Assuming you're an independent songwriter with no record deal or publishing deal, this is what you need to do to collect all your music royalties:

1- Join a Performance Rights Organization

2- Register with an admin publishing company or mechanical royalty collections society

3- Sign up with a digital music distributor

4- Register with SoundExchange or a Neighbouring Rights Organization

5- Check for unclaimed royalties in the AFM & SAG-AFTRA Fund

Pre-Requisites

Before we go through each step in detail, we need to talk about the two components of music copyright.

Why?

Because understanding music copyright is key to understanding music royalties and getting paid.

music copyright = music royalties = money in the bank

The Two Components of Music Copyright

There are two big types of copyright for music: the sound recording and the composition.

When a song is played on the radio or an album is sold, there are revenues attached to the song itself (the composition) and the recording of that song (the sound recording).

Now that's clear, let's have a look at how those two types of music copyright affect our music royalties…..

Music Royalties Breakdown

Music royalties breakdown
Music royalties = performance + mechanical royalties related to both the sound recording + the underlying composition.

Make sense?

Ok, maybe not yet. So we'll go into a little bit more detail now to explain what this chart is all about and which organizations you need to join to make sure you get paid.

IMPORTANT – If reading this gets boring or overwhelming at any point, scroll down to the bottom of the post and get your summary Music Royalties Checklist.

Print it out and take the time to go through it at your own pace.

Now, let's do this!

1- Join A Performance Rights Organization

To Collect What?

Performance royalties due to the songwriter and music publisher.

When?

Every time a composition is played in public: live, on the radio, on TV.

How Do You Join?

Each PRO has different requirements and sign up methods. They'll usually make everything clear on their website.

Pro tip: if you choose to work with an admin publishing company (see step 2), you can actually skip this part and let THEM handle this registration process.

When And How Will They Pay You?

PROs usually pay you quarterly, using the payment information you provided when you joined.

Note that non-digital performance tracking and royalty collection takes time so don't expect to receive any performance royalties in the first year after a release.

Even then, performance royalties can take time to build up.

Pro tip: If you want to do some of the tracking yourself, there are services like Tunesat that can help you identify when your music is being played on TV.

2- Register with an admin publishing company or a mechanical royalty collections company

To Collect What?

Mechanical royalties due to the songwriter and music publisher.

When?

Every time a composition is streamed on demand, downloaded, purchased.

How Do You Join?

If you're outside the US, you'll need to find out if there's a local mechanical royalty collection society in your country.

Examples of mechanical royalty collection companies:

You'll notice that the French and Canadians only have to register to one organization to collect both performance and mechanical royalties for songwriters and publishers.

Pro tip: if a quick online search doesn't do the trick, ask your PRO. They should know!

If you're in the US, you'll want to use an admin publishing company.

Examples of music publishing administration companies:

Pro tip: if you have a publishing company, you may want to apply to The Harry Fox Agency instead. Just make sure you meet their requirements before you spend $100 on the application.

SIDE NOTE – for indie artists who want to license their music

If you work or want to work with production music libraries, consider this carefully.

In sync licensing, a pretty standard deal looks like this:

  • split the synchronization fee 50/50 between you and the library,
  • you keep 100% of the songwriter's backend performance royalties, and
  • the library gets 100% of the publisher's backend performance royalties.

If you work with an admin publishing company, you won't be able to sign such a deal because the admin publishing company works on a commission: typically 15-20% of the publisher's backend performance royalties (you still get 100% of the songwriter's share).

When And How Will They Pay You?

Mechanical royalty collection societies work like PROs, they'll pay you quarterly using the payment information you provided when you signed up.

Music publishing administration companies each have their own way of working but you can usually expect to be paid monthly or quarterly, provided you've reached a certain threshold.

For example, Songtrust will pay you quarterly provided you've reached the $5 minimum payout.

3- Signup With A Digital Music Distributor

To Collect What?

Mechanical royalties due to the recording artist and the owner of the recording.

When?

Every time a sound recording is streamed on demand, downloaded, purchased.

How Do You Join?

