Music Royalty Myths That Cost You Your Money (How to Collect Royalties the Right Way)

You might have already seen my BMI registration video on youtube…

You might be here because you’ve seen this video on YouTube and you asked me one of my “most asked” questions.

It’s not that I don’t want to answer you specifically—in fact, I enjoy answering every comment! I just wanted to put all of my MVP questions in one pace as a valuable guide because if you needed an answer to one of these, most likely you can benefit from the rest!

If you have not seen the video yet, check it out right now and benefit from all of the expanded content below!

Here Are my Most common BMI Registration and Music publishing questions:

Do I need to register my beats on BMI before I sell them.


BMI Registration is only for completed musical works. Beats that are intended to be sold to artists are not in their completed form and therefore should not be registered with a Performing Rights Organization. If the Beat is completely finished and will not be added to or modified, AND you will release it as-is, then you can register it as an instrumental.

If my music is distributed through a distributor like Distrokid and they collect my money through streaming sites specifically, would I still need to register my music with a Performing Rights Organizations?


Distrokid might collect revenue from your streams, but it is not a Mechanical or Performance Royalty. Streaming services such as Spotify only pay distributors a royalty based of the use of the Sound Recording—not the song itself. This means that if you are thinking your work is done by collecting only what Distrokid pays you, you are leaving your Mechanical Royalties and Performance Royalties on the table. Performance Royalties are paid out by Performing Rights Organizations like BMI. Mechanical Royalties are paid out through third-party agencies such as Harry Fox Organization.

I have my songs on CD Baby. Is that considered my publisher?


CD Baby, Distrokid, TuneCore, etc. are all music distribution services and are not music publishers. A music publisher takes legal ownership of your music through a Publishing Deal—music distribution services on the other hand only take a fee for making your music available for streaming and purchase online.

Some music distributors have music publishing services that can be purchased in addition to music distribution. These a la carte are catered to independent artists so they can gain some of the benefits and opportunities that music publishers provide.

Can I register a song that is not recorded and released yet?


Performing Rights Organizations such as BMI collect and pay out Performance Royalties which could be generated with or without a recorded song. For example, playing a song in a live performance setting will still generate a performance royalty. The fact that you don’t have the song recorded during registration does not affect the song’s ability to generate royalties because BMI doesn't use any recorded audio to track down your royalties. Instead, BMI pays out royalties based on the reported usage of your song which is reported by venues, radio-stations, television productions, and other performers.

Is it possible to register an entire album? Would you register the songs individually or register the album as a one body of work?


In BMI, you start by registering your fist song and then at the end of registration, you have the option to “Register Additional Songs” or “Finish.” If you are registering an entire album, click “Register Additional Songs” until the entire album is registered and then click “Finish.”

I registered my songs, but I don’t see any royalties. Do I have to do something to collect my money?


So, of course, it IS possible that your music sucks and you are broke, but let's assume your music is awesome and you made one million dollars of performance royalties on BMI:

It can take around 6 months (or more) to get paid. For example, royalty statements for the money you made in December will appear in your account in June of next year.

To easily collect your money from BMI, I recommend Direct Deposit. Complete you BMI profile and provide your checking account information so that BMI can drop that cash in your bank.

What if you happen to make a mistake on a Work that's already been Registered. Can you make corrections to them?


You cannot edit registrations that have already been submitted. You must contact BMI at:

I'm on CD baby is that consider a publishing deal?


This question comes up a lot. There is a lot of confusion because CD Baby has something called CD Baby Pro. People think this is a publishing deal, but it is something different called Publishing Administration. CD Baby Pro's Publishing Admin Services is actually in partner with Songtrust—a publishing administration service. They collect your publishing royalties in exchange for a cut as a service fee. Songtrust is a great service because they hunt down royalties for you, but If your song never becomes popular, then you won’t earn very much through Songtrust.

So aren't we suppose to upload the song when registering for BMI?


No you don’t upload anything to BMI because BMI does not use the sound recording when determining royalty attributions.

Does BMI give me any copyright protection?


Registering your music on BMI or any Performing Rights Organization does not give you any legal protection of copyright infringement. In order to gain copyright protection for you music, you need to register your works with the US Copyright Office.

Is it required to copyright my song before registering with BMI?


