Sound Recording Digital Performance Royalties

These come from non-interactive (you can’t choose the song) digital platforms like internet and satellite radio.

How To Get Paid: SoundExchange

Register for SoundExchange here.

Download Sales

These come from when someone downloads your music on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, etc.

How To Get Paid: Your Distribution Company

See the list of who to use (and not use) here.

**Note: BandCamp and Loudr also sell downloads, but unlike iTunes, they are artist managed stores and you get sales revenue directly from BandCamp and Loudr.

Interactive Streaming Revenue

There’s lots of different kinds of streaming revenue. But “interactive” (meaning you choose the song) streaming revenue (like from Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, Tidal) goes to the artist/label. But when these services claim they pay out 70% of all revenue, the 70% is for both the artist/label revenue AND the songwriter royalties (mechanicals). Streaming revenue to artists is WAY more than the mechanicals paid to songwriters.

How To Get Paid: Your Distribution Company

+ See the list of who to use (and not use) here.

YouTube Sound Recording Revenue

Technically there are a bunch of “assets” or streams of revenue for each YouTube video. To make it simple, we’ll just get into how you can earn money. First, for the sound recording (we’ll get into the composition in the next section). Any video that uses your sound recording you can make money off of (whether you uploaded the video or not) if you allow YouTube to put ads on the video (they call it “monetize”). Either videos you upload or fan made cat videos with your sound recordings can generate ad revenue that you can collect. YouTube splits the ad revenue 45%/55% in your favor.

How To Get Paid:

Most digital distribution companies have this option via an opt-in check box. You can see which do and which do not on this chart. If your distribution doesn’t handle this, you can sign up for independent YouTube revenue collection companies like Audiam, AdRev or InDmusic. But it’s easiest if you keep everything under one roof.

Master Use License

Any TV show, movie, commercial, trailer or video game requires both a master use license (from the artist/label) for use of the sound recording and a synch license (from the songwriter/publisher) for use of the composition. These days, most music supervisors (the people who place the music), will just pay you (an indie artist) a bulk amount for both the master use license and the sync license (because most indie artists wrote and recorded the song).

But if you’re repped by a label and a publisher, the supe (that’s short for music supervisor) will go to your label and pay for a master use license and then to your publisher and pay for a sync license. Usually it’s the same amount, but not always. These monies range from a thousand bucks for background music on a cable TV show all the way up to hundreds of thousands of dollars for commercials and big movies/trailers.

How To Get Paid:

Directly from the TV studio, ad agency (for a commercial), production company (for a movie or trailer), or game company. It’s best to work with a licensing company for this.

TV Royalties

If your music gets on a commercial, TV show, trailer or movie, you can get residuals from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA). And these definitely add up.

If your music gets on a commercial, TV show, trailer or movie, you can get residuals from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA). And these definitely add up.  I know an artist that got about $10,000 A MONTH for as long as their commercial was on the air.

So, if your song gets in a commercial, you’ll make about the same because you’re treated as a voice over actor.  Many commercials run about 6 months, that could be $60,000 just in SAG-AFTRA residuals.

How to get paid: SAG-AFTRA.

If, however, SAG-AFTRA doesn’t have your mailing address, they won’t know who to pay.  You can check here to see if you have outstanding royalties.  Or, contact SAG-AFTRA directly and give them your info when you have music played on TV.  You don’t technically need to be in the union to get paid from the union.

Here’s how to join.

Songwriter Royalties

Composition Performance Royalties

These come from plays on the radio (FM/AM or digital), interactive and non-interactive streaming services (Spotify, Apple Music) live at a concert (yes even your own), in restaurants, bars, department stores, coffee shops, TV, literally any public place that has music (live or recorded) needs a license from ASCAP, BMI and SESAC to legally be able to play music in their establishment.  The o

nly exception is movie theaters. For some reason (politics), American movie theaters are exempt from needing a public performance license and no one gets paid when songs are played in movie theaters.  On TV, yes. Movie theater, no.  However, royalties are generated for Foreign (outside the US) movie theaters.  And for an international smash, it could add up to be some serious cheddar.  And oh: I’ve heard in the hundreds of thousands.

AM/FM vs. Sirius/XM

Of course if a coffee shop has the AM/FM radio playing, you won’t get paid when your song is played there.  But if they have Pandora or Sirius/XM on, this is tracked and you will (eventually) get paid on the plays.  The system is currently being worked out and not everything is tracked yet, but eventually, say, in a few years, it will be.

Kobalt is leading this front.  Hopefully ASCAP, BMI and SESAC follow suit and improve their tracking systems.  ASCAP uses a “sampling” method, where they use an electronic monitoring system, MediaMonitors/MediaBase, for sample performance data from commercial, NPR & NCR radio. The sample data is then loaded into ASCAP’s Audio Performance Management system where it is (mostly) electronically matched to the works in the ASCAP database. ASCAP states that they supplement this data with station logs and other technology vendors and methods that capture ads, promos and themes and background music.


