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DIY Musician: Copyrights, P.R.O.'s, & Publishing

Every songwriter needs to know about these three things! Understanding them will change the way you release music forever!

I am going to explain some basics with you about copyrights, performance rights groups, & publishing. All topics are important to understand when it comes to the ownership, songwriter credits, and how you collect royalties.

Royalties = $$$$$$

So pay attention!!!


There are two types of copyrights, the recording and the composition. If you were signed to a record label, in most cases, the label would own the sound (master) recording copyrights of your music. If there were no record label involved, then you, the artist would own the recording copyrights. Composition (publishing) copyrights go to the songwriter and/or songwriters involved in the composition. Both can and will earn royalties.

That said, If you are an independent artist with no label then you can claim royalties for both recording and composition rights. The best way to copyright your music would be registering your music with the copyright office. You will be charged a fee for registering your music but you would be protected from copyright infringement no matter what.

If you don’t have money to go this route you can still protect your music from copyright infringement. The moment your music exists in some tangible form it becomes your intellectual property.

For example, I am a beat composer. When I create a Pro Tools session to record and arrange my music it becomes a tangible form. There are other ways to put your composition into tangible form but my advice would be to always bring a hard drive with you for the engineer to back up your sessions too so that you can always claim it as your intellectual property. You are only paying the engineer for his services and therefore they cannot claim any ownership over the masters. If you are your own engineer make sure you back those sessions up for safekeeping.

There are other tangible forms you can use other than a recording session. I just recommend having that because if some were to try and claim ownership rights to your music or use it as there own, that session isn't anything the other party will have obtained with out your permission, making your argument stronger in a court.


Publishing is how you collect songwriter royalties. This is something you can do yourself to start earning money from your music. Even if your just starting out and you are releasing your first song ever you should register your music with a P.R.O., publisher, and/or publishing administrator.

Trust me! You don’t want your song to attract attention to a radio station that wants to air it on the radio but you don’t have your music registered so they decline the offer to. I have been in that situation before and it was all because I didn’t know any better. I lost an opportunity. That’s why I felt this information was important to share so that you won’t lose opportunities to get your music heard and in front of an audience like I did.

Plus, you know, there is also that other thing... You get to collect royalties from your music!

Here’s what you need…

Performance Rights Organizations

You need to register with a PRO! It is important if you want to collect performance royalties. With out getting into too much detail, I’ll explain it as simple as I can.

The first thing you should do once you’ve finished writing your song, is register your music with a Performance Rights Organization. PRO’s are not publishing agencies. They are collection societies that collect all your performance royalties. I am registered with BMI myself.

In my opinion, BMI is the perfect option for songwriters with no budget to invest in themselves. They are free to sign up and register your music. They will take a percentage from the royalties collected for their services. But there are multiple P.R.O.’s in the United States to choose from like ASCAP, and SESAC to name a few.

Point is that you need to register your music with a PRO as soon as your song is written and/or in a tangible form before you release your music. All have different terms in their contracts so take some time to choose one you think is best for you, but definitely register to one so you’re able to claim your performance royalties.

Publishers & Publishing Administrators

There are a couple of ways to get your music published. You can sign an agreement with a publishing agent/agency or you can sign up with a publishing administration. Both collect mechanical royalties but each is very different in how they will work for you.

When you sign an agreement with a publisher you end up giving 25% - 50% of your copyrights away. Publishing your music this way isn’t a bad thing because your publisher owning copyrights gives them incentive to exploit your music for more possible success of the music. In my opinion, this is a great option if you’re signed to a label because an actual publishing agent will make sure your songs a success. If you don’t make money they don’t make money either.

Administration agreements are a more popular choice for the independent, unsigned artist. They charge an annual fee for their services as well as 15 – 25% commission on any royalties collected, leaving you with 100% of your copyrights. That means you and only you will own the copyrights to any works registered with them.

Songtrust and TuneCore are popular administrations. Both are trusted companies but don’t let it stop you from researching others that might work better for you.

Yes, you’re going to have to come up with some money to get your music published. But what is 75 – 100 dollars for you to keep 100% of your copyrights and to potentially make more money from the royalties they collect for you. If you find yourself unsatisfied with their services, you can cancel services with them after a year or two (depending on the agreement) when the term is over.


I hope this article taught you something. I really want to help you and other aspiring artists understand how to make money from your music on your own. Truth is that there is so much more detail than what I am sharing and if you really want to understand 100% how publishing and PRO’s work, Songtrust has an awesome eBook available on their site that explains everything you need to know. Definitely take advantage of that information.

Get a discount on your publishing administrator when you use these links for Songtrust or TuneCore.

Let me know what you thought of this article by leaving a comment!

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