March 22, 2022
More Than Royalties: How Performing Rights Societies Like BMI Help Budding Songwriters Grow
For songwriters who are just starting their careers, establishing industry connections can be an intimidating process. It can be a challenge for songwriters to understand who to turn for help. Luckily, performing rights organizations (PRO) do more than just track down royalties. Whether hosting networking events, offering educational resources, or simply providing career guidance, these organizations are a great starting point for aspiring songwriters.
As a VP of Creative at BMI, the largest PRO in the U.S., Samantha Cox plays a significant role in making these programs happen. As a result, Samantha often works with young songwriters who are still learning the ins and outs of the industry which has helped them find greater success.
Noteable spoke with Samantha to discuss how her work at BMI benefits songwriters, how BMI works with Spotify, and how a single phone call can create a world of opportunities.
As VP of Creative at BMI, how do you work with songwriters?
Sometimes it feels like I have five jobs in one (administrator/educator, A&R executive, publisher, manager and event planner). While I'm really not all these things, it’s all part of working in the Creative department at BMI. The most important role is administratively making sure that a songwriter is signed up to BMI, that they have their publishing company set up*, and that they have their works registered. We also make sure they’re signed up for BMI Live, which is a platform that we use to make sure our writers get paid when they play at venues. So basically, I’m working to help ensure a songwriter’s business is in order at the end of the day, because our main goal is to make sure they get paid.
I also feel like I'm an A&R executive at a record label because I’m always looking to discover new talent. Other times I feel like I'm a publisher in the sense of hooking up collaborations and generally making connections for songwriters, producers, and artists.
There are also some situations where I feel like I wear the hat of a manager because I work with so many songwriters early on in their careers when they don't have managers. Many times, the first person they meet in the music business might be someone in our creative department. We connect the dots by pointing them in the right direction, introducing them to industry executives and, sometimes, helping them work through potentially difficult situations.
And finally, I feel like an event planner because we have so many events at BMI…local showcases, national festivals, songwriting camps and more. For example, I help organize an event called Speed Dating for Songwriters which brings together music creators who I know through my work but they might not know each other. There have been so many amazing partnerships and collaborations that have come from just that one event alone.
When it comes to getting paid, songwriter splits can be tricky. What is your advice for those who might be working on a project where multiple songwriters are involved?
Ultimately, it’s up to the songwriters in the room to decide how a song is going to be split. However, if the writers can agree to an even split going into the session, which can be very hard to do, it can simplify things. It’s so much better to have 33% of something than 100% of nothing.
It doesn't always work out that way, but I really do believe if you go in with that mindset, you'll be in a better headspace throughout the writing session because you won’t be preoccupied with the business details. Everyone wins!
How does BMI—and specifically the creative team—work with Spotify?
We work together with Spotify in a number of ways, but the most basic and simple way is that BMI licenses Spotify, and we distribute royalties to our songwriters when their music is played on the platform. From a more creative aspect, we work on educational programs together to help our songwriters best utilize the platform and connect with their fans.
For example, I was recently interviewed for Spotify's podcast Song Start, which was actually started by two BMI songwriters, Ali Tamposi and Tamar Kaprelian. The host, Olivia Reid, also happens to be a BMI songwriter. What I love about the series specifically is that it focuses on educating songwriters and producers about the business. And that's pretty much what I do in my job every day.
What is the single most important piece of advice every songwriter should follow?
Do not ever sign anything without having a lawyer advise you. If you don’t have a lawyer, or don’t know where to go, call BMI. We can point you in the right direction.
One of the services that I recommend is Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts
Establishing a relationship with BMI seems like it could be intimidating for a young songwriter. What’s the best way for them to get started?
First, become a member of BMI. It’s super easy and it’s free to join BMI as a songwriter. Just go online and register. Many times, songwriters will just pick up the phone and call us directly. That's what we're here for…to help with any questions they may have- creative or administrative. As I mentioned before, we're often the first step in a songwriter’s career.
For example, one day I got a phone call and I randomly picked it up and said, “BMI, how can I help you?” It was a young mother calling on behalf of her 15-year-old daughter. She said, “Someone told me to call BMI. My daughter loves music, and I don't know where to begin.”
So, I had them come in for a meeting, and we had this amazing time getting to know each other. That songwriter was Bebe Rexha, and she and I are friends to this day.
I also always encourage people to call and come meet us. Check out our calendar because we do local events in cities like Nashville, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and New York. We also have offices in Texas and the U.K.
*Note: unsigned songwriters in the US need to set up a personal publishing entity in order to access the 'publisher's share' of royalties. For more on this, visit BMI's guide