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Music Business

The Ins and Outs of PROs and Song Publishing

with Samantha Cox and Sam Sklar

The BMI and Warner Chappell execs explain performing rights organizations, publishing, royalties, splits, shares, and more.


Samantha Cox (BMI) and Sam Sklar (Warner Chappell Music Publishing) discuss the definitions of — and the major differences between — a performing rights organization (PRO) and a publishing company. The two execs talk royalties, splits, and shares — all of which help songwriters get paid for their work and answer the question: what does it take to “make it” as a professional songwriter?

About Samantha Cox and Sam Sklar:

This episode features Samantha Cox of the  performing rights organization BMI as well as Sam Sklar, A&R of the global music publishing company Warner Chappell.

As the vice president of the BMI Creative team in New York City, Samantha Cox works with all kinds of songwriters. In her 20 years at BMI she’s played an integral role in the careers of many artists, including Lady Gaga, Halsey, and Bebe Rexha. 

LA-based Sam Sklar handles A&R at Warner Chappell, the publishing home of hit songwriters such as Justin Tranter and Tayla Parx, megastars like Bruno Mars and Kacey Musgraves, and legends like Madonna and Quincy Jones.


  • There’s a difference between the composition (the underlying song) and the master sound recording (the audio


    of a song). Compositions and recordings generate different royalties that can help songwriters make money.

  • The shorthand for performing rights organization is PRO, and there are four PROs in the United States: ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and GMR. 

  • PROs protect the public performing rights of songwriters, composers, and music publishers. They make sure that their members are paid when registered music is played publicly in places such as bars, restaurants, fitness clubs, live concert venues, on the radio, or TV, and on streaming platforms, such as Spotify, YouTube, Pandora, and Apple Music. Anytime a song that you have written is played publicly, it should be tracked by your PRO for you to receive a performance royalty for it. 

  • The baseline job of a music publisher is to collect royalties on behalf of writers, producers, artists, and ensure everyone receives those royalties for their compositions. This includes distributing performance royalties that BMI or other PROs collect.

  • A good starting place is to give all songwriters even “splits”— or equal credit — for the song. Make sure everyone’s contribution is respected, and be honest about the amount of everyone’s contribution. With many writers credited on a song, there’s more likely opportunities for the writers to have different splits, such as 5% for a last-minute change or 50% for the original writer and artist.

  • If you plan to work on the business side of the music industry, you need to have an understanding for the human, vulnerable aspects that come with working closely with songwriters, producers, and artists. You are an important part of their creative journey.

  • Most successful songwriters know both the creative side


    the business side of the music industry. 

  • If you work hard, maintain your drive and passion, and have both patience and persistence, you will be able to make a career in the music industry. 


  • Look into your local PRO in your home country. If you’re not already registered but you have songs written, now is a good time to sign up!

  • Do some research on your local mechanical licensing organization, such as the MLC in the United States. Who collects mechanical licenses in your country? If you have songs released, could you be missing out on royalty earnings?

  • Take a look at your song catalog and find a few compositions that are ready for “pitching.” In other words, which songs do you think could be on the radio today? Write down three potential recording artists who could record that song and find out who their record label is. If you find the right A&R contact at their label, put together an email pitching your song to their artist. Keep it short and sweet!


  • Master recording: 

    the actual recording of a song. It’s usually owned by a recording artist or their label, or whoever paid for the sound recording, and is officially labeled with the ℗ symbol.

  • Compositions:

    the underlying song that can be performed by an artist in their sound recordings or live. This is labeled officially with the © symbol.

  • Royalty:

    a payment made to an individual or company for the ongoing use of their assets; the fees that buy rights to use the work.

  • Publisher:

    the organization that represents an artist's compositions. The publisher looks for opportunities for the artist’s music to generate revenue. They also collect royalties from all around the world on the artist’s behalf.

  • Performance royalty:

    a royalty paid to the songwriter and music publisher. It’s generated when their music is played publicly, such as in bars, restaurants, fitness clubs, at a live concert venue, on the radio, or TV, and on streaming platforms, such as Spotify, or YouTube, Pandora, and Apple Music.

  • Mechanical royalty:

    royalty generated when songs are streamed or purchased. Each country has its own mechanical rights organization that pays mechanicals to music publishers and songwriters, and they are collected by the Mechanical Licensing Collective, or MLC, in the United States.

  • Sync fees:

    negotiated, one-time fees paid out to publishers and songwriters directly when a song is placed in film, TV, or other visual formats.

  • Songwriter’s share:

    when a song is written, the “shares”, or royalties, are divided between the songwriter’s share and the publisher’s share. This half is controlled by the songwriter.

  • Publisher’s share:

    when a song is written, the “shares” or royalties are divided between the songwriter’s share and the publisher’s share. This half is controlled by the publisher. If a songwriter is their own publisher, they may control both the songwriter’s share and the publisher’s share.

  • Publishing:

    the business of monetizing and promoting the composition side of a song.

  • Publishing deal (Pub deal):

    the publishing arrangement agreed upon by the artist and the publisher. There are various types of pub deals.

  • Admin deal:

    a deal in which the publisher doesn't own any part of the copyright. Instead, the publisher administers that for a fee, generally about 15% to 25%. 

  • Co-pub deal:

    deal in which the publisher takes partial ownership of the copyright and becomes the co-owner. In exchange for that ownership, the writer receives additional services such as creative support. This is the most common type of publishing deal.

  • Splits:

    the portion of the song credits and royalties, out of 100%, that an individual songwriter receives for writing a song. Splits are usually measured in percentages.

  • IPI number:

    the interested parties information number is assigned to a songwriter to keep track of their written works and give a unique tracking identification to their earned royalties.

  • Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC):

    the organization that  collects domestic digital audio mechanical licenses in the United States.

  • Publishing admin company:

    a company that collects royalties for music under less extensive deals with music creators. They help centralize royalty collection and collect internationally through their sub-publishers.  *Note: Admin can also refer to a type of deal with a full-service publishing company that excludes things like creative services or more involved collaboration between writer and publisher. This is also called an admin deal.

  • SoundExchange:

    a performing rights organization that collects royalties in the United States from digital performances on behalf of the recording artist(s). A PRO such as BMI or ASCAP collects performance royalties on behalf of the songwriter generated in other ways than digital (like TV or live performances).

  • Legacy acts:

    artists who have had a significant recording or song archive, but are not actively recording new music. 

  • Pitching:

    sending a song to a recording artist, record label or team, for the opportunity for an artist to record and release that song. For example, Jane Songwriter’s publisher might pitch a song Jane wrote for Rihanna to record and release as a Rihanna song.

  • Demo-itis:

    when you get used to, and have a fondness for, a rough or original demo of a composition rather than the final recording of it.

Watch more episodes about songwriting, production, and collaboration, plus listen to Song Start: The Podcast, here. For more info on Song Start click here.