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Getting Paid for Co-writers Live Performances

My cowriter has a live performance coming up where he will be performing one of our previous releases live with a backup band. My question is, as a co-writer am I entitled to any performance money he receives, or is ASCAP involved in some way? Appreciate any information you can provide. Thanks a lot! - Anonymous #AskAmanda

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Thanks for your question. Where and how do you get your money when a co-writer publicly performs one of your songs?

Whenever a song is performed in a public place where people are paying to be, there is a performance royalty generated.

As a self-publishing songwriter, you’re responsible for making sure you get paid for this performance royalty, and can take steps to help this to happen.

First of all, you want to have a conversation with your collaborator about his responsibility to compensate you as co-writer and co-publisher whenever your song is performed.

The performance royalty doesn’t get paid to you automatically, though technology may eventually make that possible.

Prior to your collaborator’s public performance of your song, you should register it with your performing rights organization.

Everyone is responsible for registering his or her own part of the song in the system, but you want to make sure you’re using the same data.

For example, if your songwriter name is Amanda Colleen Williams, you should both enter that as your name, instead of using a nickname like Mandy Williams or some alternate version like Amanda C. Williams, etc. This will save you from duplicate entries or even having your song rejected from the PRO’s system, or your royalty payout delayed.

Once the song is registered, you’ll see it appear in your catalog with your respective PRO (ASCAP, BMI or SESAC most likely if you’re a U.S. based writer).

The next step is up to your cowriter.

Whenever he performs your song live, he can go into his PRO account portal and report the live performance into the system.

Each of the companies has its own way of doing this, but the online portals make it pretty simple to do, and even to create a set list that can be used multiple times, saving time with data entry in the future.

It’s recommended that you enter these performances as soon as possible, or at least quarterly for a timely payment, because there is a cut off date beyond which the services will not pay for the past performances, usually between three months and a year.

The question above asks if the co-writer is also entitled to some of the money the co-writer gets paid for the public performance.

The answer to this is no.

The co-writer is not typically entitled to any part of the money paid to compensate the person singing and performing the song as the artist. This conversely means that you are not going to be paying part of your artist performance earnings to him.

You can think of it like we do in the case of a co-writer who writes with a recording artist.

Both write the song, and thus share the composition copyright, but only the artist owns the sound recording copyright for the recording he makes of the song.

This is why we have to license songs as recording artists and pay our co-writers or other outside songwriters for the right to record the composition. The rate for that is currently 9.1 cents per song, and that typically gets divided by ever how many writers there are. This is called the mechanical royalty.

In the case of live public performance with a band, there is no recording, and therefore no mechanical royalty.

Therefore, the only royalty you’re dealing with is the one for the public performance of the composition. That is collected by both writers separately from their respective performing rights societies (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, SOCAN, etc.) by using the process detailed above.

Payment usually takes at least three months to process, and sometimes can take over a year to finally show up on your statements, so don’t get suspicious of your cowriter if you’re not seeing any money yet.

Unlike streaming royalties that are typically as low as $0.001 or less for the songwriter, a public performance royalty per song is sometimes as high as $2.00 for even a small venue, depending on how much the cover charge was, and whether or not the event was a charity benefit.

You’re smart to make sure you’re earning your royalty money as a songwriter from live performances your co-writer / artists are doing, and it’s good to remind your collaborators to regularly enter those live performances into the system for payment – not just for you, but for them as well.

In the event that the club or venue where you co-writer is performing does not have their proper licensure as a legitimate performance venue, it is reasonable to ask your cowriter to compensate you directly for your share of what the performance royalty should have been, but typically no one does that.

Usually, if someone is playing at an unlicensed club, they’re not very well established, and may not be getting paid at all to play. Especially in the case of a house concert, there is typically no public performance royalty paid, because it’s considered to be a private event. This is a gray area, and is up to you to decide the proper course of action with your collaborator if they’re doing this a lot.

Typically, performances in those kinds of settings are opportunities for artists to sell merch, physical music products, and encourage people to connect online. In this case, your song’s performance can be seen as a promotional use to encourage sales of the album, especially if you’re making a good royalty return on the mechanical licensing income that comes from sale of the vinyl or CD recordings.

If you’re not making a return on the sale of recorded music, and the artist is regularly selling only non-music merch, but never paying any royalty, you might want to have a discussion about what’s fair moving forward, or adjust your expectations for working with that person in the future.

Thanks for asking this great question about how to get paid for public performances of your song when your collaborator performs your co-written compositions live.


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