What Is A Performing Rights Society (ASCAP & BMI)?

Performing Rights Society

Performing Rights Society (ASCAP & BMI)

Performing Rights Societies (ASCAP & BMI) collect licensing fees from television, radio, restaurants, malls, concert halls, bars, night clubs, colleges, hotels, airplanes and others and pay those fees to writers and publishers of the song(s) performed. In this article, we explore in some depth the membership, registration of compositions and methods of payment in ASCAP and BMI.

Some Background

Performance rights societies instead of charging performance royalties or fees on a song-by-song basis collect licensing fees following the so called “blanket licenses”. Blanket Licenses would entitle the licensee to perform any composition in the ASCAP or BMI repertoire for the duration of the license.

This is important to note that public performing rights royalties are paid only to the writer and publisher of the performed composition, and not to a recording artist who has included a version of the composition on sound recordings. Therefore, when an artist is “covering” a writer’s composition, the artist “covering” might be paid on album sales by record company.


The writer may only belong to one performing rights society at a time. The writer’s affiliation with a performing rights society and not the publishers determines which performing rights society administers the composition. This means that ASCAP administers compositions written and registered by ASCAP members.

Publishers, on the other hand, may have separately named publishing entities with both ASCAP and BMI, as neither society pays the royalty to a member of the other society.

A writer or publisher may become a member of ASCAP upon the public performance of one of the writer’s compositions. After election to ASCAP, the new writer becomes eligible to begin collecting royalty payments as other ASCAP writer members.

On the other hand, writers may become BMI members even before any public performance of their compositions. BMI employs “Open Door” policy that allows writers or publishers with a musical composition either published, recorded, or likely to be performed publicly.

Registration of Compositions

Undoubtedly, for ASCAP and BMI to pay royalties for songs, the songs need to be registered or cleared.

Method for Determining Performances Paid

It is often hard for ASCAP and BMI to monitor non-television or radio performances of compositions in their repertory.


ASCAP annually samples some 60,000 of AM and FM radio to produce a model of broadcast music on radio. There are independent statisticians conducting the surveys without informing the radio or TV stations beforehand. However, the samples may include compositions not paid royalties since they are either unidentifiable or found in the other society’s catalog.

BMI annually samples some detailed listings representing about 360,000 hours of airplay on selected AM and FM radio stations.

Network Television

Network television producers submit cue sheets to ASCAP and BMI, which describe every second of music used in a program. BMI spot checks the submitted cue sheets while ASCAP does a limited amount of radio and videotaping of network television to verify the submitted information.

Payment of Royalties

BMI pays royalties quarterly, seven to nine months after the actual performance of the composition based upon a published rate schedule prescribing minimum rates for each quarter. Unlike ASACAP, BMI (in the absence of publisher) pays both shares of royalties to the writer, or the writer and publisher may agree to split the royalties unequally, with the writer receiving a larger, BUT not vice versa.

ASACP, on the other hand, follows the dollar in paying royalties. Publisher royalties are paid in one lump sum, two quarters following the actual quarter of performance of the composition, while writer royalties are paid in four quarterly increments, beginning no less than three quarters following the actual performance.


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