BMI also uses sampling.  They say they use “performance monitoring data, continuously collected on a large percentage of all licensed commercial radio stations, to determine payable performances.”  They also use their “proprietary pattern-recognition technology.” They call it a “census” and claim it’s “statistical reliable and highly accurate.” For college radio, BMI pays a minimum of 6 cents “for all participants.”  Not sure if that’s per station or what.

How To See Your Listener Data On Pandora

 ASCAP has a census (instead of sample) tracking system setup.  Hopefully, this will change soon. BMI doesn’t pay for “cue, bridge or background” music on radio, period.

+ Get Your Music on NPR

All you ahve to do is EMAIL Bob, the host of ‘All Songs Considered’ at with ONE SONG ONLY (mp3 or link to download/stream), the name of your band or artist name and your phone number.  Don’t resend your email if you don’t hear form them! They will contact you if Bob likes what he hears.

Tip: Both ASCAP and BMI have a program where you can import your setlist and venue information to get you paid for your live performance royalties (for performing your originals in a club, theater, grocery store, arena, wherever). They’re called BMI Live and ASCAP OnStage. Last I heard, most indie artists playing under 500 cap rooms were making about $10 a show. It ain’t much, but it can add up – especially if you’re a live act playing 200 dates a year. Who couldn’t use an extra $2K?

How To Get Paid: Your PRO (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, SOCAN)

Visit each website (linked above) to join. Remember you can only be with one.

Mechanical Royalties

Mechanical royalties are earned when a song is streamed, downloaded or purchased (like a CD or vinyl). In America, the rate is set by the US government. It’s currently 9.1 cents per download and it’s a very complicated formula to figure out what you get per stream. But you can check out HFA’s charts here to attempt to make sense of it. But, it’s AROUND $.0007 per stream – but of course varies based on the streaming platform’s user numbers, revenue, etc. Worldwide, it’s about the same – about 8-10% of the total sale/stream.

Worth noting: in the US, mechanical royalties get passed onto the label/distributor from iTunes.  However, for nearly everywhere else in the world, mechanicals get collected by local collections agencies BEFORE the money gets to your distributor.  And that’s why when you look at your statements, an iTunes download in the US nets you $.69: 70% of $.99 — Apple retains 30% from iTunes sales.

Whereas, a download in England nets you around $.60.  So, if you don’t have an admin publishing company you won’t get any of your international mechanical royalties from download sales.

Like SoundExchange, these international collections agencies will hold onto this money (for about 3 years) until a publisher comes and claims it.  You technically could try to do this by calling up collections agencies in every country, but I just recommend going with an admin pub company.  They already have all the relationships built (and they only take about 10-15%).  It’s worth it.

How To Get Paid: Admin publishing company.

See Digital Music News comparison between CD Baby Pro and Tunecore Publishing. There’s also SongTrust and Audiam.  And of course, Kobalt (but you have to be “signed” — anyone can signup for the others).

YouTube Performance Royalties

Because your music is being played on YouTube videos, it’s technically a public performance.  And that includes any video on YouTube (by you or anyone else): cover, live performance, original recording lyric video, music video or cat video.  As long as it has your compositions in it, it earns a public performance royalty.

How To Get Paid: Your PRO

YouTube Composition Royalties

In addition to performance royalties, you can earn a percentage of the ad revenue generated from the video.  Again, any video on YouTube that has your composition in it (uploaded by you or anyone else) can get an ad placed on it and start generating revenue.  Your admin publishing company will handle this.

I know you’re wondering, ‘but how will my admin publishing company know when Joe Schmo from Lincoln, Nebraska uploads a cover of my song? Especially because my song title is “She Loves You” (and it’s not the Beatles song)?’  

Yeah, you can see the difficulty.  And YouTube’s Content ID program doesn’t catch these, because covers and live recordings are different sound recordings than the original.  Some admin publishing companies and YouTube collections companies are better at tracking this than others.  Some do manual searches/listen.  Others have other systems in place.  But you can always ask your company how they do it.

How To Get Paid: Admin Publishing Company

Companies like SongTrust, CD Baby, Tunecore and Audiam are some admin publishing companies who will do this. (Note, Audiam technically describes itself as a digital rights management company – but they will collect your mechanical royalties and YouTube money).

Fun fact: A synch license is needed to synch music to picture. TV shows, movies, commercials, video games all need a sync license to legally put a song alongside their picture (get it? “synching” audio to picture). Technically, so does YouTube (and you, when you make a cover video and upload it). Virtually every YouTube cover is illegal.

Synch License

Like the master use license, any TV show, movie, commercial or video game requires a synchronization (synch for short) license to put the composition alongside their picture.

How To Get Paid:

Directly from the TV studio, ad agency (for a commercial), production company (for a movie or trailer), or game company. It’s best to work with a licensing company for this.

Note: NARIP (National Association of Record Industry Professionals), the biggest music business network in the world, offers direct access to some of these music supervisors.

NARIP hosts music supervisor pitching sessions a few times a month. Even though most are held in LA, attendees can Skype in from around the world to be a part of the session. NARIP boasts that they have helped facilitate over 200 placements from these sessions.



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