If you delve into the liner notes of nearly any CD, you’ll undoubtedly find a copyright notice that proclaims who owns the songs contained on said record. Appropriately, the notice will contain the year the work was copyrighted as well as the artist that owns the copyright (or that artist’s publishing company). Following that, you’ll see one of three acronyms that may seem a little peculiar: ASCAP, BMI or SESAC.

ASCAP, BMI and SESAC are the three major performing rights organizations (PRO) in the United States. PROs are intermediaries between the copyright holder and the person or organization using the song for a “public performance.” Many situations constitute a public performance, and these can range from a concert performance radio play to songs used on television shows. It is the job of the PRO to collect the royalty payment from the user of the song and distribute it to the artist.

Since each PRO is responsible for providing payment for each song broadcast, it is easy to see why every music artist seeking to make a profit belongs to one of the groups. Since all three PROs function in the same basic capacity, there is no “best” organization, so it is important to look at the differences between the three to understand which would best fit your music goals.


The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers is the oldest PRO in America – founded in 1914 – and currently represents over 427,000 artists. The not-for-profit organization is the only of the three that was created and is controlled by composers, songwriters and music publishers. The Board of Directors for the organization is elected from its members. Anyone is able to join ASCAP.

In addition to PRO duties, the company also offers additional perks to its members. These can range from music industry workshops to discounted health insurance plans.

Notable ASCAP members: Lana Del Rey, Peter Frampton, George Strait


Also a not-for-profit, Broadcast Music, Inc. represents over 500,000 artists in the U.S. and was founded in 1939. BMI prides itself in remaining on the cutting edge of the music industry, and offered membership to artists performing genres like jazz, R&B and rock and roll before ASCAP.

BMI also allows any songwriter to join and has a number of “career-building” assets like showcases and seminars to help its members.

Notable BMI members: Rihanna, Hank Williams and Eminem.


SESAC was formerly an acronym for The Society of European Stage Authors & Composers, though now the company’s official name now is simply SESAC. Founded in 1930 to represent European artists that were underrepresented in the U.S., the company now works with a wide-variety of artists in many music genres. Unlike the other two groups, SESAC is a for-profit company and it uses a selective process when allowing members to join instead of permitting any artist to use the company’s services.

IN part because it selectively keeps its roster less numerous than the other two companies, the company claims that it is the “clear technological leader among the nation’s performing rights organizations.” The company also is the fastest growing PRO.

Notable SESAC members: Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, RUSH.