard for a business manager to handle.

  24. Scarday

    I had my First Single with Tunecore- I didn’t get a Dime. I Then Passed to CDBaby, I’ve Got nearlly 2000$ only from RumbleFish- which actually Tracks the search-terms, I mean my Songs’ and Band’s name search Phrases on Search Engines or Platforms makes 2000(the normal rate is about 30-50M) but CDBaby shows me One* Full Album Sell, that’s It!..I have Canceled CDBaby, SongCast, Songtradr as well My PRO, MESAM..I am working with Musicreports Upon NOI’s..and That Guys had a Fair, that We should Liquidate This/His Money..I am Talking Billions Here!..and Now that I am with a New Album, I’ve released Fun and FAN Videos on YouTube, and Almost Got a Publisher’s Deal..what I wonder is Will I get The Pass-Due Money from YouTube, when I Get The Songs Licensed..?

  25. Dawn Mary Belgardedawn

    Hi I am looking for my earning for creating, songs singing ,writing , and helping other artist be successful I have been doing this most of my life and have never been paid

  26. Antonio

    I am Italian Musician and Composer.
    All my music is distributed by Tunecore through the Music Platforms, as Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music and so on.
    I never deposit my music for rights protection in my country, and I should register it, I think.
    My question is, can I register my music in USA directly, and not passing through a PRO here in Italy?