Getting Paid: Tips for ASCAP Concert Music Composers

There are four primary means of making money from writing music: 

  1. Commissions (people paying you to compose a piece for them)
  2. Sales Royalties (from the sale of physical or digital sheet music, whether your works are with a publisher or self-published)
  3. Licenses (when your music is arranged, recorded, etc.)
  4. Performance Royalties (when your music is performed by ensembles/performers in concert venues)

As concert (classical) composers, I think we often neglect performance royalties. We receive our piddly check from ASCAP (or whichever performing rights organization you prefer), use it to buy a cup of coffee, and go about our day. With just a little bit of effort though, you can increase your performance royalties tenfold or even a hundredfold.

The American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers (ASCAP) is a performing rights organization (PRO) that collects royalties from presenters and performance venues and distributes them to composers, songwriters, and publishers when their copyrighted works are performed or receive radio/TV play. Other PROs include BMI and SESAC, but I will be focusing on ASCAP, as this is where my interest (and knowledge) lies.

In 2013 ASCAP reportedly distributed $851.2 million to its songwriter, composer, and music publisher members. The majority of this goes to songwriters and publishers of popular music, but there is no reason that we as concert writers can't get a larger piece of that pie.

Essential First Steps

  • Become a member of a performing rights organization such as ASCAP if you haven't already.
  • Register all of your compositions/works (http://members.ASCAP.com).

Minimal Time Investment = Maximum Financial Return

Each week I spend about 30 minutes total researching performances of my works and reporting them. It has resulted in doubling and tripling my ASCAP performance royalties over the past three years. Unfortunately, ASCAP doesn't make it easy to find info about performance reporting when browsing/searching their website, so follow these steps and you're golden.

Collecting Performance Information

You need to know when and where your compositions are being performed in order to report them, right? Occasionally, conductors and performers take the time to contact you and let you know they will be performing or have recently performed your music. More often than not though, you need to be more proactive. 

1) Ask about performances of your pieces via social networks (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
I'm always surprised at how many people & performances come out of the woodwork when I simply ask a question.

2) Google your name & titles of your compositions
It might sound a little self-serving and vain, but it works!

3) Search your name & composition titles on YouTube
These might show up in your Google search, but it can't hurt to check here too.

4) Ask the director/performer to send a program
As soon as I learn of past and upcoming performances, I find the email for the director/performer (if I don't already have it in my growing database) and ask them if they will email me a PDF program (the importance of the PDF will present itself later). If this isn't possible, I simply ask that they mail a paper program to me.

5) Create PDF of paper program
If you have a smart phone, you no longer need a scanner to create PDFs. There are many apps out there, but I use TurboScan (by Piksoft) for creating PDFs by simply taking a photo of each page of the program.

Reporting Performance(s) to ASCAP

There is a newly redesigned online form to painlessly fill out for concert music performances (https://www.ascap.com/applications/performancenotification). Bookmark this address, as you will be hopefully returning to it often!

Be sure you have the following before you get started:

  • Performance Date(s)
  • Performance Venue
  • Work(s) Performed plus the ASCAP Work ID for each
  • PDF program (ASCAP provides the option to mail them a hard copy, but I have received emails from the Concert Department asking me not to do so any more)

Note: ASCAP does not collect dues from middle schools and high schools. While you can't report those performances using the traditional performance notification form, you should still collect information about them. You will need it later.

ASCAP Plus Award

According to ASCAP, "The ASCAP Plus Awards program is available to writers who received less than $25,000 in domestic performance royalties in the previous calendar year. It rewards writer members of all genres whose works were performed in unsurveyed media as well as writer members whose catalogs have prestige value."

This is where the performance information you gathered about middle and high schools comes into play. For instance, I have a concert band piece being played by a middle school band in their gymnatorium this evening. I will include the performance in my ASCAP Plus Award application (https://members.ascap.com/ma/EwaWeb/ascapAward.do). For this, you only need to know the venue name and location, the performance date, and the performing artist(s). You do not even need the title of the work(s) performed. Additionally, this online form can be saved and returned to at a later date, so you don't need to sit and enter everything at once.

The ASCAP Plus Award shows up in your January domestic distribution. Easy money if you are an active composer.

Sit Back & Watch the Money Roll In!

It really is that simple!

  1. Learn about performances.
  2. Collect PDF Programs.
  3. Complete the ASCAP Performance Notification Form for each performance.
  4. Apply for annual ASCAP Plus Award.
  5. Get paid.

Obviously, the more works you have registered in your catalog, the more money you will make from performance royalties. If it seems that your ASCAP checks are not as high as you had hoped, be patient. Sometimes it takes awhile for performances to show up on your quarterly reports. I just assume I won't see results from the fruits of my "labor" for a year from my initial performance reporting.