It’s not required to register copyright before registering with a Performing Rights Organization like BMI. It’s definitely a good idea though.

If I already have songs being distributed by Distrokid and the royalties are already being split among the producer and artist through Distrokid would I still need to register my songs on BMI?


The answer is a definite yes. The reason is because there are three royalties at work and you should collect all of them if you want to make the most money as an artist. BMI is a Performing Rights Organization so it's easy to remember that they collect your "Performance Royalties." DistroKid is a music distributor that gets your music in stores like iTunes and on streaming platforms such as Spotify. Since your music will be sold/streamed via DistroKid's distribution, the royalties you earn from CD Baby for use of the Sound Recording only. To get that third type of royalty (Mechanical Royalties), you need to enlist the services of a mechanical licensing agent such as Harry Fox Organization, Songtrust, or Music Reports.

Do a distribution company count as a publishing deal?


No it's not. A lot of confusion comes from this because distributors often offer publishing admin SERVICES. For example CD Baby has something called CD Baby Pro. People think this is a publishing deal, but it is something different called Publishing Administration. CD Baby Pro's Publishing Admin Services is actually in partner with Songtrust. Songtrust is also a publishing administration service. They collect your publishing royalties in exchange for a cut as a service fee. Songtrust is awesome because they hunt down royalties for you, but If the song never becomes popular, then it doesn't matter. Focus on building your audience before worrying about any "deals."

I'm a royalty free music producer who has an account on a few stock music platforms. When I upload my music to these stock music websites, do they become the publisher?


You would have to check the contract that you (most likely) skimmed while signing up. Haha but don't worry. The general rule of thumb is that if the library is exclusive, then they ARE taking some amount of publishing. If the library is non-exclusive, they are most likely not. But you need to dive into the agreements and find out for sure. I have music in exclusive libraries and in my contract, it clearly states that they take publishing.

If I’m releasing music overseas to a foreign audience, does BMI collect my royalties from other countries?

I did a bit of digging and it turns out that BMI has agreements with foreign PROs and will collect most overseas royalties for you. That is something I didn't know until now. So good news is you are completely covered with BMI! The only catch is that they take a 3.6% administrative fee, but that seems reasonable considering you no longer need to worry about registering with a million international PROs.

I registered my songs, I get paid for my streaming, but BMI did not pay me. Did I make money?


There are a couple things that could be happening.

BMI makes royalty distributions quarterly in January, March, June, and September and BMI does not pay out as fast as music distribution companies. So perhaps patience is the answer.

In addition, if the total amount of royalties earned from all sources in any quarterly distribution is less than $250.00, BMI will hold the amount earned in your account until subsequent quarterly earnings in that year bring the total to $250.00 or more. Then you will be paid. This is for mailed checks only I believe.

However, BMI is not going to mess with you if you are barely earning anything at all. If the total amount of royalties earned from all sources in any calendar year is less than $25.00, no payment will be made and no royalty statement will be rendered.

What if I write & recorded the song but I don't own the beat. Can I register the song?


Is the song recorded? If it is, you need to get permission to use that beat. Using someone else’s beat without permission is copyright infringement! If the song is not recorded and you only used the beat for songwriting purposes, then register the song and indicate that the song does not have any recordings.

If you write a song can you use a stage name when you register as a song writer? Or does it have to be your legal name to collect royalties?


You can use your stage name if you want. It's up to how you want your songwriting credit to be attributed. Most use their legal name for songwriting credit, but if you want to be credited as your artist name, that will work too.

After I have distributed my music by Distrokid and registered on BMI? Do I still need to copyright my song or is already protected?


Your song at that point has what is called natural copyright because it is documented in a physical (albeit digital) form. However, for full copyright protection in the US you still need to register with the US copyright office, or do it online at eCO. Distrokid doesn’t copyright for you, neither does BMI.

Can BMI collect royalties without lyrics or a recording of my song?


It’s hard to imagine, but the royalties they pay out are reported to them by music users. They don't do lyric matching or any searching if their own. Radio stations, venues, churches, etc. pay a blanket license and report their usage data to BMI. This creates a big pool of cash and you get a little bit of that cash every time it is reported that your song is used. Again, lyrics and sound recordings are not needed, BMI doesn't even care because it’s not apart of their process.