Peformance Rights Groups - The Basics:
Performance rights groups collection royalties on behalf of songwriters for performances of their original songs. The royalties come from radio play, live shows, clubs, and even songs played in stores, restaurants, elevators, etc. Radio stations and venues have to report their exact play lists to performing rights groups, so those lists are the most exact. The groups then call stores, clubs, restaurants, etc, to do an inventory of what is being played at any given time. If your song is on the list - jackpot - but this also means that many plays may slip under the radar at this level.
BMI is arguably the largest performing rights collection group in the world, with 6.5 million songs on their books (and growing). The group collection royalties in the US and is the top choice for non US acts looking for songwriting royalty collection in the US.
ASCAP is the other major royalty collection group based in the US. What is unique about ASCAP is that it is owned by its members, who have an integral role in directing the company. ASCAP represents nearly 300,000 members
In the UK, PRS is the major collection group. PRS is now alligned with MCPS, which is the UK group responsible for collecting mechanical royalties (which are separate from songwriting royalties). This joint venture has helped streamline a process that is notoriously confusing to bands, publishers and label alike.
US based SESAC takes a different approach to songwriting royalty collection. Unlike other royalty groups, SESAC chooses artists based on their music instead of just on their likelihood of having their songs played. SESAC then takes an active role in promoting their roster of songwriters for licensing opportunities and other aspects of their careers.
APRAcollects songwriter royalties in Australia, New Zealand and parts of Asia. Like their British counterpart, APRA is aligned with AMCOS, the mechanical royalty collection group in their territory. The company pays special attention to encouraging the growth of the Australasian music industry by promoting home grown artists.
The songwriting royalty groups listed above each have their own criteria for accepting members, and some require application fees and monthly dues. While this kind of protection is important for songwriters, try not to jump the gun and spend your money on joining before you're really ready. If you have a demo recorded, but you haven't done anything with it yet, then hold off before submitting your application. On the other hand, if your songs are on the internet and you are playing some shows, now may be a great time to join. Keep in mind that if your application is turned down, it's not a personal affront. As your career progresses, you'll soon be able to claim your membership.
Remember also that performing rights collection groups are for songwriters and publishers. If you play in a band, but you don't write the songs, then these groups are not for you. You are entitled to mechanical royalties, but not performing rights royalties.