Can you imagine having to keep track of every play of every song all the time? That is precisely the task faced by performance rights royalty collection societies like BMI and ASCAP. They need to know exactly which of their member's songs are being played where at any given moment so that they can accurately distribute royalties to publishers and songwriters. The job itself is nearly impossible, but the groups do have their ways of managing the mammoth undertaking. Here is how they approach each sector of media to make sure their members get paid.
Note that this information applies primarily to US performance rights royalty collection and more specifically to ASCAP and BMI practices. However, the basics are the same in most territories.
1. Radio Plays
Tracking radio plays is by far one of the most daunting tasks faced by performance rights collection groups. Since it is downright impossible to generate a list of every song being played on every radio station all the time - let alone manage that data - collection rights groups tackle this challenge in a few different ways.
BMI uses a mix of station reporting and digital monitoring. They require every station to whom they issue a license to keep a log of what songs they play for a set period each year. This typically breaks down to every station reporting their playlists for a three day period. They combine that data with digital monitoring of radio plays to come up with an idea of whose songs are in heavy rotation.
ASCAP relies solely on digital monitoring.
2. Television Plays
Television networks carry a great deal of the burden when it comes to reporting live plays. For both BMI and ASCAP, stations must keep what are known as cue sheets - sheets that list every song that is played on the network, when it is played and how long it is played. All of that information is important, because different royalties are paid for different types of song usages. In addition to combing the data the stations provide to them, the performance rights societies also use digital monitoring to keep track of television song plays.
3. Digital Plays
When it comes to digital plays, life is good for songwriters, publishers and performance rights societies. The nature of digital performances of songs (and remember, a live "performance" doesn't have to mean a live show - it can mean a public airing of a recorded song) means that digital broadcasters are able to report their playlists with just about 100% accuracy to the performance rights groups. In fact, they can provide so much data that their thoroughness is almost problematic for the groups. It is such an information overload that they often struggle to make sure it all gets put into action.
4. Live Plays
Live plays are tracked much more loosely in the US than other territories. In the US, the 200 highest grossing venues report their song plays to the performance rights groups - these venues are determined according to a list generated by a music industry publication called Pollstar. As you can see, this method barely scratches the surface of concert plays, so many songwriters in the US see little if any royalty income from concert plays of songs they have written.
In many other countries, these plays are tracked much more closely and even small venues are required to turn in set lists of the shows they host.
5. Special Case: Film Plays
Contrary to what you may assume, in the US, performance rights royalties are not collected on music played in films. Why not? The film industry successful fought to be excluded. End of story.