Advice on Songwriter Splits and Royalty Opportunities from ASCAP

March 22, 2022

At the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), those running the organization understand that music creators are the heart and soul of the music industry. That’s why this performing rights organization (PRO) supports its 850,000 songwriter, composer, and music publisher members in a wide variety of ways – from quarterly royalties to educational events, from championing their rights in Washington to offering free wellness resources.

This holistic approach is guided by ASCAP’s unique governance structure. As the only American PRO founded and governed by its members, ASCAP’s leadership knows what’s at stake as it helps music creators to build their careers, and to uphold the value of their creative work.

Operating on a not-for-profit basis, ASCAP tracks the 16 million songs and scores it has licensed and processes trillions of performances every year to help turn plays into pay for its members. But the ASCAP team also offers something less quantifiable but equally as valuable: their time and expertise. Members and non-members alike can tap into virtual events and even sign up for one-on-one sessions to get advice and support.

Jody Klein, Senior Director of Pop and Rock at ASCAP shared the industry insights she’s learned from her experience working as a recording engineer, A&R, and artist manager before coming to ASCAP.

How does ASCAP support songwriters? What makes the organization unique?

The main point of ASCAP is to get songwriters paid. ASCAP creates licenses with streaming services and with other companies that are using music where songwriters should be paid for the public performance. The goal is that we secure all these licenses, and then take that money and funnel it directly to our members. ASCAP is different in that we are the only PRO in the US that's governed by songwriters and publishers. That's been in its DNA from the beginning. We believe that the people in charge are going to fall back on what's best for them. And if those people are songwriters and publishers, what's best for them is going to be what's best for everyone. That's one of the things that defines us and separates us from other PROs in the United States.

My day-to-day job is supporting members and bringing value to them. We do that in a number of ways. I set up sessions, make introductions to managers, to labels, to publishers—you name it, we try to help. If there's anything that I can bring to the table from my experience as an engineer or an A&R or a manager, I'm bringing it to the table here by helping songwriters. Our whole goal is to be supportive of their careers and make sure that they know that we're there for them.

What are the first three steps a songwriter should take when they're just starting out?

The first step is: collaborate. If you're an artist and that's not your thing, that's one deal. But if you're a songwriter and your goal is to be a hit songwriter, you have to collaborate. In the beginning, your goals should be, even if it is uncomfortable, to get in rooms that are better than you. Work with people who are better than you, who are going to raise your game and keep you on your toes a little bit. It's going to make you better.

Second, I know it's daunting, but get into the business side. So many creatives are scared to even dip their toe into it and then it gets messy. They don't know how to register songs properly, or they're relying on their manager to do something that they could do themselves. It doesn't mean songwriters have to be experts. It just means you have to have some sort of idea of how everything works.

And then the last piece of advice is to have a little courage in reaching out to people. People are nervous when it comes to reaching out directly to big producers or big songwriters or someone that they admire. But a lot of collaborations come from DMs now. Even on the industry side, I can't count how many DMs that I've responded to. You just have to try.

Are there any skills or experience that you would recommend a songwriter should have as they’re going into the studio?

A big thing for me would be the emotional intelligence side of reading the room when you are a songwriter and you're in the session. The goal is to not have an ego, but to try to get the best song from what you're working with. Going with the flow and being a supportive role to everyone who's in the session is going to get you invited back. And I always try to tell new writers that the goal of these sessions is to get the invite to the next session; these are the first dates and you want to get to the second dates and continue along this process. As big as the music industry is, it seems like a lot of people know each other. The goal is that you put on a good face, you bring your skillset, and you wow them with whatever it is. Become this chameleon of songwriting.

Is there anything else that’s important to have in mind when building your career as a songwriter?

Getting the splits or division of songwriting credit figured out in the room right away—and knowing how to register your songs. I think you can get into trouble quickly if you do sessions and you don't discuss the splits right then. Months later and after hundreds of sessions, you're going to look back wondering who did what, how many people were involved, and who was in the room.

Are there any unlikely sources of royalties that a songwriter may not realize?

A big one that could be more readily used if you are an ASCAP songwriter or you're an artist yourself is ASCAP’s program OnStage. When artists go on tour and they're playing in venues, they're playing songs that songwriters wrote and that's a public performance. I always try to stress to people because I don't think enough people realize there is money to be collected here. And you don't have to be on an arena level tour to access this. I think that a lot of people forget that that's another source of revenue for them.

How can people join ASCAP?

Working with ASCAP is super easy. If you're over 18, go to our website and click on the “Join ASCAP now” button. What you need to figure out is if you're signing up as a writer and a publisher or a writer, separate from a publisher, and fill in the required information. Once you submit it, it's 24 hours or less until you become a member. And if you're under 18, there are directions on the same page that you can click through to get guidance on how to sign up.

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