A P.R.O. helps songwriters and publishers get paid for the usage of their music by collecting one of the most important forms of publishing revenue: performance royalties.  I'll break it down for you, anytime your music is played on radio stations, or TV shows or commercials, or even performed in live venues, you, the artist, is owed what is called a "performance royalty".  These performance royalties are paid by radio stations, venues and TV networks to performance rights  organizations, who then distribute the money to their affiliated songwriters and publishers.  So if your music is being played on the radio or in a TV commercial and you've never signed up with a P.R.O., you my friend, are missing out on some money. 
The more popular organizations are BMI, ASCAP, SESAC and PRS, but there are also others.  I've provided some links below to the ones I already mentioned. The services are generally the same, but the registration fees and royalty payment processes may differ.  Do some research and choose which organization best suits you, as location may also be a factor in some cases.


Here is where the game gets interesting.  Please take note in the beginning of the first paragraph, I mentioned that these organizations help songwriters AND publishers get paid.  So.... if you're the singer, who's the publisher ? First, you must understand the difference between the two.  Back in the day, when artists all wanted a record deal, if you were lucky enough to get one, the moment you signed the contract the record label became your publisher. So even though you may be the songwriter, collecting royalties, issuing licenses for the use of your song and other aspects of your career would have been overseen by the record label (your publisher).  The record label would ensure that you sign up to the P.R.O. as a writer, enabling you to receive the writers share of royalty payments, but in reality, as your publisher,  they own the rights your music.  
Fast forward to the new game, in order to truly become an independent artist, the artist must retain ownership of their work by signing up to a P.R.O. as both writer and publisher.  With the understanding that both sides ultimately add up to 100% of royalty payments, if you were to sign up simply as a writer, you would only be receiving HALF (50%) of the royalty payments for your works. Understanding how this works is very important, so much so that I'm sure I'll have to write a much more in depth post about this topic in the very near future. For now, just look at it like this, your music is a business, the publishing is the business side. Think of a nice name for your new publishing company, you're gonna need it.  

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