Directly through the music distributor's website.

Examples of music distributors:

  • Distrokid (you can read why it's my personal favorite right here)
  • CD Baby (note that CD Baby Pro Publishing which we mentioned above is optional and distinct from distribution)
  • Tunecore (just like CD Baby, they offer an optional publishing admin service)

When and How Will They Pay You?

The process looks a little something like this:

  • on a bright, sunny Sunday afternoon, someone streams your song on Spotify or downloads a track on iTunes (RIP)
  • 2-3 months later, that stream/download is reported to your digital music distributor
  • your digital music distributor promptly adds that stream/download to your reports in your user interface
  • you head over to your user interface and ask for a payout
  • your digital music distributor sends you money
Withdrawing earnings from Distrokid
Simple interface to withdraw earnings from Distrokid

Pro tip: you can opt in or out of YouTube Music, Facebook, Instagram directly through your digital music distributor.

4- Register with SoundExchange or a Neighbouring Rights Organization

To Collect What?

Performance royalties due to the recording artist and owner of the recording.

When?

Every time a sound recording is played in public: live, on the radio, on TV.

Remember PROs only collect composition performance royalties, i.e. the songwriting and publishing portion of performance royalties.

How Do You Join?

If you're based in the U.S., head over to the SoundExchange website and register as an artist and copyright owner.

If you're outside the U.S., research "neighbouring rights" in your country.

A quick online search could do the trick.

If not, your local PRO, who collects performance royalties for songwriters and publishers, should be able to tell you which organization collects performance royalties for artists and labels in your country.

Examples of Neighbouring Rights Organizations:

  • PPL in the UK
  • RE:Sound in Canada
  • SPPF or SCPP for labels in France and Adami or Spedidam for artists
  • IRR in Australia

When and How Will They Pay You?

Standard is you get paid quarterly directly to the bank account you provided when you signed up.

SoundExchange can pay you monthly if you're making more than $100/month in royalties.

Note that collecting performance royalties takes time soooo….. expect a few months of big fat zeros to get started πŸ˜‰

BONUS STEP….

Check if you have any unclaimed music royalties with the AFM & SAG-AFTRA IPRD Fund.

To Collect What?

Background singer and musician royalties on the digital performances of sound recordings.

When?

Every time a sound recording is played in public: live, on the radio, on TV.

Wait…. Isn't SoundExchange Taking Care Of That?

Nope, SoundExchange pays out royalties to featured artists and copyright owners.

If you've performed on other people's sound recordings, you may be a non-featured artist.

As such, you'd be entitled to a share of performance royalties when a sound recording you've performed on is played.

It'll only take a minute and it's free to check so…. yeah, go for it!

Pro tip: outside the US, music royalties owed to back up musicians and singers are usually handled by the Neighbouring Rights Organizations mentioned above.

Other Useful Stuff You Might Not Know About Music Royalties

πŸ˜€ Fun Fact #1

If you're a BMI songwriter, BMI will automatically 100% of publishing performance royalties if there is no publishing information attached to your song.

Yep, you read that right. BMI say so right here.

πŸ˜• That's a Shame Fact #1

In the US, SoundExchange only collects performance royalties for artists and labels on DIGITAL performances.

Recording artists and labels don't get paid performance royalties when music is played on terrestrial (AM/FM) radio.

πŸ˜• That's a Shame Fact #2

When a song is used in a movie and the movie is played in theaters in the US, songwriters and publishers don't get any performance royalties.

BUT…. if that same movie is played in theaters outside the US or on TV, then the songwriter and publisher receive performance royalties.

πŸ˜€ Fun Fact #2

If you perform live, you can tell your PRO about it and upload your setlists.

Make it easy for your PRO to track and pay you those performance royalties on your live performances!

Now What?

Ok, that was a LOT of information!

If you're feeling overwhelmed, I've got just the treat for you….

Signup to the Creative & Productive Library and grab your summary checklist (reference CP014).

It's free and almost certainly the best thing since sliced bread 😜

And if you have a question…. as always, I've got your back in the comments section!