Everything I’ve Learned About PROs, Vol. 3

How I work with ASCAP - Sage Harrington - Pyragraph
Photo courtesy of Sage Harrington.

You’ve Made It!

This is the last episode in your PRO education. (Here are episodes one and two, if you missed them.) Before we get down to the to-do list I promised you, I’d like to tell you a bit more about my experience getting signed up with ASCAP, in the hopes that your experience will be easier and smoother.

More on my Sad Tale of Confusion

So, like I said, I recorded a CD in 2011. I decided on ASCAP. I sent them some basic personal information, a list of the songs I recorded for my CD, and my credit card info.

Read the email they send you, because here is where you get access to all the goodies they promise you.

I became an ASCAP member as both a writer (Sage Harrington) and a publishing company (I came up with the name Goat Soap Society). Because I had already told them about the songs that appear on the CD, and because I had given them my cold, hard credit card number, I thought I was done. I thought that was enough. I thought, if ever my songs started spinning and spinning without stopping on the radio, public or commercial or internet or otherwise, my cold, hard royalty cash would find its way to me. Well.

Here’s Where I Went Wrong with ASCAP

I failed to read the email. I’m talking about the congratulatory email: the confirmation email, pulled from the deepest sands of time, i.e. late 2011. This email congratulated me on my membership, and urged me to take further action and create a Members Access account, which seemed weird to me. (You already know who I am! Why do I have to make “another” account with you?!) This was a stupid mistake, but I mention it here because I can’t have been the first dumb artist to do this.

READ THE EMAIL they send you, because here is where you get access to all the goodies they promise you. This is where they can start collecting your money. (We’re also at the point in the process where a certain aforementioned company decided they can make money offa you by offering you a service that you don’t need. Worry not, because I’m here to walk you through this.)

This next part seems kind of like a digression, but I’ll mention it because, just like with the not-reading-the-email-thing, I can’t have been the first dumb artist to do it. FOR SOME UNKNOWN, GODFORSAKEN REASON I named my publishing company “Goat Soap Society,” but I’d spent the past two years laboring under the delusion that I’d named it “Goat Soap Songs.” I even had that printed on my CDs. (A PRO will ask for three or so versions of a name when you register as a publishing company, because they want to pick names that are least similar to existing companies. So I gave them a few variations, and they did not pick my first choice.)

Maybe at this point we can just say that “Goat Soap Songs” refers to my, oh, I don’t know, own personal record label, since I recorded and pressed it independently? And maybe people [i.e. radio stations and those ever-elusive music biz bigwigs] don’t even need to know what my publishing company is? Maybe it’s just a tool for me to collect 100% of my royalties, a vestige of a bygone era where most money made in the music biz was from actual printed, published scores?

Clearly, these are questions that I do not have answers to, yet. I’ll keep you posted, should the universe ever deign to enlighten me.

Your To-do List

You’re good. You’re set. You understand all the weird legal distinctions and now you are ready to buckle down in front of the computer and get to work. Here’s where you can start.

  • Pick your PRO. You could try the pick-five-awesome-CDs-and-look-for-their-PRO-affiliation method I used; a draw-the-PRO-from-the-hat game; come up with some kind of drinking game with your other soon-to-be PRO-affiliated musician friends; or perform some kind of moonlit-fire-based pagan ritual involving silver daggers, an innocent lamb, and mead. You could also, perhaps, even check out a bunch of PROs’ websites and look into what each organization could do for you. But seriously, that’s not as interesting as our other options, right?
  • Fill out your applications online. For some reason ASCAP wants you to do one at a time, so start off applying as a writer and when that clears, do your publishing company. It’ll give you more time to come up with an awesome name that they’ll reject because it’s too similar to existing companies’ names.
  • Wait for about two weeks, anxiously, with much high-schoolish angst about rejection. Don’t be surprised when they don’t reject you. They won’t. There’s probably no reason for them not to accept your application, and your money.
  • Repeat above steps, filling out a new application for your publishing company.
  • Wait, feel angst, relief, etc.
  • Receive email(s) congratulating you on your membership.
  • Read email(s) congratulating you on your membership.
  • Follow instructions to create your weird ASCAP Members Access account (or whatever your company’s equivalent) for both your songwriter self (Sage Harrington) and your publishing company (Goat Soap Society).
  • Log into said account, at which time you can tell them the titles of all the fabulous songs you’ve written, including the songs you could have sworn you already told them about two years previously.
  • Here’s how this will work: they will ask you for the title of the song. They will ask you for the song’s writers, and the song’s publishers. (If you’re like me, there’s only one writer [Sage Harrington] and one publisher [Goat Soap Songs].) That’s basically it. You can give them more info if you’re particularly fastidious, but it’s optional. (ASCAP calls this “Registering a Work,” and thankfully they have a full set of video tutorials on how to do it, or I may not have gotten through the process with a full head of hair.)
  • Something to keep in mind: if you’ve got two accounts going (on both the writer’s and publisher’s sides), you’ll only need to log into one, and register your songs once, from one account. I logged in as Sage Harrington, Registered a bunch of Works (my entire set list), then logged out and logged in as Goat Soap Society, at which point I started Registering the same Works. A second time. I got through about four titles before I thought, “Wait, what am I doing? These are going to pop up as duplicates.” And, later, they did. So you just have to Register Works once, through one account. I envision this in my future: not worrying too much about my Goat Soap Society account, and not logging into it very much. I’ll keep you posted on that.
  • Here’s where you wait—this time for a week or two—for the mysterious cubicle-trapped data-entry-ing folk on the other end of your Internet connection to do their thing.
  • Voila! Your songs have magically appeared in your PRO’s online database. You can log into your account, and look at your catalog of works. Gaze at it lovingly. Scroll back and forth admiringly. Repeat.
  • Then, you can do this cool thing where, as Dandee urges (in Your PRO Manual, Vol. 2), you sign up with your PRO’s live music payout system. ASCAP calls theirs ASCAP OnStage. This is where you tell them the titles of all the fabulous songs you performed (that, remember, you’ve previously Registered) at your latest show at a bar, restaurant, or any other venue that pays into PRO’s. You’ll tell them that you performed your own songs. You’ll also tell them which songs you covered. You’ll include every song in your set list whose songwriter is registered with a PRO.
  • Now, you receive money for having written a song that you performed! And Leonard Cohen receives money because you performed a song of his! And Andrew Bird! And Regina Spektor! And Brandi Carlile! All these people, including you, will get cash for your show, no matter how huge or tiny or attentive or drunk or loving the crowd. YAY.

Here be Monsters

Here’s where I’ll have to stop writing about PROs, for now. I cannot lead you any more along the known path, because we’ve reached a place I haven’t yet ventured into.

This here is a wild and tangled land of near-legalese and confusion. It’s nearly unnavigable. But there are royalties tangled in those brambles, waiting to be plucked like juicy blackberries. Anyway, take heed, take care, and enjoy the sweet fruits of the royalty bush.

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